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Multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams.

Movers & Shakers

We See You: Derrick Adams

The multidisciplinary artist celebrates joy in Black art and culture.

DP’s series of the people—young, old, and everyone in between—who most intrigue us.

Why we’re watching him: The Brooklyn-based artist, who has works in the Metropolitan Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Whitney, is dedicated to depicting joy in Black art and culture.

Pedigree: Adams grew up in Baltimore, where he won a citywide grade-school competition on the theme of “My Heritage, Myself.” “I realized art was not just about self-expression, but about community,” Adams told Gothamist. He went on to get his FA from Pratt University and an MFA from Columbia University.

Hometown boy makes (very!) good: Adams was recently named the winner of a $1.25 million Mellon Foundation grant to develop an art archive of Black Baltimore.

Mission statement: “The fact that we had this successful black guy as president has infuriated people,” Adams told the art and design site Whitewall. “I think promoting success is as revolutionary a tactic as talking about oppression in some ways. People already think we’re upset and that we feel slighted, victimized. But when they see a triumphant thing happen, that’s what creates this idea of hope and possibility and frustration for people who are against that.”

Catch him in the wild: Adams frequently rides Amtrak between NYC and Baltimore and was commissioned to do an installation, The City is My Refuge, that took up an entire concourse in Penn Station, draping columns in brilliant images of faces and even trees.

Love language: Joyful banter. Adams, who has held numerous teaching positions, can run circles around many art historians, but it’s all in the pursuit of happiness.

Party spirit animal: The butterfly. The creature of joy, transformation, and creativity.

Prediction: Adams was chosen to participate in “Beyond Granite: Pulling Together,” a public-art project for the Washington Mall. Look for more of his (revolutionary) joyful work to pop up in cities around the world.

Hero image of Derrick Adams at the Gordon Parks Foundation Awards dinner 2023 at Cipriani. © BFA 2023 Jason Lowrie/

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