Well over 800 visitors participated in the Museum Day festivities at the Sojourner Truth Multicultural Arts Museum this past Saturday.
The day’s events included cultural performances, storytelling, arts and crafts activities for children, food demonstrations and vendors displays of ethnic jewelry, greeting cards and well as original works of art.
“We had a beautiful event today,” stated museum director and founder, artist Shonna McDaniels.
“All of our activities today were intended to further our primary mission to educate children and adults about the cultural diversity that has strengthened this nation while providing a platform to develop and showcase artists from culturally diverse backgrounds,” said McDaniels.
The work of McDaniels and resident artist Joe Pollakoff are featured throughout the building. Pollakoff also serves as the curator of the departments of art, history and exhibits.
The museum houses a diverse collection of artifacts dating back to the slavery era and includes a collection of dolls previously owned by slaves.
During the hourly tours of the museum, a very knowledgeable Pollakoff explained how the dolls doubled as hiding places for valuable items that were forbidden to slaves.
“Not only have we found precious metals and other heirlooms inside of the dolls in our collection during the restoration process, one doll contained the set of iron shackles that you see in our display case,” stated Pollakoff to a group of visitors, some of whom were visibly moved by the revelation.
The Florin Arts and Business building features long hallways with spectacular murals depicting the history of black people dating back from Africa through the civil rights era and includes many familiar faces that are recognizable from current and historic events.
Reyna Greenfield discovered the event while searching for an extra credit project as part of her curriculum in a course on culture and diversity in early childhood education.
“I enjoyed the art today; it has been a great experience,” said Greenfield as she was preparing to leave after spending some time viewing the murals and taking the tour.
“During the tour and learned a great many things I did not know about the influence of African-Americans and their art upon the American culture,” said Greenfield.
The Sojourner Truth Multicultural Art Museum was admitted to the Sacramento Association of Museums (SAMS) in 2007 after many years of dedicated work by a long list of local artists led by McDaniels, who is the executive director of the non-profit corporation that holds ownership of its name.
“We have recently begun the process of seeking a permanent home,” stated McDaniels, when discussing what the future holds for the Museum that bears the name of Sojourner Truth, a former slave who escaped to freedom with her infant daughter in 1826. Truth is also famous for being the first black woman in America to win a court case against a white man. The case assisted her in recovering her son, who had been sold illegally into slavery.
“We have grown tremendously since we moved into this location in 1995,” said McDaniels.
“The time has come for us to secure our own facility so that we can be in full control of our mission and our destiny,” she said.
The building that houses the museum has changed ownership several times during the past 17 years and is now currently up for sale. With each change in ownership comes the delicate process of negotiating the role, rights and obligations of the museum vis-à-vis the vision of the new management of the building.
None of those concerns were on the minds of the visitors who were busy enjoying the unique opportunity to learn about history while appreciating the visual and performing arts that were a part of the day’s scheduled events.
The featured youth artists for the day were twin sisters Keley and Catherine Suan. The Suan sisters are up and coming artists who took home two first place and two second place prizes at the Cal Expo Youth Art and Design Expo in 2010.
Both of the young women are determined to pursue a career in art and are now taking college courses to pursue different goals.
“I’m thinking about becoming an art teacher so I can keep my art close to me while still submitting work to galleries,” stated Catherine.
“I am more interested in illustration and animation because I like my art to tell stories,” said Keley.
Both Catherine and Keley were busy throughout the afternoon explaining their artistic techniques and showing their work to potential customers.
The museum is frequently opened for field trips to area schools and community centers that bring classes or groups to take the tour and learn about the struggles and triumphs of people from diverse cultural backgrounds throughout history. The museum’s original focus on African-American history has not changed, but has expanded to include non-white cultures whose accomplishments in art and society deserve more recognition.
The youth representing the After School Program led off the afternoon’s activities at noon. First the Phoenix Park Unity Teens put on a fashion show that featured traditional African clothing and included tribal symbols placed on the skin using various colors.
They were followed by the Phoenix Park African Dance Group. The young dancers put on a well rehearsed and high energy dance routine accompanied by music which featured traditional African drums.
The performances resumed at 1 p.m. with the Azteca Dance Group wearing colorful costumes complete with long feathered headdresses and leg ornaments whose rattling sounds accompanied the drum beats created by a decorated drum played by one of the group members.
The Azteca Dance Group demonstrated a variety of traditional Aztec ceremonial dances and prayers. When it came time for the “friendship dance,” all members of the audience were invited to join in and participate, and most did.
Meggan Mariano and Maria Morge of the Sacramento Black Art of Dance Group performed an elegant dance routine entitled, Spiritual Awakenings, to music composed and performed by jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.
Following the tradition of black concert dance in American culture, the routine was so inspiring and well done that an encore performance was requested by audience members who gathered up attendees who missed the initial performance.
Sandy Holman of the Cultural C.O.O.P of Davis demonstrated her enthusiastic storytelling skills to a very attentive audience of children and adults alike. Her storytelling included visual displays as well as call and response participation by the audience.
Holman’s storytelling was educational as much as it was entertaining. She told stories about the history of Africa along with anecdotes from her childhood and repeatedly cajoled, encouraged and inspired the children in the audience to read, take care of their bodies and not engage in negative behaviors that would jeopardize their future success.
Holman completed her time by quizzing audience members about the identities of the members of the African royalty she described and rewarding those who remembered the correct answers with a variety of educational items including books on African history.
The AAPACC Hmong Dance group also graced the audience with a routine of traditional dance. Their movements were perfectly coordinated and featured intricate hand movements that matched the agile dance steps set to the fluid traditional Hmong music. The appreciative audience appeared to be somewhat disappointed that the young ladies only performed one routine.
“I really liked the Hmong dancers,” stated Jasmin Vargas, age 8, when recalling what she liked best about Museum Day.
“I made clay dolls and noisemakers and I saw a lot of art,” added Vargas, explaining what she would remember about the day’s events.
The Museum Day festivities included several hands-on stations where children of all ages were invited to join in the fun to create art or participate in educational activities.
Early in the day a group of children worked together to paint a diversity mural that was placed upon the wall for display in the area that was reserved for arts and crafts.
The arts and crafts available included making shakers or drums, handmade pillows, coloring books with themes featuring cultural diversity, and Diwali Diays (candles).
There were also children fashioning figures out of clay, as well as one station where the art of sushi making was being taught and everyone was able to admire their creation before dining on what they made.
One special attraction was manned by Col. Thomas Sherman (Ret.), Executive Director of the Youth Aviation Academy. It featured a computer flight simulator identical to the ones he uses to teach aviation to sixth graders at Harmon Johnson Elementary school in Del Paso Heights.
Col. Sherman explained that he started the non-profit after his retirement to expose children that would likely not otherwise be introduced to the possibilities of a career in aviation. His idea of bringing in children at a young enough age so that they can be inspired to do the hard work necessary to be qualified to become pilots, air traffic controllers or serve as members of the ground crew is just now beginning to develop.
“We people of color don’t get the kind of exposure we need to excel in areas where we’re underrepresented,” stated Col. Sherman when explaining the struggles he went through because he was only one of a few members of his flight school class that did not already have a pilot’s training and license after earning his Electrical Engineering degree and accepting a military commission as a second lieutenant.
The final performer for the day was “Magic Forrest” Barnes, a very well regarded local magician who combines teaching little known facts about African American inventors and pioneers with a variety of illusions and magic tricks.
Magic Forrest incorporated volunteers from the audience into his presentation. Nearly every youngster in the crowd participated in one form or another before he was done.
Magic Forrest frequently mesmerized the crowd with his tricks and had one young lady visibly disturbed with worry when it appeared that he was about to pour a cup of water over her head that somehow turned out to be empty.
During his time before the crowd, Magic Forrest encouraged the children to dream big and think big. His message emphasized the need for kids to stay in school and to believe in themselves.
As the afternoon’s event drew to a close, a number stopped by to retrieve the work they displayed for the event and a group of volunteers began to assist in putting away items brought out for the event.
“I really like what Shonna is doing here at the Sojourner Truth Museum,” stated John F. King, a well regarded and accomplished artist who has been on the forefront of the art scene in the Sacramento Area for over four decades who had art on display during the event.
“Her multicultural approach to this museum is fantastic and is greatly appreciated and much needed here in the south area,” said King.
“Your light really shined bright today,” stated L. Finch, the building engineer of Florin Road Arts and Business Complex, as McDaniels went by busily taking down the artwork that was hung specifically for the event.
McDaniels modestly responded.
“I owe a big thanks to a whole lot of people that made all of this possible, including you, Mr. Finch.”