The Radio Kingston program Harambee, hosted by Jessieca McNabb, is presenting a series of monthly episodes focused on the late Ben Wigfall, renowned Hudson Valley artist, Yale MFA graduate and one of the first African American professors at SUNY New Paltz.
The series is paired with a forthcoming exhibition at the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art, “Ben Wigfall and Communications Village,” scheduled to open in spring 2022.
Both the Radio Kingston series and the exhibition focus on Wigfall’s role as a community and arts leader in Kingston, New York.
The first episode in the radio series, broadcast on Sept. 4 and available now for listening, featured conversation about Wigfall’s selfless approach to art, the way he linked artistic creation to communication on the broadest level, and how he and other Black artists fit into a mainstream art world that is still largely dominated by white men.
The conversation featured Zach Bowman, The Dorsky’s manager of education and visitor experience; Anna Conlan, curator and exhibition manager at The Dorsky; and Drew Thompson, associate professor in Africana and historical studies, director of Africana studies at Bard College, and guest curator of the “Ben Wigfall and Communications Village” exhibition.
The exhibition will present Wigfall’s prints and paintings in the context of the compelling story of Communications Village, the workshop he founded as a means of bringing creative experiences to young people in the working class African American community of Ponckhockie in Kingston, NY in the 1970s and ‘80s.
It will also feature works by important artists with whom Wigfall collaborated during his career, including Benny Andrews, Mavis Pusey, Betty Blayton, Charles Gaines, Joe Ramos, Ernest Frazier, Mel Edwards, Bob Blackburn and Ernie Crichlow.
In addition to his active community engagement, Wigfall was among the most beloved and accomplished professors in the Department of Art. He served from 1963-1991 and his teaching and art focused primarily on printmaking. Following his death in 2017, more than 100 guests came from all around the country to a memorial event held on the New Paltz campus.
The next episode of Radio Kingston’s series on Ben Wigfall will air on Oct. 9. Future installments will feature interviews with original participants in the Communications Village project, discussion of African American art in the last half of the 20th century, Wigfall’s own incredible collection of African art, and his lasting impact on students, artists, friends, neighbors and the people he met in everyday life.
Radio Kingston can be found at 1490 AM and 107.9 FM. For those outside the listening area, the program is archived within a few hours and can be accessed at https://radiokingston.org/en/archive/filter/harambee-radio.
About Radio Kingston
Radio Kingston is a non-commercial station hosted largely by nonprofessional community members. It focuses on national and local issues and history through conversation, storytelling, music, and area news.
Harambee, Swahili for “bringing people together,” is the name of a Kingston-based organization raising awareness of African American culture through collaboration with other parts of the community and the promotion of events such as this exhibit.
About Guest Curator Drew Thompson
Drew Thompson is a writer and visual historian who works as associate professor in Africana and historical studies and director of Africana studies at Bard College.
He recently authored “Filtering Histories: The Photographic Bureaucracy in Mozambique, 1960 to Recent Times” (forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press), and is at work on another monograph, provisionally titled “Coloring Black Surveillance: The History of Polaroid in Africa and Contemporary Arts.” Thompson’s writings on modern and contemporary art have also appeared in exhibition catalogues and leading popular art journals, including Foam, Mail and Guardian, Paper-Journal and the blog “Africa Is A Country.”
In his role as an educator at Bard and faculty critic at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Thompson convenes “Creative Process In Dialogue: Art and the Public Today,” a collaborative arts platform that seeks to diversify perspectives on the arts disciplines and offers models for collective and inclusive dialogue through a series of talks and community alliances.
About The Dorsky Museum
Through its collections, exhibitions and public programs, the Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art supports and enriches the academic programs at the College and serves as a center for Hudson Valley arts and culture. With more than 9,000 square feet of exhibition space distributed over six galleries, The Dorsky Museum is one of the largest museums in the SUNY system. Since its official dedication in 2001, The Dorsky has presented more than 100 exhibitions, including commissions, collection-based projects, and in-depth studies of contemporary artists including Robert Morris, Alice Neel, Judy Pfaff, Carolee Schneemann and Ushio Shinohara.
Museum Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays, holidays and intersessions. For more information about The Dorsky Museum and its programs, visit http://www.newpaltz.edu/museum or call (845) 257-3844.