The Public Engagement Program at Maine College of Art & Design presents the exhibition STILL STANDING, The Abyssinian Meeting House Story Archive, to be held at Maine College of Art & Design. The show is a culmination of a three year oral history and storytelling project with elders and community leaders from Portland and students at MECA&D.

The Abyssinian Meeting House is full of great stories. In 1866 it survived The Great Fire when fireman and member William Wilberforce Ruby saved it by covering it in wet blankets courtesy of spring running through the building’s basement. The Abyssinian Meeting House functioned as a cultural center and a leading contributor to The Underground Railroad. After years of vacancy, this cultural center was almost lost again in the 1970’s when it was slated for demolition by the city. Deborah Cummings Khadraoui rediscovered this important cultural center and catalyzed its restoration. As the third oldest African American meeting house in the country, The Abyssinian Meeting House is an important American cultural landmark.

For the past three years, students in the Public Engagement class Storytelling 101 have collaborated with The Abyssinian Meeting House to celebrate its story. For this project, students interviewed African American elders in Maine, to create an archive of stories to be housed at The Abyssinian Meeting House. By documenting these stories, the partnership aimed to honor the contribution and experience of African American elders by creating an archive of stories for future generations. Still Standing is the culminating event to celebrate the importance of African American experiences in Portland and communicate the significance of this history in the state of Maine.

The exhibition features audio, text and photographs from all three years of the project. The exhibition opens on first Friday, February 2, 2018 and runs from January 24, 2018–February 24, 2018 in the Artists at Work at 522 Congress Street, Portland. Students from the SALT Program in Documentary Studies will be conducting live interviews and audio recording on first Friday, February 2 and there will be a Story Circle event on Saturday, February 3 from 3:00–6:00PM. All events are free and open to the public.

For more information contact:
Elizabeth A. Jabar, Associate Dean + Director of Public Engagement, 207.699.5064

Quote from one of the interviews:
“Because the true story of the black community, the African Americans in Maine, in Portland, they’ve done an awful lot of good. History books have not been kind to the African Americans here in Maine, or in Portland. But we’re changing that. We’re the Abyssinian, we’re changing that. Make sure the history books at least tell part of the story, the true story. At least from this point on, if anybody beat the drum I think we beat the drum, we helped make Portland a better place to live for the people that were here as well as for my family.” — Leonard Cummings

Lelia DeAndrade at the 2016 Still Standing event in the ICA. (Photography by Kyle Dubay '18)