The director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art is speaking out on her decision to open an exhibit featuring artworks owned by Bill Cosby and his wife Camille.
In a first-person piece for The Root, Johnnetta B. Cole explains that she had no knowledge of the sexual assault allegations against the comedian when opening "Conversations" in November 2014. Cole says it was Camille who came forward with works from the collection she jointly owns with her husband. The couple also made a $716,000 donation to assist with the cost of the exhibition.
But even with the generous gift from the Cosbys, Cole admits she would have passed on the collection if she was aware of the unthinkable claims against Bill.
"When we accepted the gift and loan, I was unaware of the allegations about Bill Cosby. Had I known, I would not have moved forward with this particular exhibition," Cole wrote.
"Today, although we are painfully aware of the controversy that surrounds Bill Cosby, 'Conversations' remains open because art speaks for itself, not its owners. And the African-American art in this exhibition has so much to say that has long been silenced."
One-third of the 171-piece exhibit is from the Cosbys' personal collection. Still, Cole sees no reason the shut down "Conversations" or remove any working parts because
it's not about Bill-- it's about the art.
"[...] This exhibition is not about the life and career of Bill Cosby. It is about the interplay of artistic creativity in remarkable works of African and African-American art and what visitors can learn from the stories this art tells."
(Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for The Jackie Robinson Foundation)