Artist Amy Sherald has given $1 million to the University of Louisville to establish two grant programs in Breonna Taylor’s name.
The funds came from the sale of her ethereal portrait of Taylor, which first graced the cover of Vanity Fair. The painting was jointly acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, and is now on view at the former institution.
“Nothing can take away the injustice of Breonna Taylor’s death,” the university’s interim vice president for community engagement, Douglas Craddock Jr., said in a statement. “But what we must do is create spaces where Breonna Taylor is remembered and where her legacy can inspire us to carry on the hard work of erasing inequality and divisiveness.”
The Brandeis Law School’s Breonna Taylor Legacy Fellowship will award stipends of $9,000 to each of its three recipients. Meanwhile, the Breonna Taylor Legacy Scholarship is open to up to four undergraduates, each of whom will receive $7,000 on a staggered scheduled within the next four years.
Both programs were made possible from distributions from the trust Sherald established through the sale of the painting to help “unblock the challenges historically faced by students pursuing the work of social justice and public service,” according to the artist.
Breonna Taylor was killed on March 13, 2020, by Louisville police officers who illegally entered her apartment. They fired blindly at the 26-year-old emergency medical worker and her boyfriend. Taylor’s name became a rallying cry in the Black Lives Matter protests that later spread to cities around the world.
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates, the guest editor for Vanity Fair’s special edition on the protests in September 2020, commissioned Sherald to paint Taylor for the cover. It was the second major commission for the American artist, following her portrait of former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Sherald was adamant that the portrait be acquired by a public collection in Taylor’s hometown of Louisville. It was purchased with a $1 million joint donation from the Ford Foundation and the Hearthland Foundation, a new nonprofit dedicated to social justice that is run by the actress Kate Capshaw and her husband Steven Spielberg.
In an unusual move, Sherald directly oversaw the sale in lieu of her gallery, Hauser & Wirth.
The painting was featured in the Speed’s exhibition dedicated to Taylor, “Promise, Witness, Remembrance,” organized by Allison Glenn, associate curator at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, in consultation with Taylor’s family and an advisory board that included Sherald, Theaster Gates, and Hank Willis Thomas. The work later traveled to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Sherald worked closely with Taylor’s mother, Tamika Palmer, to create the tribute, and drew inspiration photographs of Taylor’s personal belongings taken by LaToya Ruby Frazier. Taylor was represented in a graceful blue gown by Jasmine Elder, the founder of an Atlanta-based label, and wearing the engagement ring her boyfriend planned to propose with.
“I made this portrait for her family,” Sherald told Vanity Fair in 2021. “Producing this image keeps Breonna alive forever.”