Mission: To promote and include the contributions of contemporary African-American artists in the canon of American art history through exhibitions, programs, and publications, as well acquisitions by major museums.
About the Organization: Founded in 2010, the Souls Grown Deep Foundation traces its origins to the mid-1980s, when art historian and collector William S. Arnett began collecting the works of largely unknown African-American artists living and working in the Southeast. The foundation — which takes its name from Langston Hughes' 1921 poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," the last line of which is "My soul has grown deep like the rivers" — today holds a collection of more than twelve hundred works and documents compiled mostly by Arnett and his sons over three decades. In 1996, an exhibition titled Souls Grown Deep: African American Vernacular Art of the South was presented at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University, and the accompanying two-volume book remains the most in-depth examination of the artists and art from the region.
Current Programs: The foundation serves as a resource for students, scholars, and the public and works to highlight the contributions of contemporary African-American artists through exhibitions, publications, and programming, as well as acquisitions from its collection by major museums. In 2012, the foundation donated its archive of more than twenty thousand documentary photographs, videos, audio recordings, oral histories, and other materials to the Southern Folklife Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The foundation's collection currently includes works by more than a hundred and sixty artists — including Thornton Dial, Lonnie Holley, Mary T. Smith, Joe Minter, Nellie Mae Rowe, Purvis Young, Emmer Sewell, Ronald Lockett, Joe Light, and the Gee's Bend quiltmakers — two-thirds of whom are women. In 2014, the foundation began a multiyear program to transfer the majority of the works in its care to the permanent collections of leading U.S. and international museums. To date, more than two hundred works by seventy-five artists have been acquired by leading museums in the U.S., including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the High Museum of Art, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Ackland Museum of Art.
Website: Visitors to the Souls Grown Deep Foundation site can read about the tradition of Southern African-American outdoor art dating back to the days of slavery; learn about the different types of quilts created in Gee's Bend; and browse profiles of artists whose work is included in the collection as well as examples of their work. They also can browse listings of the foundation's exhibitions and publications (which can be purchased through the site) and learn how they can support the organization.
Funding: Souls Grown Deep Foundation is funded by foundations, corporations, and individuals.