Painter at the Plate
A local artist blends the civil rights era and baseball.
When the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians play Major League Baseball's first Civil Rights Game at AutoZone Park March 31st, the image many fans in attendance will embrace is sure to be that of Cardinal slugger (and former Memphis Redbird) Albert Pujols. But the images that helped bring this groundbreaking exhibition to Memphis in the first place have more to do with local artist Danny Broadway than with any future Hall of Fame player.
First, some back story. The Civil Rights Game is the brainchild of Redbirds president Dave Chase, who sought to maximize the unique connection Memphis has between its landmark baseball stadium and the National Civil Rights Museum. With the number of African-Americans in professional baseball diminishing one year after the next, the time seemed right to stage a game that would not only honor pioneering black players, but would also highlight the need for programs like the Redbirds' RBI (Returning Baseball to the Inner-city).
Enter the 30-year-old Broadway, whose colorful acrylics have been seen in exhibits from Memphis to New York, and whose talents have been on display at AutoZone Park before as part of the Redbirds' various Negro Leagues promotions. Considering Broadway's skills had to be sold not only to the Redbirds but to officials of Major League Baseball (MLB) as well, serendipity stepped in and played a significant role.
During an art show in Miami several months ago, Broadway was introduced to Jimmie Lee Solomon, who happens to be MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. When Solomon became the liaison for MLB in negotiations for the Civil Rights Game, Broadway's art turned out to be a natural fit. "He remembered that we had met," says Broadway, "but didn't connect the work the Redbirds had shown him to what he'd seen in Miami until I reminded him."
As for Broadway's assignment, it involved three pieces: a logo for identifying and promoting the game on an annual basis (hands -- black and white -- holding a baseball bat), a colorful depiction of classic bunting (on display at virtually every significant baseball game), and a poster-worthy commemorative work of art that remains somewhat secretive as the event nears.
The confluence of art, baseball, and the civil rights era is a unique challenge for Broadway, but one he's embraced. He acknowledges the critical role baseball played in putting black people on a stage that had, for decades, been lily white. "There were barriers," says Broadway, "but baseball finally gave in and gave Jackie Robinson a chance. That's historic.
"I'm playing on the history, doing something that's centered on the rich history of the Negro Leagues, and how they were such an important part of the African-American community. When they had a game, they'd dress up, put on their best suits, and go out, even after church sometimes. It was a proud thing, to go to a baseball game."
Happily married and a father of three sons, Broadway has been reaching out as an artist in residence for the 2006-07 academic year at St. George's Independent School. A 2001 graduate of the University of Memphis, he now finds himself front and center for a sporting event that transcends the game on the field.
And what kind of grades has MLB given this rising star in the Memphis arts community? Consider that Solomon is now the proud owner of the original art that spawned the Civil Rights Game logo. "His wife wanted to get him some art for a Christmas gift," says Broadway with a smile, "so she bought the piece."