In the Spirit of Martin


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Archived exhibitions are no longer available for booking but are maintained as a virtual record of past Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) programs.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke, people listened. His courage and the power of his message galvanized the Civil Rights movement, changed the course of race relations in the United States, and redefined democracy. Dr. King was an American prophet. His nonviolent ideals and metaphors of hope continue to inform struggles for social and economic justice in the U.S. and around the world.

In honor of Dr. King's vital and enduring legacy, SITES presents In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the first major exhibition of visual arts dedicated to celebrating this American hero. The exhibition features 118 works by prominent, emerging, and folk artists selected by a team consisting of principal curator Gretchen Sullivan Sorin, visual arts curator Helen M. Shannon, curator of photography Steven Kasher, and project developer Gary Chassman in cooperation with a committee of scholars.

An overview of the Civil Rights movement sets the stage for the exhibition's impressive range of artistic offerings. In the Spirit of Martin includes paintings, works on paper, prints, sculpture, and mixed-media pieces by such artists as Elizabeth Catlett, Thornton Dial, L’Merchie Frazier, Jacob Lawrence, May Stevens, Charles White, and John Wilson. Some of the artworks cast Dr. King as a martyr and comment on violence in American society. These images convey the tremendous sense of outrage and loss caused by Dr. King’s death. Others examine his status as an icon of popular culture or a source of African American pride.

Through its presentation of work in the visual arts, the exhibition demonstrates the extraordinary influence of Dr. King and speaks to the power of art to shape our collective national memory.

Accompanying the exhibition is a large-format, full-color illustrated book (Verve Editions, 2002) with original essays by leading historians, social critics, writers, and poets.

In the Spirit of Martin was created and developed by Gary Chassman, Verve Editions, and organized for travel by SITES in cooperation with The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change.

In the Spirit of Martin was made possible by PepsiCo, Inc.

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Exhibition specifications


118 works of art; cases; platforms; photo mural; text panels; labels. Brochure, teacher’s guide, family guide, speaker list, bibliography, film and audio list, companion book

Participation Fee

$75,000 for a 12-week booking period, plus outgoing shipping

Square Feet (Meters) 5,000 sq. feet (450 sq. meters)
Crates 38
Weight 3639 (8,000 lb.)
Category History & Culture
Shipping Prorated, SITES-designated carrier
SITES Contacts

Katherine Krile, 202.633.3108

Toured Through March 2004
Security High
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Tour itinerary

Dates   Host Institution Status
1/12/02 8/4/02 Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI Booked
9/7/02 11/9/02 Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, FL Booked
1/4/03 4/6/03 Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN Booked
5/15/03 7/27/03 International Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC Booked
8/30/03 11/9/03 Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Memphis, TN Booked
12/20/03 3/28/04 Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, AL Booked
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Related publications

In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Gretchen Sullivan Sorin; Nikki Giovanni (Introduction); Gary Miles Chassman (Editor); Helen Shannon; Walter Leonard (Commentary); 200 full-color photographs and illustrations; 2002; $39.95

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Press release


"In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."- the first major Smithsonian exhibition of visual arts dedicated to celebrating this American hero - features 120 works by prominent and emerging artists, including folk artists. The exhibition is a visual testament to the enduring power of King's life and work.

Circulated by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), "In the Spirit of Martin" will premiere at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Mich. on Jan. 13, 2002 and remain on view through July 28, 2002. The exhibition will travel through March 2004 to museums in Miami, Minneapolis, Brooklyn, Memphis and Montgomery.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is recognized universally as one of the greatest civil rights leaders of all time. Beginning with an impressionistic look at 300 years of resistance to oppression on the part of African Americans, the exhibition debuts King in his role as a primary player in the 1955-56 Montgomery bus boycott. At that time, King was emerging as a passionate religious and community leader. The exhibition follows the development of King as a world voice in nonviolent social action - moving through the mid-1960s, the height of the Vietnam war, his assassination, his status as an icon, and the lasting influence of his message.

"In the Spirit of Martin" includes works by such artists as Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Gordon Parks, Andy Warhol, Martin Puryear, Norman Rockwell, Romare Bearden, Sam Gilliam, Robert Rauschenberg, Sue Coe, Emanuel Martinez, Faith Ringgold, Charles Alston, Thornton Dial and Ben Shahn.

With works created during King's lifetime, as well as those completed as recently as 2001, the exhibition is evidence that King's message and memory have continued to shape American life.

"From among the innumerable exhibitions SITES has issued over the years, 'In the Spirit' is one of the most important," said Anna R. Cohn, SITES' director. "It speaks profoundly to the lasting impact of Dr. King's influence, transcending both time and medium to honor his voice through great artistry. At this moment, when the dual challenges of courage and sacrifice are at the forefront of the American experience, we are especially gratified to share 'In the Spirit of Martin' with the public."

The national traveling exhibition is complemented by a large-format full-color book. In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is published by Tinwood Books. For more information, visit

"In the Spirit of Martin: The Living Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr." was created and developed by Gary Chassman, Verve Editions, and organized for travel by SITES in cooperation with The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change Inc. "In the Spirit of Martin" was made possible by PepsiCo Inc.

With revenues of $25 billion, PepsiCo ranks as the world's fifth largest food and beverage company. It includes Frito-Lay Co., the world's largest manufacturer and distributor of snack chips; Pepsi-Cola Co., the second largest soft drink business; Tropicana Products, the largest marketer and producer of branded juice; the Quaker Oats Co. and Gatorade, the world's leading sports drink.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing the legacy and work of Martin Luther King Jr. through research, education and training in the principles, philosophy and methods of King's philosophy of nonviolence. The King Center was established by Coretta Scott King in 1968 as a living memorial dedicated to preserving the legacy of her husband and carrying forward his unfinished work for human rights and peace. For more information about the King Center, visit

Each year, SITES shares the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside of Washington, D.C. One of the Smithsonian's four National Programs, SITES makes available a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown not only in museums but wherever people live, work, and play, including libraries, science centers, historical societies, community centers, botanical gardens, schools and shopping malls. In 2002, SITES will celebrate 50 years of connecting Americans to their shared cultural heritage.

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