A class assignment Linda Dallas has in mind for her St. Augustine’s University visual arts students could refocus our attention on what has been a long-awaited rebirth of the historic St. Agnes Hospital site.
Dallas wants her students to create a piece of artwork to honor the past, present and future of St. Agnes, which was a training ground for black doctors and nurses and the only well-equipped hospital for African-Americans between Washington, D.C., and New Orleans for 65 years until it closed in 1961.
A public art project and an exhibition will help raise money for the project.
Envision St. Agnes on April 8 will be a daylong event for local artists to bring cameras or crayons, pencils or paint, sketch pads or canvas to create art inspired by the historic landmark in Southeast Raleigh.
Participants can also simply watch the artists at work, learn some history and crank up creative thinking.
“It will be an opportunity to energize the community around St. Agnes, to learn about the life of this place and then to imagine – or really be a catalyst to – what might be next for this place, as well,” said Dallas, an associate professor of visual arts at St. Aug’s.
The artwork from the community project will be sold at the Envision Saint Agnes Hospital Exhibition from Sept. 27 to Nov. 10. It will be hosted by the Office of Raleigh Arts at the Block Gallery downtown, and 30 percent of the proceeds will go to the class project, which is expected to begin next fall and be completed by spring 2018.
The deadline to submit artwork from Envision Saint Agnes for the exhibit is Aug. 18.
Once known as The Healing Place, the empty, four-story shell of stones quarried from the university campus by the students who built it in 1909 is an unmistakable reminder of Raleigh’s place in the South’s segregated past.
Over the years, with research documented and artifacts preserved, announcements have bubbled up about plans to renovate St. Agnes into a medical school, a community health care center, a museum or a dual-purpose health care facility.
Then, they fizzle.
“I don’t know where the foot-dragging is, but I do know it’s important and I know it’s American history,” said Irene Clark, a retired St. Aug’s biology professor who’s spent decades documenting the hospital’s history and collecting and preserving its artifacts.
“It’s on the National Registry, so you can’t just knock it down. The hurricane couldn’t knock it down, either,” Clark said. “We need to know what has happened historically to know how we got where we are now, as far as health care goes.
“Much more should be done and should have been done. But it’s like B.B. King said, the thrill is gone.”
That truth inspired Dallas’ idea for a community-based public art project for her students.
Envision Saint Agnes opens with a sunrise photography session from 6:30 to 8 a.m. April 8. It ends with a sunset photography session from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the St. Agnes Hospital site, near the school’s entrance at 1315 Oakwood Ave.
Throughout the day, the site will host “I Was Born at Saint Agnes Hospital,” a composite photography session of people born at the hospital, and Urban Sketching.
At the Prezell R. Robinson Library, after an early-bird breakfast and African-American History Walking Tour, participants can share their vision for St. Agnes’ future. There will also be hands-on kids’ activities, a watercolor workshop and a documentary screening and discussion.
“Raleigh is growing so quickly, and I see much of the African-American history of the city falling to the wrecking ball,” Dallas said. “Art has the power to tell the stories of these places and help the greater community understand how these places can be preserved and celebrated.
“Art can help people connect to history and tell the story in a way everyone can appreciate.”