Atlanta/ Arts & Culture
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Published on May 08, 2024
Decatur's Praise House Art Installation Honors African American History in Beacon HillSource: Facebook/City of Decatur GA- Government

Decatur, GA is currently home to a robust testament to African American history with its immersive Praise House art installation, bringing into the limelight the often overlooked stories of the Beacon Hill neighborhood, a resilient community with roots stretching back to the emancipation of slaves. The installation, which artist Charmaine Minniefield says taps into both art and history, has been lauding the narratives of free African Americans who carved out a life post-Emancipation, facing challenges and displacements due to urban renewal efforts in the area. "For decades, the Beacon area was considered by city officials to be a slum," according to the official website of the City of Decatur, as reported by WABE.

In a nod to the vanished echoes of the past, the project features projections of archival photographs and recorded music that hearkens to the religious and cultural practices unique to African American communities, namely the ring shout, a traditional dance involving singing, clapping, and movement in a circle. Since its May 4 launch during the Decatur Arts Festival, drummers from the group Giwayen Mata have invited visitors to engage with the art piece through movement, reflecting Minniefield's Great-grandmother's teachings and a desire to resist the erasure of Black history, as she told WABE.

This initiative hasn't gone solo on the financial front either; while the National Endowment for the Arts had a hand in funding, local fiscal support has been critical, with a slice of the budget coming through grassroots fundraising and a match from DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond’s office. The Praise House, which originally took form at Emory University during Minniefield's tenure as an artist-in-residence, will, after its stay in Decatur until September 2024, find a new residence across from the historic Southview Cemetery in south Atlanta, continuing its mission to shed light on African American history in different locales.

The historical and cultural dialogue does not end with visual arts, with the installation also serving as a congregation point for storytelling and an oral history project contributing to the fabric of community memory. It opens on Fridays and Saturdays, including during significant events like Juneteenth and the Beacon Hill Pan African Festival. Minniefield describes it as "a place to gather and tell stories," in a light that forwards the axiom "I'm looking back in order to see forward," capturing memories of life in Beacon Hill provided by the DeKalb History Center and the City of Decatur as shared with WABE.