Artist Who Painted Vanity Fair Cover of Breonna Taylor Donates $1M for Three Fellowships and Up to Four Scholarships 

Breonna Taylor’s image and likeness will fund and/or support the academic dreams of a select group of undergraduate and law students at the University of Louisville. The artist who painted a portrait of the 26-year-old is donating money from its sale to the institution, earmarking it for learners with an interest in social justice.

The September 2020 issue of Vanity Fair. (Photo: Vanity Fair)

Taylor was shot when police rounds were fired into her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky, during the execution of a search warrant. A jury found the now former officer who reportedly fired the shots not guilty of wanton endangerment for endangering three of Taylor’s neighbors by firing bullets into their residence. No one faced charges for causing Taylor’s death.

On Sunday, April 10, Amy Sherald announced earnings from the sale of her 2018 Vanity Fair cover portrait to the Speed Art Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture will be placed into a trust that will fund a fellowship and scholarship at the institution.

The Ford Foundation and Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg/The Hearthland Foundation allowed funding which, in turn, provided the two museums the resources to purchase 50 percent interest in the painting. Sherald wanted both cultural institutions to own the piece and required them to sign a co-ownership agreement for the sale to be completed.

The artist will be donating $1 million to start the Brandeis Law School’s Breonna Taylor Legacy Fellowship and the Breonna Taylor Legacy Scholarship for undergraduates. 

Three fellowships, stipends of $9,000 apiece, will be awarded to law school students with 60 or more credit hours who secure a legal volunteer position over the summer with a social justice nonprofit organization or agency during the summer of 2023.

Undergraduate students at UofL who demonstrate a commitment to social justice as shown through an application essay will qualify for the Breonna Taylor Legacy Scholarship. Up to four students, beginning with one student in fall 2023, two in 2024 and three in 2025, will receive funds from the scholarship, with each being $7,000.

The big news was shared at the law school’s first Breonna Taylor Lecture on Structural Inequality, where Sherald said the portrait would “come home” to be placed on display at the Speed Art Museum during Spring 2023. In attendance was Taylor’s mother Tamika Palmer, family attorney Lonita Baker (an alum of the school), and a host of family and friends.

WDRB reported Palmer as saying, “It’s an honor and a blessing to have people continuously honor Breonna and want to help out in any way.”

“You learn how art becomes a part of that, for one,” the beaming mother said in an interview. “And then to have her want to use her platform and her art to do this thing to honor Breanna was just amazing. A million thanks could never be enough, but it was an honor.”

Douglas Craddock Jr., UofL’s interim vice president for Community Engagement, said, “Nothing can take away the injustice of Breonna Taylor’s death, 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.”

“Amy Sherald’s gift will have transformative power for the law school fellows and scholarship recipients who will benefit from her decision to use her artistic gift to help heal the corrosiveness of hatred and animosity,” he continued.

Sherald was not only giving gifts but received one. The law school awarded her the first Darryl T. Owens Community Service Award, presented by Kentucky State Senator Gerald Neal.

Named after a Kentucky state representative who served from 2005 to 2018, and who died at the age of 84 in January 2022, the award is “presented to someone who embraces and actively engages the principles of selfless advocacy and engagement with transformative social issues.”

Overwhelmed by the honor, Sherald said in a statement, “Rep. Owens was a lifelong public servant advocating on behalf of the Louisville community. It is in recognition of that same community that I seek to honor the memory of Breonna Taylor through my work.”

This award further supports her belief in “the transformative power of education and its ability to foster new conversations and accelerate societal growth” and the reason why she created the trust in the first place.

Sherald hopes the trust will “help unblock the challenges historically faced by students pursuing the work of social justice and public service while attending the University of Louisville.”

Sherald added, “I am proud to partner with the university as we continue to increase the rate of access and advocacy within the Louisville community and across this country.”

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