Updated Jacob Lawrence Gallery reopens its doors

On a sunny morning this spring, the newly renovated Jacob Lawrence Gallery was abuzz. Undergraduate art seniors—the first to exhibit in the new space—were swinging through between classes to check on their pieces on the walls, on the floor, and in some spaces, on the ceiling. In the back of the first room of the three-room gallery, a dozen more students sat in colorful chairs planning for the installations for their graduation exhibition the following week.

Named for the great American artist Jacob Lawrence, who joined the UW faculty in 1971 and mentored and influenced new artists even after he retired in 1985, the gallery has represented his interests in social justice and education. He is best known for his social and historical paintings and prints about social movements and major events in the United States, like The Migration Series depicting Black people in history.

In 1994, the instructional gallery within the School of Art + Art History + Design at the College of Arts & Sciences was dedicated to Lawrence, recognizing his influence and vision. Tucked into the north corner of the Art Building at the north end of the Quad, the original gallery offered opportunities for programming and student exhibition, but the space was outdated and difficult to find. The time had come for a refresh and a slight relocation. Now a new entry through the Solomon Katz courtyard at the top of the stairs connecting the Quad to Stevens Way links the gallery to one of the campus’ main arteries.

The project is part of a larger, $15 million update to the Art Building designed and built by the GLY + Mithun team. The building opened in 1949 and hadn’t seen a significant refresh in about 70 years. Work began in June 2022 and was completed this spring.