A Celebration of Diversity and Inclusion: World Bank Group (WBG) Honors African American Artists


By Juliette Adams 

Washington D.C - The opening reception for Confronting History: Contemporary Fabrics and the African-American Experience" was an evening of African American art, food and song held in the Atrium of the World Bank Group's MC Building. The event illustrated the boldness of inclusion and diversity through subnational African American art. Over thirty pieces of art from eleven contemporary African American artists were on display.

The exhibit was truly historical and novel since all of the artwork featured was based on the African American experience within the US. All of the other art exhibits in the building display the work of non-US WBG member states. The chief organizer of the event was Juliana Biondo, Program Assistant for the Art Program in partnership with the Diversity and Inclusion Office, the International Finance Corporation African American Employee Resource Group and the WBG Staff African American Association.

The works selected represented various art forms, from multicolored quilted pieces to fabric sculptures that illustrated narratives of oppression in the human experience. Other works conveyed messages of pain, anger, consolidation, joy and inner feelings of the community. Some of the artists who were present shared their motivations and background behind their pieces. Two of the most memorable pieces were Cynthia Lockhart, Amazing Grace, 2011 and Karen McKie, Story Teller Ruth, 2011.

The opening remarks were given by Erik Bethel, WBG US Alternate Executive Director (AED). He spoke of African American Art as an outer expression of an inner experience, thus challenging the audience to reflect and contemplate on the history, culture, beauty and struggles conveyed through the pieces. Even more thought-provoking was the presentation by Monica Oldham, WBG Manager of Diversity and Inclusion. She shared that the exhibit also encompassed the UN General Assembly's proclamation of 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent. The proclamation's theme is "People of African Descent: recognition, justice, and development." Thus the exhibit elevated another aspect of diversity at the Bank through highlighting the history of African American staff members.

Takoma Academy Gospel Choir
Takoma Academy Gospel Choir

Musical selections from the award-winning Takoma Academy Gospel Choir complemented the evening. The choir is comprised of high school students and has performed both nationally and internationally in South Africa. Radiating through their performance was the refrain "Justice Is Coming" even as they sang "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the African American Anthem.

Overall the event demonstrated the WBG's determination to encompass the diversity and inclusion of its African American members through artistic linkages. It also shows the bank is willing to rise to the challenge of the International Decade for People of African Descent by "strengthening national, regional and international cooperation in relation to the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by the people of African descent, and their full rights and equal participation in all aspects of society."

The World Bank Group Art Program, established in 1997, acts as the cultural extension of the Bank's mission to achieve the twin goals of ending extreme poverty and building shared prosperity. It showcases artistic expression and creativity by providing a platform for artists to express the hopes and struggles of the people in their respective countries.

Photo Credit: Terica Adams

Juliette Adams is the creator of The Frederick Press. She is also a Project Management Consultant specializing in community development initiatives and the author of the Gifted and Magical 95 percent mini-book series. She obtained her Bachelor in Business Administration from Howard University and Masters in Security Policy/Law and Society from American University.