The museum will host a slew of activities for Juneteenth. Photo by ©Liza Voll Photography

The Museum of Fine Arts will hold a special event for the fifth straight year celebrating Juneteenth, which commemorates the enactment and ultimate enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation to free American slaves in Texas and other disputed territories.

The museum will observe the holiday on Wednesday, June 21 with free admission starting at 5 p.m., as well as a night of film screenings, live painting, music, dance and spoken word performances that celebrate the African American experience. Epicenter Community, a community-focused entrepreneurial development nonprofit, largely coordinates programming for the evening.

According to officials, Juneteenth offers an opportunity to not only memorialize African Americans’ historic struggle for equality and highlight the works of artists that hail from the local Boston community, but also to pursue the MFA’s own emerging inclusive goals.

“The role of museums in societies [is] changing,” says Linda Apple, director of community programs at the MFA. “It’s not just a place to come and look at pretty things. We can be a place of convening, to bring people together to collaborate and engage in community in different ways.”


One example of such engagement is the involvement of the Roxbury International Film Festival, which kicks off its 19th year the evening of the Juneteenth bash. The cinema series, which runs until July 1 and is dedicated to amplifying the voices and stories of people of color, has organized screenings at the MFA since its 1999 inception. For the second year in a row, the fest will provide the museum with Juneteenth programming via a pair of thematically appropriate films: “Paris Noir,” a documentary exploring the long tradition of African American artists expatriating themselves to France; and “When Voices Rise,” a documentary concerned with
issues of segregation in Bermuda.

For the MFA, the Juneteenth and Roxbury International Film Festival present opportunities to reach audiences that might not have felt welcome by the institution in times past, and present them with new entry points through the gates.

“We are a world-class institution. We have this collection that spans all different time periods and cultures,” Apple says, “[But] at the heart of what we want to present is that people can see themselves here.”

For Roxbury International Film Festival director Lisa Simmons, the film and art collaboration presents the Boston community with a worthy chance to learn about experiences both alien and familiar, in a fitting environment.

“The opportunity [for audiences] is to be engaged, to be educated, to be inspired by stories that they would never normally see in a major megaplex,” Simmons says. “They’re beautifully told stories. Why shouldn’t they be in a museum?”

If you go:

June 21, 5 p.m. - 10 p.m., Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, free, mfa.org

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