Howard faculty member honored at annual art colloquium

Howard Art Gallery Assistant Director Scott Baker receives the 34th James A. Porter Colloquium Award. Baker is a two-time alum and has worked in the art department for over 30 years. (Omari Foote, HU News Service).

By Omari Foote

The James A. Porter Colloquium theme, “Art Legacies, Aesthetic Futures: Art at Howard University,” honored Scott Baker, a 30-year faculty member, with a colloquium award last Saturday.

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the first College of Fine Arts graduate. To celebrate COFA’s legacy, organizers wanted to highlight the legacy of people like Baker. 

“If you want to know anything about Howard’s [art] collection, you have to go through Mr. Baker,” said gallery co-director and professor Kathryn Coney-Ali.

Baker, who serves as the assistant director and curator of Howard’s art gallery, said he was surprised to learn he had won the award but was glad his work was recognized. 

“I might smile the whole week,” he said. 

Baker was referred to as a “walking encyclopedia” of Howard’s fine arts history. He received his B.F.A. in design from Howard in 1972 and his M.A. in Art History from Howard in 1975.

After graduating, he briefly worked at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center before moving to the College of Fine Arts’ Gallery of Art. Baker jokes that he has worked so many jobs in the gallery that he can never make a business card before changing his title. 

“This year’s colloquium is about Howard, and it’s about Howard’s girth in [art] history. 

It’s about what we do here as Howard alum, it’s about Howard’s students’ contribution to scholarship,” Coney-Ali said. 

Coney-Ali, also a Howard graduate, cites Baker as one of the reasons she returned to work at the university. 

“I was a student of Mr. Baker’s, and it’s what drove me to [not only] be a scholar of the arts, but also to go into stewardship,” she said. 

One of the reasons Baker said he was surprised is because the award is typically awarded to professors. 

“I’ve taught plenty of classes over the years, teaching graduate students in my office but that’s different from teaching upstairs in a classroom,” he said. 

He continued, mentioning that he could teach students for hours as they walked in and out of the gallery. His desk sits at the center of the gallery entrance, giving him the opportunity to engage with students right from his rolling red chair. 

While he spoke about his time at Howard, he dropped jewels about Howard history, noting where to find George Washington Carver’s peanut butter and jelly recipe in Moorland-Spingarn and details about the first Black cartoonist who created the “Torchy Brown” comic strip.

As he was presented with his award, current and former students all spoke highly of Baker. Many mentioned how Baker served as a constant resource. One student even mentioned that Baker brought in a cake for her birthday.  

Ceramics professor Reginald Pointer highlighted the care Baker always had with faculty artwork.

Following each annual faculty art show, Baker carefully wrapped each piece of art and hand-delivered it back to their office. Then, he would call each professor and ensure the art returned “better than he found it,” according to Pointer. 

Roy Lewis, an 86-year-old photographer for the Washington Informer, has been covering the colloquium since it started over thirty years ago. 

“They weren’t allowing us in museums, they weren’t allowing us in galleries… there was no access,” he recalled. “So Porter and others were a part of starting Black galleries, they were pioneers. You had the D.C. equivalent of a Harlem Renaissance here,” Lewis said. 

Gallery co-director Dr. Melanee Harvey said the colloquium’s theme, ‘Art Legacies, Aesthetic Futures: Art at Howard University,’ aimed to highlight this history. 

In addition to Baker’s honorary award, they also held a book talk with Howard alumnus Adrian Loving. Loving shared that his book, “Fade to Grey: Androgyny, Style & Art in 80s Dance Music,” was inspired by his longtime relationship with music that began to blossom during his matriculation at Howard. 

“Music was always embedded in my studies as a way to relax and get back to work, so it is something that I hold dear,” he said. 

Other notable Howard alumni attended, including Tim Smith, the former Smithsonian Safety Specialist, and Dr. Gwendolyn Everett, the former Howard University Gallery of Art Director.