When Amy Sherald painted the cover portrait of Breonna Taylor for Vanity Fair magazine, she knew it was a work that needed to live beyond its September 2020 issue date – and she also knew she wanted it to contribute to causes of social justice.
The purchase of the painting by the Speed Art Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture enabled her to do both.
On April 10, the University of Louisville announced that Sherald is donating $1 million to the university to fund the Brandeis Law School’s Breonna Taylor Legacy Fellowship and the Breonna Taylor Legacy Scholarship for undergraduates. The gift is the result of distributions from the trust Sherald established through the sale of the painting.
The announcement highlighted an impactful day of events that also included delivery of the law school’s first Breonna Taylor Lecture on Structural Inequality; the presentation to Sherald of the law school’s first-ever Darryl T. Owens Community Service Award; and the announcement that the Sherald portrait of Taylor is expected to “come home” to Louisville in 2023.
“Nothing can take away the injustice of Breonna Taylor’s death,” said UofL Interim Vice President for Community Engagement Douglas Craddock Jr., in announcing the gift. “But what we must do is create spaces where Breonna Taylor is remembered and where her legacy can inspire us to carry on the hard work of erasing inequality and divisiveness. Amy Sherald’s gift will have transformative power for the law school fellows and scholarship recipients who will benefit from her decision to use her artistic gift to help heal the corrosiveness of hatred and animosity.”
Members of Breonna Taylor’s family, including Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer, were in attendance for the lecture and reception. The Taylor family attorney, Lonita Baker, also attended the day’s activities. An alumna of the Law School, Baker discussed the establishment of the lecture series and introduced Law School professor Laura McNeal, who presented the first Breonna Taylor Lecture in Structural Inequality.
To conclude the day’s activities, Sherald was recognized as the first recipient of the Brandeis Law School’s Darryl T. Owens Community Service Award, presented to someone who embraces and actively engages the principles of selfless advocacy and engagement with transformative social issues. Owens served as a Kentucky state representative for the district that includes Louisville from 2005 to 2018. He died in January at age 84. His longtime friend and colleague, Kentucky State Senator Gerald Neal presented the award to Sherald.
The Breonna Taylor Legacy Fellowship is open to law school students with 60 or more credit hours who secure a legal volunteer position over the summer with a social justice nonprofit organization or agency. Three fellowships supporting stipends of $9,000 will be awarded. Applicants also must demonstrate a commitment to social justice as evidenced by an application essay. The first fellowships will be awarded in summer 2023.
The Breonna Taylor Legacy Scholarship is open to undergraduate students at UofL who demonstrate a commitment to social justice as evidenced by an application essay, also. Up to four students will receive funding beginning with one student in fall 2023, two in 2024, three in 2025 and four in subsequent years. Each scholarship is $7,000.
The portrait – depicting Taylor in a flowing turquoise gown and projecting serenity, strength and regal beauty – is currently featured in the exhibition Reckoning: Protest. Defiance. Resilience at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. The Speed Art Museum’s purchase was made possible by a grant from the Ford Foundation, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s purchase was made possible by a gift from Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg/The Hearthland Foundation.
The two foundations granted funding that allowed the two museums to each purchase 50% interest in the painting and enter into a co-ownership agreement. It was Sherald’s desire that the painting be co-owned by the two institutions.
The portrait is expected to return to Louisville for display at the Speed Art Museum in the spring of 2023.
Statement from Amy Sherald
“Rep. Owens was a lifelong public servant advocating on behalf of the Louisville community. It is in recognition of that same community that I seek to honor the memory of Breonna Taylor through my work.
“I have long held the belief of the transformative power of education and its ability to foster new conversations and accelerate societal growth. With support from the Hearthland Foundation and the Ford Foundation it has become possible for me to realize those beliefs.
“I have created this trust to help unblock the challenges historically faced by students pursuing the work of social justice and public service while attending the University of Louisville.
“I am proud to partner with the university as we continue to increase the rate of access and advocacy within the Louisville community and across this country with the Brandeis Law School’s Breonna Taylor Legacy Fellowship and the Breonna Taylor Legacy Scholarship for undergraduates.”
Sherald, who was born in Columbus, Georgia, and now based in the New York City area, documents contemporary African American experience in the United States through arresting, otherworldly figurative paintings. Sherald engages with the history of photography and portraiture, inviting viewers to participate in a more complex debate about accepted notions of race and representation, and to situate Black heritage centrally in American art.
Sherald received her MFA in painting from Maryland Institute College of Art and BA in painting from Clark-Atlanta University. Sherald was the first woman and first African American to receive the grand prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition from the National Portrait Gallery in Washington; she also received the 2017 Anonymous Was A Woman award and the 2019 Smithsonian Ingenuity Award. In 2018, Sherald was selected by First Lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait as an official commission for the National Portrait Gallery.
Sherald’s work is held in public collections such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas; Embassy of the United States, Dakar, Senegal; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington; and Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, North Carolina.