In 2009, Chicago’s Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies presented A Force for Change: African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the first exhibition to explore the legacy of the Julius Rosenwald Fund. From 1928 to 1948, the Rosenwald Fund’s Fellowship Program awarded stipends to hundreds of African American artists, writers, teachers, and scholars, as well as white southerners with an interest in race relations. The artists who were Rosenwald Fellows are among the leading artists of the decades between the two world wars, and the work they produced with Rosenwald support was made under conditions of exceptional artistic security and freedom. A Force for Change showcased this work—some of which was exhibited in public for the first time—and explored the groundbreaking foundation that advanced its creation. In conjunction, Spertus commissioned this original short documentary film, Julius Rosenwald: A Force for Change.
The film begins with Julius Rosenwald’s childhood and early days as the CEO of Sears, Roebuck and Company. It explores how he made his fortune and then dedicated himself to improving lives through philanthropy. The film traces his interest in African American education and other causes, an interest that begins when he reads Booker T. Washington’s autobiography Up from Slavery. This interest eventually led to the establishment of the Rosenwald Fellowship Program, a unique effort that supported the work of, mainly, African American artists and intellectuals from the 1920s through 1948.
Rosenwald fellows discussed in the film include sculptor Augusta Savage, sociology professor Allison Davis, writer and civil rights activist Carl Holman, and painter Jacob Lawrence, and well as Katherine Dunham, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Elizabeth Catlett, Ralph Ellison, and many others.
Interviewees include Julius Rosenwald biographer and grandson Peter Ascoli, Professor Allison Davis’ son Allison Davis, Jr., Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of W.E.B. Du Bois and New York University Professor David Levering Lewis, as well as Kinshasha Holman Conwill, daughter of Rosenwald Fellow Carl Holman and deputy director of the National Museum of African American Art and Culture, Smithsonian Institution, and A Force for Change curator Daniel Schulman.
The film was written, directed, and produced by Lauri Feldman Fisher of Chicago-based Brainchild Productions and edited by Sharon Karp of Media Monster. Its videographer was Mirko Popadic.
Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies is a partner in serving the community, supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. A Force for Change: African Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund was made possible by a generous grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art. Major project support was also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Righteous Persons Foundation, and The Judith Rothschild Foundation.
juf.org, terraamericanart.org, nea.gov, righteouspersons.org, and judithrothschildfdn.org