The Fruit of the Spirit Dedication, Feb. 17, 2022, Philadelphia
Thank you Andrea, for all of the terrific work that you’ve led at GSA and across the Administration this past year. And thank you, Joanna, for that warm welcome, and for the work the GSA team here in the Mid-Atlantic Region has done with Moe these past several years to make today possible.
First, I want to recognize and thank Moe’s family. Our team had been planning this with Moe for some time, so his recent passing makes this day bittersweet for all of us, but especially you. Thank you to the family and close friends that could join us today - Alfreda, Betty, Bobby, Cheryl, Katherine, Kay, Linda, Misha, Musa [moo-SAY], Sandi, Tracey, Trudy, Vivian, Zetma, and Rev. Griffith.
I’m glad we’re able to honor Moe and this magnificent work during Black History month and right here in his hometown of Philadelphia, and we’re so grateful you could join us.
I also want to acknowledge Mayor Jim Kenney is with us - who we’ll hear from in a moment - as well as Anuj Gupta from Congressman Evans’ office and Tia Watson from Senator Casey’s office. Thank you for being here.
While I never had the chance to meet Moe, last week I was able to read the transcript of an interview Moe did with folks from our team about this work and his inspiration in making art. I want to share just a couple excerpts of what he said.
First, I loved Moe’s response as to why he chose this title for the piece, The Fruit of the Spirit.
He said, “I think that making art is spiritual, you know? You walk in, and you don't know why something will happen, but you feel it inside.” He added, “I am the son of a preacher man. And so, for me, "fruit of the spirit" talks a great deal about one's inside. Who are you inside? What are the fruits of who you are inside? What do you DO inside? How do you make the inside shine on the outside?”
It’s clear that Moe wanted all those who walk this hall, whether they’re members of the public or folks on their way to or from work, to feel a sense of personal inspiration, warmth, and discovery when they look at this work…the largest he ever created. He aimed to lift our spirits and spread joy. What a magnificent aspiration! And what a success! (Don’t you agree?)
When asked about his decision to become an artist, Moe told the story of how he broke the news to his father that he didn’t actually want to be a doctor, but instead wanted to be an artist. His dad said “you’ll starve” and be walking around in “shabby clothes.” But Moe knew what he wanted and fortunately had a sister who believed in his talents too. So when his first application to attend the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts was rejected, his sister marched up to the academy and told them, “You all have made a mistake” and got him admitted. Moe never forgot it and said he owed his career to his big sister. And even dad came around after seeing one of Moe’s shows in New York, telling him he made the right decision.
Moe Brooker grew into a world-renowned abstract artist who brings his works to life through the use of vivid colors, lines and shapes but his style has evolved quite a bit over the years. Early on, his works were much more representational and sometimes reflected the professional and social barriers he faced as an artist who was Black.
In a PBS interview a few years ago, he talked about how the “bands” he used in his earlier works reflected a restriction that - quote “was not only a question of device for composition… it was about how I felt as a person - as a Black man - in this country.”
But when asked how he wanted people to experience this work The Fruit of the Spirit, Moe said:
“What are the bars? What are the stripes? You notice the stripes are no longer surrounding, but incorporated into the piece….I don't feel restricted at this point. And I don't want them to feel restricted. I want them to feel a sense of refreshed mood, a sense of love.” (I’ll just say that when I first saw this piece this morning, that’s what I felt. Thank you, Moe.)
I’d be remiss not to mention another piece that hangs just over there [point] in that nook across the hall. It’s called Celebration by Charles Searles, a good friend of Moe’s and fellow graduate of Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. It was commissioned by GSA in 1975 and Moe, in creating The Fruit of the Spirit, wanted to be sure it had a relationship and balance with his friend’s work.
Both of these pieces, in fact, are part of GSA’s Art in Architecture Program, which turns 50 years old this year. Through it, the federal government and GSA now own one of the largest public art collections in the world. Today that program, including this work, is funded by money we set aside to commission art for each new federal building and building modernization project.
Fundamentally, we believe that public art is for the people–all the people–and the Biden Harris Administration is committed to ensuring that our public spaces and public art reflect the rich diversity and creativity that strengthens and inspires all our people. So it’s a special privilege for GSA to have the works of two great Philly-born artists on display in this building. Both Black and both reflecting the diversity of this city and of America. We look forward to building on this example around the country.
But in order to do that, we need everyone’s help. Specifically, we need to encourage more artists to sign up to be part of GSA’s Artist Registry. The registry is our first stop in soliciting commissions and we’re eager to expand beyond that list of about 1,500 artists because we know there are many more gifted American artists just like Moe who are ready to unleash their talents, inspire and lift our spirits, bring us joy and strengthen our communities.
And I can’t think of a better way to launch that vision than what we’re doing here today.
So with that, I’m very pleased, on behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration, and the U.S. General Services Administration, to officially dedicate The Fruit of the Spirit at the William J. Green, Jr., Federal Building.
I’m pleased to now turn the podium over to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney who knew Moe through his service on the Philadelphia Art Commission. Mr. Mayor - I’m aware that you’ve focused your second term as mayor on advancing racial justice and equitable economic growth so that Philly works for everyone who lives here. That’s wonderful and it’s directly in line with what we’re doing here today, what we’re doing at GSA, and what the Biden-Harris Administration is doing. Thank you for joining us today - the podium is yours.
We’re very thankful that Moe’s sister, Dr. Vivian Brooker Ford, is here with us and we’ve asked if she could say a few words.
Dr. Ford graduated from Cheyney State College, Cheyney University, and earned her doctorate at American University. Like Moe, she believes deeply in education and has spent her career as an educator at universities across the US and globally. Please help me welcome Dr. Vivian Brooker Ford.