When the Studio Acting Conservancy, a training school for for actors and directors based in Washington DC, began to renovating its new location in 2019, demolition workers made a surprising discovery. Hidden beneath the drywall was a 232 square foot frieze depicting the Last Supper. Now, this important piece from the Black Arts Movement has been restored with help from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The frieze was created by artist Akili Ron Anderson in the early 1980s when the building was home to the New Home Baptist Church. Anderson based his depictions of Jesus and the disciples on people he saw around the Columbia Heights neighborhood. In an interview in the 1990s, Anderson told the Washington Post, “I think it’s important for black children sitting in churches all over this country on Sunday morning to look up at the windows, look up at images and see themselves and believe that they can ascend to heaven, too.”
In the 1990s, New Home Baptist moved to Maryland and could not take the frieze without removing the church’s exterior wall. In the ensuing years, the building housed another church and was later slotted to be turned into condos. At some point, developers covered the frieze.
Joy Zinoman, founder of Studio Acting Conservancy, initially tried to find a new home for the artwork. Once she realized that the piece could not be moved, Zinoman reached out to NMAAHC for help restoring the piece. A team led by the museum’s assistant curator of religion Teddy Reeves began cleaning the frieze in October. Since the completion of the restoration, Zinoman has committed to remaining a steward of the work.