January 1, 2016

UVM celebrates McCrorey Gallery

Mike Reilly. From left, Virginia Hood, Lisa Page, Clarence Page and Leslie McCrorey-Wells are shown at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the H. Lawrence McCrorey Gallery of Multicultural Art at UVM’s Bailey/Howe Library.

In October, the University of Vermont (UVM) hosted a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the founding of the H. Lawrence McCrorey Gallery of Multicultural Art at Bailey/Howe Library. Festivities included a panel discussion at the gallery, followed by a jazz reception and poetry readings in at UVM’s Davis Center.
Speakers at the event focused on the theme, “The Legacy of an Educator: how an art gallery in a university library can address race relations and social justice, and celebrate the richness of our diverse community in the twenty-first century.”
Panelists included Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, higher education leader Rebecca Martin, and authors Emily Bernard and Harvey Amani Whitfield.
Following the afternoon program, a reception at the Davis Center included live jazz from musicians Dave Grippo, Andrew Moroz, Aaron Hersey and Zach Harmon, and poetry readings from Mary Jane Dickerson and Major Jackson.
The gallery was founded in 1995 to honor Dr. H. Lawrence McCrorey, a longtime professor in the College of Medicine, at the time of his retirement. Established through donations from hundreds of faculty, staff, alumni and friends, the space honors his “endurance in following his heart and conscience in the fight against racism” (McCrorey Gallery brochure, 1995). Located in the library’s first floor study area, the gallery maintains a rotating selection of multi-media artworks by contemporary artists of color.
Leslie McCrorey-Wells, co-owner of Pizzeria Verita in Burlington and Dr. McCrorey’s daughter, was one of the event organizers. “My father would have been moved by the recollections, the poetry, the music, Rebecca’s ‘tour’ of the artwork and the gathering of many of his friends and colleagues,” she said. “It feels strange to think that many people on the campus may not know him 20 years after he played such a starring role in motivating the university’s mission. He also pushed students of color to graduate. He told them that “we” needed them at the table, on search committees, at board meetings, in positions of power to make institutional, systemic and sustainable change.”
McCrorey crafted a distinguished career as Professor of Physiology, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Dean of the School of Allied Health during his tenure at UVM. He won many awards for outstanding teaching, and is remembered as a champion of social justice and greater diversity. He lectured widely on racism, and was a founding member of the Vermont Human Rights Commission.
Virginia Hood, a professor in UVM’s College of Medicine, was McCrorey’s longtime partner until his death in 2009. “He was a man of many talents,” she said. “He was a great teacher, a jazz musician and a poet. But his passion was to promote diversity and anti-racism, and to help people understand the power of education. He believed things like racism were learned, and if they can be learned, they can be unlearned.”
McCrorey-Wells spoke to some of the challenges her father faced when he moved to Vermont in 1966 to become one of only two black faculty members at the College of Medicine. “I don’t believe a week went by without a call from the president’s office requesting my father’s assistance in dealing with a problem on campus,” she said. “His role as a mediator for race relations, numerous speeches on racism across the state, and his drive as an educator to help people confront their biases earned him threats against himself and his family. Against these odds, he never gave up on his community.”
Page, who said he was honored to be part of the celebration, concurred. “Larry was good at everything – the quintessential Renaissance man,” he said. “But I know he loved the university and Vermont. He knew there were problems, but he didn’t just grumble – he wanted to do something to be part of the solution. He used his personality and genius to pull people together. He did it while he was alive and he’s still doing it after his death. That’s what we saw today.”
Page also focused on the gallery’s location. “You have to know your business and understand the business you’re in,” Page said. “As a library, are we just a repository of books or do we play a community role that’s larger than that? We’re in a digital age when people are even questioning the future of libraries, so this offers something to bring students and others in.” Hood suggested the anniversary would serve as a new beginning for the gallery as a center of university life, with events from readings and symposia to concerts. McCrorey-Wells added the gallery’s board seeks broadened partnerships and new board members interested in helping to make that happen.
“Future events will shift the focus from my dad’s contributions to the goals and mission of the collection, which is centered on education,” McCrorey-Wells said. “Our goal is to purchase more art, and our hope is to partner with businesses looking to fulfill their own philanthropic goals and sponsor educational forums, speaker series and perhaps an art-centered scholarship.”
Moving forward, McCrorey-Wells said, “The UVM community has something of which we can be very proud. The H. Lawrence McCrorey Gallery of Multicultural Art is more than a special collection. It tells every visitor to the campus or website who we are and what we stand for.”

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