Documents from Northeastern Prove Its 40 Years of Racial Animus Toward AAMARP, Community

Indications of future hostility toward the black artists' collective by the University started in 1976, show Chandler's papers.


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1993 Letter to Dana Chandler demanding he return his keys, University ID and remove “personal items” immediately uses language similar to a letter sent to AAMARP artists on June 28, 2018, by Northeastern’s VP of facilities, Maria Cimilluca. Initially given until July 13, 2018, to vacate the space, instead, artists got locked out of their long-time studios on July 1, 2018. Because of activism on the part of AAMARP artists, community members, Prof. Chandler, and now, Boston’s mayor, Marty Walsh, AAMARP artists got their eviction delayed.


It’s happening again. As it has throughout it’s existence, the nearly 40-year-old African American Master Artist-in-Residency Program that got created and founded by Prof. Dana C. Chandler, Jr. in 1978, is battling for survival.

Northeastern University, where it’s been located throughout its history, is attempting to deal the prestigious program a final death blow. The University is using the same tactics to eliminate AAMARP it has since the concept for the Program got suggested by Chandler in 1974.

In recent interviews with news media, statements made by officials at Northeastern only told part of the story about its issues with AAMARP. There is a much longer history of its attempts to shutter the Program and remove some of the country’s most venerated artists from the campus.

Chandler, who was the Program’s director from 1978 until his removal in 1993, kept detailed documents of his continually contentious relationship with Northeastern. They show evidence of his ongoing battles to launch then preserve AAMARP.

In fact, as the records from Chandler’s papers linked to this post prove, University administration regularly antagonized and harassed AAMARP and its artists in efforts to destabilize and dismantle the Program.

As the documents also will prove, Northeastern’s campaign started decades before the most recent national displacement initiatives against black artists and the erasure of black culture.

Those efforts almost always got couched in racism.

Shuttering Artists Programs: A National Trend Hurting Black Artists Disproportionally

It’s important to recognize the broader trend of artists getting displaced as their spaces get shut down in the city and region, and they’re priced out of new ones. While indeed, Trump’s ascendency to the Oval Office has given those with racist motivations the impetus to end their support of such programs, a 2015 report from DeVos Institute of Arts Management (H/T DigBoston for the lead) shows this trend began before Trump.

AAMARP artists and local press understand that artists programs struggle financially and strain to find institutional support. There also is an apparent campaign to divest artists, mainly African American visual artists, of their studio space around the region and country.

However, AAMARP’s strained relationship with the University goes back to its early days. Chandler was working with Northeastern to prove his program would benefit the University two years before its formal launch in 1978.

He’d sent this September 29, 1976, letter to black colleges and universities nationwide announcing the formation of AAMARP and inviting them to host its artists first exhibition at their institution. The message garnered immediate interest and commitments from several.

But, the University’s two-faced, hostile approach toward Chandler, AAMARP, and the African American community were operating against the Program’s success.

This November 5, 1976 letter from Chandler to the press, community leaders, and the public disclosing his first public battle with the school about the future of his artist residency at the school. It shows a pattern the University would continue to display against AAMARP regularly throughout its history.

But, rather than being honest about its motives, in recent press coverage, the University acted to ensure the public believes artists are the primary cause of the institution’s decision to terminate the Program. 

Northeastern’s administration wants the public to believe it always has kept its promises and the artists reneged on their commitments. Chandler’s and other evidence shows that’s far from the truth.

AAMARP a Casualty of Northeastern’s “Town vs. Gown” Expansionism

Like in most cities, the properties around universities like Northeastern are in gentrifying neighborhoods and are prime targets for developers. Competing with other universities both locally and across the nation to become the biggest and highest-ranked, it has invested millions in exponential growth over the past 25 years. It’s also doubled in size since 1990 to the chagrin of community residents who’ve long distrusted the University’s claims of commitment to a healthy relationship with its residents.

“They don’t have a good history,” said Rivera. “They haven’t improved their community relations in any way, shape or form. They try small things but not anywhere near the level where they should be communicating with the community on huge projects, where we’re talking about hundreds of students infiltrating neighborhoods.”

                       –Ivelesa Rivera, Tobin Community Center, Mission Hill

Since Northeastern isn’t creating housing at the rate it’s accepting students, its undergraduate student population, currently at 13,473 and increasing, its 73-acre campus expanding into surrounding communities driving up rents and displacing long-time residents. Communities across Massachusetts have decried the University’s growth as an encroachment on their localities.

Northeastern, some residents, and business owners see its development in local neighborhoods as positive, making them safer and bringing more business. But, not all community members agree, including Ivelesa Rivera who’s worked at Tobin Community Center in Mission Hill for years.

“They don’t have a good history,” said Rivera. “They haven’t improved their community relations in any way, shape or form. They try small things but not anywhere near the level where they should be communicating with the community on huge projects, where we’re talking about hundreds of students infiltrating neighborhoods.”

Northeastern, which has taken its campus global with physical satellite campuses across the US and in Canada, has been locally expansionist since the mid-80s. Then, showing its growth plans did not include the nationally-renowned AAMARP, it forced the Program to move out of its space at 11 Leon Street on the periphery of the campus to 590 Huntington Avenue to leverage redevelopment in Roxbury.

As its formal growth plans show, to “increase in available space for offices, laboratories, classrooms, student recreation, and student life initiatives,” it has gobbled up real estate around a community that was formerly mostly black and Latinx.

Moreover, while its website no longer includes AAMARP, it does contain numerous references to “diversity,” something it started touting in the early 1990s as it moved aggressively to close the Program by defunding it, cutting Chandler’s director position to part-time. This May 31, 1991 letter provides the miniscule pay Chandler would receive as part-time director.

That was just the latest salvo in the University’s attempt to remove Chandler. The image of the University memo at the top of this page reflects the extent to which the school has shown itself willing to go to achieve its objective of terminating the program and its leaders. But much would happen to lead to that end.

Northeastern’s Animus Against AAMARP Long Racialized

Over most of the years of the Program, the University’s moves have been entirely political and often, racist. The school has engaged in their inelegant tactics as if they shouldn’t be parsed or otherwise challenged by its targets and with the expectation that the public will accept them at face value. That includes this March 9, 1993 letter from then-dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Robert Lowndes slashing the Program’s budget, its staff, and Prof. Chandler’s position entirely.

But, the disrepair goes back to 1989 when the school obtained the building at 76 Atherton Street and promised to renovate and repair it for artists. But as images of the space shows, Northeastern never fully completed the renovations, which has caused it to be in its current condition.”

Northeastern’s most recent communications with AAMARP and press interviews are filled with racially-charged tropes and dog whistles related to everything from black artists causing “unsafe conditions” to “lacking cleanliness.” The institution uses these stereotypes about African Americans to justify its actions against the Program’s black artists by repeating the allegations and causing the public to believe the propaganda without allowing artists to explain conditions.

But, the disrepair goes back to 1989 when the school obtained the building at 76 Atherton Street and, as this letter of June 16, 1989 shows, promised to renovate and repair it for artists. However, according to Chandler’s April 5, 1993 letter to then-board chair George Matthews, the Program’s artists remained in limbo, in storage even as Chandler alleges in the letter the University spent the renovation budget for the Program on other projects.

As relatively recent images of the artists’ space prove, Northeastern has never fully completed the renovations. That has caused the area behind the gallery, the location of the artists’ studio to be in its current condition. 

Chandler’s letters, like this one from May 12, 1993, to Matthews show he battled the University over these incomplete renovations, even as the University renovated the rest of the building around them. The University, Chandler asserts, completed just a fraction of the work needed to make AAMARP’s space usable.

(Matthews sent a response on May 26, 1993, insisting the University has and would continue to support AAMARP and deferring to then-president Curry, who detested Chandler, as Chandler’s point of contact for these “administrative” decisions and issues.)

While today they state otherwise in their promotions, the University’s behavior also indicates its ongoing resegregation of the school from the community that surrounds it, violating its long-stated commitment to the community. That includes one it made in the late 80s to obtain the property at 76 Atherton Street in Jamaica Plain as the April 5, 1993 letter asserts.

Chandler’s letter to the Bay State Banner that year lays out the timeline for the acquisition of the warehouse space and which community and zoning board officials got promises from the University to create AAMARP in exchange for the property and permits necessary to renovate.

What’s driving us now is not the future of arts or African-American arts at Northeastern … This is solely about safety.”

         –Michael Armini, Northeastern’s senior vice president of external affairs

In fact, in a letter from Maria Cimilluca we sourced from Greg Cook’s coverage of recent events in Wonderland, the relatively new vice president of facilities for the school served as a 14-day notice to quit. Cimilluca claimed multiple unsubstantiated violations of University policies going back years before her tenure at the University, which only began in January 2018.

That letter attached a laundry list of alleged problems going back to an isolated 2010 incident with an artist who’d had an apparent mental breakdown on the premises. Since Cimilluca has been in her role for just over six months, she pulled almost all the information in the letter and its addendum from third-party sources. 

But, as the image above of a 1993 letter from the University to Chandler shows the institution’s use of similar these tactics in the past that got reflected in its most recent actions. A June 18, 1993 memorandum from Chandler to then-president, John Curry describes rumored retaliatory behavior toward Chandler and other AAMARP artists for efforts to save AAMARP.

Chandler writes, “We’ve heard silly rumors such as, “Your electricity and/or phones, intercoms, water, etc. will be turned off; your keys will be collected, and the locks changed; [emphasis ours] your office furniture, machinery, and supplies removed and moved to other campus sites.” The memo identifies several former officials who’d been named to him who were allegedly threatening to “evict some of you from your studio office spaces right out into the street,” or “you’ll be harassed by the University until you move…”

The language of its June 28, 2018, quit notice informing AAMARP’s Gloretta Baynes that “occupants must vacate the building and take any personal items with them” uses nearly identical language to that 1993 letter from Mort Kaplan demanding Chandler return his keys and move out of his office and Chandler’s June 18, 1993 memo to Jack Curry.

Cimilluca also identifies the Program as merely a project, or “temporary endeavor.” It’s a distinction that may be deliberate to justify AAMARP’s removal by suggesting it never was meant to be permanent. Her identification of artists as “occupants,” “members,” and “affiliates” supports the concept that the Program isn’t permanent. Her alluding to artists as “dangerous,” and “mentally unstable” is representative of the disrespect and disregard with which the University has treated AAMARP artists for decades. 

Her references support statements made by Northeastern’s senior vice president of external affairs, Michael Armini to TheArtery that, what’s driving us now is not the future of arts or African-American arts at Northeastern … This is solely about safety.”

But, the University first asserted that the Program wasn’t part of the University in the fourth paragraph of Lowndes March 9, 1993 letter.

AAMARP’s Post-1993 Future Covertly Planned by NU Officials, Other AAMARP Artists

With Chandler out as the Program’s director, the University formed an ad hoc committee in May 1993 to decide AAMARP’s future. Several other artists were formally and informally involved, but Chandler wasn’t invited to the meetings or even told they were taking place.

Chandler revealed his knowledge of the secret meetings, including past and future dates, in his never-published May 24, 1993 letter to Northeastern News editors. He then challenged the University directly in a May 27, 1993 memo to then-provost, Dr. Michael Baer, who’d claimed to be unaware they were happening.

The same day the ad hoc committee’s final report got submitted to the University—brimming with 30 years of Chandler’s concepts that he’d repeatedly submitted to the University as their own—Kaplan then sent Chandler the notice to quit his director’s office space, finalizing his firing and demoting him to an artist-in-residence for the Program he’d created, founded, directed and made internationally respected.”

During that committee’s meetings, members, who included current artist Hakim Raquib and current chair, Gloretta Baynes as well as “eviction missive memo” writer, Mort Kaplan discussed Chandler’s ideas this 1979 brochure shows go as far back as 1974, and regurgitated them in this June 30, 1993, final report, passing them off as their own. 

Unfortunately, AAMARP’s artists collaborated with Northeastern officials long known by Chandler as hostile to him and AAMARP’s existence. Those artists were aware of the contention between Chandler and the University and knew he had informed the University he no longer trusted them to keep their promises. They chose to participate in what was intended to be a covert operation. True to Northeastern form, as Chandler suspected, that “collaboration” did nothing to secure the Program’s future. 

Chandler’s replacement as director was an action then-president Curry made public he supported when he responded by letter on May 26, 1993, to Senator Shirley Owens-Hicks May 11, 1993, letter protesting Chandler’s removal. Curry asserted the program would improve with someone else at the helm.”

In fact, it was Chandler who got written assurance from the then-associate dean of College of Arts of Sciences, Kay Onan, in a March 17, 1993 letter that he and other AAMARP artists would they would have studio space at 76 Atherton Street or some other the school provided them. It was Chandler who’d launched a successful mass media and community support campaign that pressured the University, once again, to relent on its latest assault against the University.

So, other AAMARP artists worked against him with no worries they’d be removed from their studio space.

The same day the ad hoc committee’s final report got submitted to the University—brimming with 30 years of Chandler’s concepts that he’d repeatedly submitted to the University as their own—Kaplan then sent Chandler the notice to quit his director’s office space, finalizing his firing and demoting him to an artist-in-residence for the Program he’d created, founded, directed and made internationally respected.

After the ad hoc committee submitted “their” recommendations, other AAMARP artists supplanted Chandler as the Program’s leaders. That includes the late Edward Strickland, to whom Chandler sent this July 12, 1993 memo providing his activities for the following few years and Gloretta Baynes, another artist, who this June 29, 1993 memo from Chandler to her reveals started as the program’s volunteer secretary before later becoming its chair.

Chandler’s replacement was an action then-president Curry made public he supported when he responded by letter on May 26, 1993, to Senator Shirley Owens-Hicks May 11, 1993, letter protesting Chandler’s removal. Curry asserted the program would improve with someone else at the helm but likely knew that wasn’t true based on Kaplan’s and other’s observations about the AAMARP artists who would replace him.

Almost certainly, University officials selected “less threatening, non-activist blacks” for the role who, unlike Chandler, would kowtow to them—make them feel ‘safe’ and ‘comfortable‘ like ‘good blacks’ and other people of color are expected to do.

Post-Chandler AAMARP Struggles to Survive

As shown, nothing about Northeastern’s tactics has changed. There are new players from a new generation of administrators seemingly determined to “Make America Great Again” by continuing to disrespect the community and remove “the blacks” most threatening to their imperial designs.

But, with Chandler removed, the program has remained defunded as Chandler’s 1993 letter the Bay State Banner predicted it would. The promised renovations are still undone and being blamed on black artists as “dereliction” when it’s the University that’s derelict, and no subsequent leader of the Program seems to have been able to work with the University to restore a direct relationship with it or get funding restored. Chandler’s ouster simply made it possible for Northeastern to marginalize the program and continue isolating it from the campus like it always has.

Now, with Northeastern’s Armini asserting the University isn’t concerned about ensuring a future for the Program, and with current AAMARP artists wanting to work with the University without Chandler’s assistance, the institution seems to have finally divested itself of AAMARP.

In fact, they’re using the long-time strategy that whites who want to remove blacks from their spaces use, calling the police on blacks for living and working while black. Perhaps they justify this because Cimilluca identifies one situation involving police being called to deal with an artist who’d apparently had a mental breakdown allegedly harming a police officer. Whatever the reason, AAMARP’s black artists feel they’re experiencing an NU police occupation.

Hakim Raquib, who is identified as a participant on the covert ad hoc committee in 1993, today is unabashedly calling out the University for failing to keep its promises. One the implied promises Armini made in a press interview was his desire to ‘avoid tension‘ with AAMARP artists to resolve this University-caused debacle without causing them further harm. It appears that University officials are, once again, speaking with forked tongues as their actions don’t support their words.

Evidence of this is this screenshot of a publicly posted warning by Raquib on his Facebook Timeline:

Photo: Hakim Raquib. 2018. All rights reserved.

University police at other institutions have shown their willingness to engage in armed confrontations against unarmed African Americans. At no time in its history did AAMARP warrant this level of ‘security.’ So, it’s hard for reasonable people to not conclude there is another motive for daily dispatching its police force into AAMARP’s otherwise residential Jamaica Plain neighborhood.

Will the Northeastern resort to having black artists, many of them elders, harmed by its police force?

Or does this apparent police occupation serve as a terroristic threat to any who might refuse to remain ‘good blacks’ by not protesting the institution’s actions?

Nonetheless, Chandler, though disheartened by the demise of the Program he created to benefit black artists and serve the community, remains relatively unscathed by the experience. With his legacy of founding and making successful the first of its kind visual and performing arts complex, a national model for many others, intact, the celebrated artist is focusing on the resurgence he’s experiencing in his career.

Chandler recognizes he’s still viewed as a valuable contributor to the art world and, with the support of his daughter and others, he’s forward-focused, willing to leave the past he was pushed out of long ago behind. 

Note: By agreement between Prof. Chandler and his daughter, Dahna, this post got edited on July 17, 2018, to clarify some of the events surrounding the 1993 ad hoc committee, including the role of Gloretta Baynes as an AAMARP artist before she willingly assumed unpaid secretarial activities for AAMARP. While our memories of the events may be different, both Chandlers agree to focus on what they could provide written documentation connected to the ad hoc committee events.

(c) 2018. Dahna M. Chandler for The Living Legend Artist, LLC. All rights reserved.