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Sam Durant: The Meeting House

The Meeting House Lyceum

The Old Manse is a National Historic Landmark built in 1770 and former home and gathering place for politicians, deep thinkers, and transcendentalists including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Sam Durant, known for his multimedia works that take a critical view on our social, political, and cultural tropes (and often references American history), has created a structure on-site in the North Field near Old Manse that serves as a meeting place for the local and surrounding community to discuss and debate relevant issues of the day such as slavery and segregation and their continuing impact on today’s society. 

The artist says of his work, “[The Meeting House] seeks to make the connection between our difficult past, slavery and segregation, to the fact that we are still today unable to create the just society that our revolution promised. I believe that the aesthetic realm offers a unique way into such difficult and intractable issues.” The structure of The Meeting House itself refers directly to homes of the first emancipated African men and women in Concord. Over the course of the exhibition, The Meeting House pavilion will be the host for a series of programs inviting visitors to participate in a dialogue about the issues brought to light by this thought-provoking work. These programs include workshops, readings, and discussions focused on African-American writing, philosophy, music, food, and spirituality.

In the spirit of 19th-century public events of the same name, the artist has also organized four core Lyceum events, the final two of which are this weekend. A New Framework for Dialogue (Oct. 15) and New England Town Hall Meeting (Oct. 16). As part of the Lyceum, the floorboards of the pavilion will gradually fill with poetry commissioned from notable African-American writers. When not busy with public programs, the pavilion functions as a site for quiet contemplation and discussion for curious visitors to The Old Manse and Minute Man Park.

View photos from Lyceum I: The Picnic

Inside the Manse itself, Durant has installed artifacts related to the African presence in Concord. By adding these objects to the interior of this historic house, Durant aims to make the struggles, history, and culture of Africans in Concord more visible within the historic narrative of the Manse as the birthplace of American literature, philosophy, and theology. Or, in Durant’s words, the historic significance of the Manse, “would not have been possible without the labor of Africans in all its varieties.”

Come visit The Old Manse to experience The Meeting House – the questions it invites, story it tells, and the feeling it evokes – and add your voice to the dialogue. The exhibit is open through October 31.

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