2024 David C. Driskell Prize Gala: Naomi Beckwith Continues To Highlight African American Art And Its Untold Stories

Photo by David Head, courtesy the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Atlanta’s art scene has grown in recent years due to the city’s stellar list of galleries and stores, along with the emergence of Atlanta Art Week. Amidst its growing creative community, the David C. Driskell Prize Gala hails as the crowning jewel. The 19th annual ceremony celebrated Naomi Beckwith, who became the Guggenheim’s first Black deputy director and chief curator in 2021. Her efforts in the realm of African American art have been priceless, and exudes everything that this coveted award embodies.

Established by the High Museum of Art in 2005, the Driskell Prize recognizes field-defining contributions to Black art by some of the leading scholars and artists from around the country. Due to its prestige, the annual gala brings about the biggest and brightest participants in the art world. This year, the event began with a stylish red carpet where attendees were able to capture the evening for a lifetime. Featuring notable figures such as Valerie Cassel Oliver, Tanya Sam, Egypt Sherrod, Charly Palmer, Jeezy, Sergio Hudson and more, the 2024 event was primed to become the most memorable in its history.

Following a pre-gala cocktail reception in the museum’s Atrium, guests were led into the main room where the award ceremony would commence. After being seated, everyone was able to enjoy appetizers and Southern-inspired dishes. Randall Suffolk, Director of The High Museum of Art, soon took the podium, highlighted the significance of the Driskell Prize, and introduced the focal point of the evening—Naomi Beckwith.

Beckwith graced the stage and was met with a sea of applause. She began by thanking the jury, and showing appreciation for being chosen for such an esteemed honor. The Chicago native also spoke about Dr. Driskell’s legacy, and how important it is for artists and curators to collaborate effectively. “I believe in this practice of working together,” she said during her stirring speech. “I believe in collectivity, because I know that, especially for Black people, collectivity has been our strength and really the source of our joy.”

The Courtauld graduate then discussed the obstacles that artists of color have had to traverse over the years, and how that has continued to motivate her practice. “My job is to bring the gift of Black art and Black artists to the world, and so until we really see the canon of Black art history saturating global institutions, then I don’t have rest,” Beckwith said. She concluded by thanking her friends, colleagues, family and partner, followed by an ode to the award. “I’m amazingly blessed to hold this prize really close to my heart,” she stated. “I promise you all publicly in this field that I will honor the legacy of this prize, of this gift, of this work.”

After Beckwith’s speech, the celebration carried on with the event’s official afterparty, featuring DJ Princess Cut and the Grammy Award-winning DJ Drama. Eva Marcille, Killer Mike, Tyler Mitchell, and Ebony G. Patterson, among others, were all in attendance, making the first ever post-gala celebration truly one to remember.

The David C. Driskell Prize is the first in the country to recognize the importance of African American art. The award alternates between honoring a United States-based African American artist and an art historian whose artistic practice or scholarly work makes an original and important contribution to the visual arts and study of Black art.

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