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What Art Can Teach Us About Ourselves

Published on Wednesday, January 27, 2016 | 5:41 pm
Pasadena Rotarian Jeanett Cordon with Dr. Johnnetta Cole

The Rotary Club of Pasadena, a service organization that helps supports local and international causes, was treated to a notable guest speaker to their January 27 meeting to discuss the power of African Art. With Black History Month right around the corner, this well-timed speech by Dr. Johnnetta Betsch Cole, Director of The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, gave insight and food for thought.

Rotary Club members said these monthly meeting are to engage as well as inform and their choice of guest speaker is a reflection of the club’s values.

Dr. Cole used her time at the podium to demonstrate the important role art plays in our lives and garner excitement for The Smithsonian’s The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open in September, 2016.

The Smithsonian’s nineteen institutes tell stories of our nation and serve as a testament to human creativity, dr. Cole said. To her, African art holds a special significance because Africa is the cradle of humanity.

“If you go back far enough,” she told the gathering, “we are all African.”

“Art has the power to bring people together…[and] encourage cross-cultural communication,” Dr. Cole continued.

She pointed to the museum’s founding director, Warren M. Robbins, and his groundbreaking collection of African art in 1964.

Dr. Cole described iconic pieces of African art such as Toussaint Louverture et la vieille esclave by Ousmane Sow and how art has the ability to touch the universal and remind us of what we all share.

“Art has the power for us to reach out and connect … there is in each of us, the possibility to be creative,” said Dr. Cole.

As exemplified in The Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and the forthcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture, art gives us a chance to share experiences, learn and remember.

Much like the mission of the Rotary Club, art reminds us of our shared humanity, invites curiosity and spurs discussion.

As a closing note, Dr. Cole added that the most important job of a museum is to engage and its viewers — not only about the art and artists but about themselves.

For more about the The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution see

For more about the Pasadena Rotary Club, see




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