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A storefront gallery near Rosa Parks Circle is the temporary home of a growing collection documenting the experiences of African Americans in Grand Rapids. The Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives or GRAAMA (pronounced like “grandma” in a nod to the role of grandmothers as keepers of tradition in African American culture) just opened at this location on Monroe Court, and is raising funds for a larger and more permanent home.
GRAAMA is the brainchild of artist and curator George Bayard. In 1989, he and his wife Deb Bayard opened the first art gallery in Grand Rapids focused on artists of color. The gallery combined with an African American bookstore to form the beginnings of a collection that has evolved into a museum. Before locating here, Bayard curated shows at other venues around town.
In addition to finding a new home for GRAAMA, Bayard’s recent focus has been on “GRAAMA speaks” a project recording oral histories from African Americans in Grand Rapids, particularly elders. The project has interviewed not only grandmothers but other elders including a Negro League baseball player, and Bayard sees it as an extension of the West African tradition of oral storytellers or griots.
According to the 2010 census, about 21% of Grand Rapids residents are African American making this the largest racial minority. While African American families have lived here since the end of the Civil War, most arrived during the “great migration” of southern blacks to the north from the 1910s through the 1970s
Below is an interview with Museum Director George Bayard. Check it out to hear more about the inspiration for the Museum, its name and more.
Cover image credit: GRAAMA via Facebook.