Harlem Renaissance exhibit comes to Riley Museum

History in 3-D


By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

After putting the 3-D goggles on, Seneca Diggs fidgeted with the control to the monitor.

Bob Anstatt gave her a hand, explaining that she should follow the yellow arrow that she saw through the goggles. She did and eventually found herself back in time.

She took a tour of streets in Brooklyn, New York. She saw cars driving along the streets, passing by clubs and restaurants where the nightlife was rocking during the 1920, an era known as the Harlem Renaissance. Throughout the next month, Riley Center Museum will host the virtual reality exhibit.

“I felt like I was there,” said Diggs, one of several people who saw the exhibit when it opened two weekends ago. “I felt like I was driving in the car. I felt like I was actually in the clubs and the restaurants.

“It feels real. It took me back to that location.”

A photo version of the Harlem Renaissance exhibit is also on displayed at the Anderson Brickler Galleries, located at 1705 South Adams Street.

The virtual exhibit is the first for the Gilmore Riley Center Museum, said executive director Althemese Barnes. She said the Harlem Renaissance exhibit has inspired her to find backing for a similar virtual reality project of Smokey Hollow and Frenchtown, two areas where Blacks flourished in Tallahassee decades ago.

Such a project would be just as beneficial as the Harlem Renaissance, she said.

“This would be an opportunity for some of the young people to look at how you can take what used to be and make it an informative and educational experience without it being in existence anymore,” Barnes said.

The Harlem exhibit can be seen Monday through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays the exhibit is opened from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children under 12.

The virtual exhibit is the brainchild of Bryan Carter, a professor of African Studies at the University of Arizona who spent two decades developing a way to bring the Harlem Renaissance era to life in 3-D. During his research on the era, Carter discovered that it was a time when White America began to recognize the intellectual contributions of Blacks.

That drove him to develop the exhibition that has become a must-see of the talent that became a significant part of history in Harlem. The Harlem Cotton Club, the Savoy and the Apollo Theater were among the popular entertainment spots.

“It’s a chance to go in and explore and learn about your heritage and figure out what was happening during the 1920’s,” said Anstatt, coordinator of digital initiatives for Broward County Libraries. “You can go inside and walk around inside of the Cotton Club, for example, or walk around inside of a speak easy and see what it was like. Explore and try those things out. You feel like you’re there and feel like you’re part of the experience.”

Tallahassee is one of several Florida cities where the exhibit stopped since it was launched two years ago. It started after the African American Research Library and Research Center in Fort Lauderdale collaborated with Carter on the project, said Ramona La Roche, a curator with the research center.

“It’s significant because the Harlem Renascence played a major role in the cultural heritage of African descendents in the United States,” La Roche said. “It was very important because it was an outlet culturally for people from the South and other places that came to New York City. 

“To go dancing was a way to release and enjoy yourself. To get into the Savoy you had to be able to dance. It didn’t matter if you were Black or White. There were no racial barriers. It was a whole other world inside the Savoy.”

One of the highlights of the exhibit is the Florida connection, as  Zora Neale Hurston, an Eatonville native is featured in the narrative. Others like John Rosamond Johnson and his brother James Weldon Johnson, who wrote the Black National Anthem also are among the Florida notables.

The exhibit, which makes its next stop at the Ritz in Jacksonville, has appealed to young and old, said La Roche.

“It’s interesting to see how different people respond to it,” said La Roche, who grew up in Harlem hearing first-hand accounts of the era from her mother. “It depends on where people are and their interest because we have done it with 5-year-olds and 80-year-olds.”

Surprisingly, said Anstatt, the exhibit has been especially appealing to young people.

“It’s not because it’s dinosaurs and it’s not because it’s spaceships,” he said. “They just want to go in and see what it was really like. We have kids just flooding for hours.”