A new billboard in Atlantic City will honor Jacob Lawrence, a city native and the influential 20th century artist, as part of a campaign highlighting the resort town’s heritage and culture. — Courtesy: ACDEVCO
By Joshua Burd
A developer that is helping to revitalize Atlantic City is seeking to honor the resort town’s history, launching a new billboard campaign at the site of its most high-profile project.
Atlantic City Development Corp., or ACDEVCO, said it will kick off the campaign by honoring Atlantic City-born artist Jacob Lawrence, whose works are on display at nearly 200 museum collections. The tribute will adorn the developer’s billboard above Albany and Atlantic avenues, the location of a newly built, mixed-use campus for Stockton University.
Lawrence, who was born in 1917 to Rosa and Jacob Lawrence Sr., used his art to capture the struggles of life in America, often through a series of panels that told a story, ACDEVCO noted. His most famous series, Migration of the Negro, consisting of 60 panels, portrayed the movement of African-Americans from the rural south to the urban north after World War II.
“Atlantic City-born artist Jacob Lawrence was a visionary who brilliantly documented the Great Migration and other issues of historical significance,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, who serves as commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs. “He is one of the most influential artists of modern times and I’m beyond excited that his work will be so prominently displayed for Atlantic City residents and visitors to enjoy.
“Governor Murphy and I offer praise to ACDEVCO, the Atlantic City Arts Foundation and the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey for highlighting the artistic and cultural heritage of the city and we look forward to more such installations in the future.”
In announcing the campaign, ACDEVCO noted that Lawrence also painted a War Series, a Hospital Series, a Frederick Douglas Series and a recently reunited series titled The American Struggle. He was the first African-American given a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1941 and graced the cover of Fortune Magazine’s November 1941 issue.
What’s more, Lawrence was hailed as the most influential artist in the 20th century, ACDEVCO said, and recognized for his ability to comprehensively portray the African-American experience.
“Atlantic City’s rich history and culture is an asset that should be celebrated and promoted both within the city and to visitors,” said Christopher Paladino, president of ACDEVCO. “We are proud to kick off this effort and plan to continue to work with the community to highlight the contributions made by people that lived and worked in Atlantic City.”
Lawrence’s works are on display at venues such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago. The American Struggle series, consisting of 30 panels, had been separated for over 50 years, but will now be on display at The Met Fifth Avenue starting June 2, 2020.
“My parents arrived in Philadelphia on the back of a train from Yazoo City, Mississippi during the period of the Great Migration,” said Ralph Hunter, founder of the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey. “Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series has been an inspiration to my family for many years. I have always admired those paintings because they tell the story of a time of great change in African-American history. In fact, every member of my family has one of his prints in their home.”
In his later years, Lawrence taught art at the University of Washington, ACDEVCO said. He died on June 9, 2000, in Seattle.
“The heritage series billboard located in the University District complements Stockton’s ongoing efforts to work with local organizations to make the arts visible and viable in Atlantic City,” said Lisa Honaker, dean of the School of Arts and Humanities of Stockton.