Museum of Art exhibition wins state honor

The Springfield Museum of Art (SMOA) has been recognized with possibly the biggest honor in its history recently.

The Ohio Museums Association awarded the SMOA its Best Exhibition Award for the “Black Life as Subject Matter II” exhibition that opened last October and closed in late February. The exhibit, curated by Dayton artist Willis “Bing” Davis, featured the work of 32 Black Ohio artists and tied in several educational programs around it, drawing more than 2,100 visitors.

There are more than 1,300 museums and cultural sights in Ohio, and the award category was for museums with budgets of more than $500,000. Past winners have included organizations as large as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Cleveland Museum of Natural History, making the win special in multiple ways for SMOA staff.

“It’s an exhibition we’re incredibly proud to have been a part of and we’re absolutely thrilled for our museum and for Bing Davis,” said Jessimi Jones, SMOA executive director. “We believed in the concept of his vision and seen how powerful this exhibition could be.

“Mr. Davis has our gratitude for taking us in with his vision. Working with a legendary artist and educator of his caliber has been humbling.”

Davis was thrilled to see the SMOA team take the exhibition that started at his small Dayton gallery to blossom to its full potential, and the support from staff to board members.

The care way that went into the way the art was hung and displayed confirmed it would be an experience as much as an exhibition.

“I went in and just sat one day looking at it all – the quality, the lighting, the spacing,” Davis said. “We could say it was a quality show, but to win an award like this confirms it.”

Jones credits the exhibition’s success in part due to the partnership with the community and symbolic of what the SMOA is and where it’s going. Artists and prominent Black community members participated in four Community Conversations events discussing aspects of race, along with other special events and features.

While SMOA staff had to submit the proper proposal and paperwork for the award, Jones and Elizabeth Wetterstroem, SMOA’s collections and exhibitions manager, said one of the most meaningful aspects is it was voted on by their museum peers. Both were touched by how many congratulations they received from fellow professionals.

“The fact they made the choice to recognize us is incredibly meaningful, to recognize the community partnership highlights was an important factor and shows we’re being responsive to our community,” Jones said.

One of the exhibition’s goals was to counter Black artists being underrepresented and show art belongs to all people.

“As a whole, our museum has been looking at diversity and inclusion and we hope the impact is felt for years to come, not just one time,” said Wetterstroem. “While we may be a small institution, this award represents the power and ability we have to make a recognizable difference in our community, regardless of our size.”

The honor could lead the SMOA to having a higher profile in the state and potentially nationally. Jones said Ohio is viewed as a national leader for its museum culture.

And just as the exhibition boosted awareness of the SMOA, Jones hopes the award will bring more attention to Springfield.

“I want this to shine a light on all the cultural things we have in Springfield,” she said.

Jones and Davis encourage anyone who hasn’t seen the “Black Life as Subject Matter II” exhibition or would like to see it again to view at the Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery in Columbus where it will be from April 30 to June 8.

Davis would like the exhibition to open doors in recognizing and encouraging Black artists.

“I’ve been an artist since 1960 and we’ve been trying to overcome that perception and to recognize the quality of the work” he said. “It’s a big win for Ohio and the Midwest that this show could fit in any state or big city like New York or Chicago and could hold its own across the country. It can show larger institutions what is possible when a sincere effort is made.”

For more information about the SMOA, its current and upcoming exhibitions and activities, go to