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The Value of Gazing Back to Look Forward

Photographer Jim Alexander is nationally recognized for his award-winning documentary photography. Alexander has documented important moments and events from KKK rallies in Forsyth County to an up-close and personal photo of Dizzy Gillespie at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Since the 1960s, he has had over 60 solo exhibits featuring his photographs highlighting black culture and human rights.

Jim Alexander’s work has been featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Georgia, Emory University, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and more. His photo of artist Romare Bearden on the steps of Atlanta’s Neighborhood Arts Center (NAC) in 1978, Romare at the NAC, was featured in the exhibit "Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey" at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University in 2013, and with your help, we can make the ArtsXchange the permanent home of Romare at the NAC.

Romare at the NAC - Jim Alexander, 1978 | Jim Alexander Collection

In 1977, Jim was photographer-in-residence at the Neighborhood Arts Center. When the building closed, he joined other artists from the NAC who transplanted their studios to the ArtsXchange in 1984. When the property was sold in July 2017, Jim had to pack up three decades of work and memories. Moving out took two weeks of packing and hauling. The last thing to leave was this photograph—Romare at the NAC—six feet tall, four feet wide, and miles deep in history.

According to Jim, “Romare at the NAC is one of my most popular photographs”:

“I captured this shot as artist Romare Bearden, along with his wife Nanette Bearden, writer Jim Lee, Kerry Price, and artist/NAC Director John Riddle were descending the stairs, leaving the Neighborhood Arts Center after the Beardens paid a visit to the studio artists and staff in 1978. The little girl on the steps is the daughter of one of the childcare workers at the daycare center on the lower level of the facility. The visit was facilitated by Dr. Michael Lomax."

A painter, collagist, writer, and more, Romare Bearden (1911-1988) was a patron of the Neighborhood Arts Center and a legend in the history of black art in the 20th century. Bearden’s work has had a tremendous impact on black art and identity, influencing the work of artists of all stripes, from playwright August Wilson to hip hop band The Roots, and more.

Romare Bearden, 1944, Library of Congress

As a Friend of the ArtsXchange, Priscilla Smith talked about why this purchase was important to her. She sees the Neighborhood Arts Center (NAC) as the ArtsXchange’s grandmother: “The NAC was a converted school building that made space for and gave support to a whole community of established and emerging artists, their audiences, and neighbors. Artists taught classes; children spent afternoons and summers learning and creating in the same place their adult mentors were making work; folks shared ideas, discussed theories, made plans, and carried out actions.” The ArtsXchange campus at Kalb Street continued that lineage from the 1980s into the 21st century, and now, the new ArtsXchange in East Point “promises to extend that rich tradition.”

“Displaying this photograph will inspire,” she adds. “It will keep the history of the Neighborhood Arts Center alive and throw in a little art history to boot. We are asking people to donate to the fund to acquire and mount the photo in the entrance to our East Point home. It will be the first acquisition,” explains Smith.

2018 will mark the 40th anniversary of Romare at the NAC. To honor this, the photo is being purchased by a group of Friends of the ArtsXchange. The goal is $1,300. Thanks to members of Atlanta-based Alternate ROOTS and others on the Sankofa Bus Tour, $300 has been raised. Only $1,000 to go!

Donations will pay for the purchase of the famous photo, framing, and installation in a place of honor for public view in the East Point location when it opens in mid-2018.

100% of your donation is tax-deductible. For assistance or for alternative ways to donate, email


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