164 years since the prominent abolitionist Frederick Douglass spoke at Hope Hall (now the site of the Everyman Theatre), Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse have revealed Liverpool born artist and designer Vicki Opomu has been awarded the commission for a commemorative plaque on the front of the theatre.
Her design featuring Frederick Douglass and the quote “Liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist”, will be a lasting physical reminder of the struggle for freedom and reform.
On news of the commission, Vicki said, “ I drew inspiration for my design from the powerful quote of Frederick Douglass and his global activism for equality. The concept is a modern-day stamp, symbolising Douglass’s journey as he travels the world.
“The design aims to capture the essence of his impactful message and the widespread influence of his advocacy. I’m thrilled to contribute this piece to be featured at the Everyman Theatre entrance, celebrating Douglass’s legacy in a contemporary and meaningful way.”
Considered to be one of the most important African Americans of the 19th century and one of the most significant writers and orators in American history, Frederick Douglass was born a slave and escaped at the age of 20.
He championed the abolition of slavery, women’s rights and freedom for Ireland. Trips from the US would bring him to Liverpool, and he spoke at many places in the city to champion his causes. On 19 January 1860 he spoke at Hope Hall, a chapel which in 1964 became the Everyman Theatre.
This link to the Hope Street site was uncovered in 2021, thanks to historian Laurence Westgaph. Together with local theatre company Falling Doors, the theatres worked with Laurence and four local writers to explore the role of the slave trade in the development of the city. As he explains,
“As we did our research, we discovered that Douglass had spoken on the site of what is now the Everyman Theatre. I’m so happy that the theatre will now have a very visible and beautiful lasting reminder of Frederick Douglass’ role not just as an abolitionist but as a social reformer, feminist and orator of great importance.”
Following an open call, artist submissions were reviewed by a panel including Laurence Westgaph (Liverpool Black History Research Group) and Adeyinka Olushonde (Liverpool Black Mens Group), Dr Teena Cartwright-Terry (Chair of the theatres’ Diversity Action Group), Nancy Msiska (Falling Doors Theatre Company and Young Everyman Playhouse Graduate), Lucy Byrne (Director of dot-art) and Mark Da Vanzo (CEO, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse).
In a joint statement, Mark Da Vanzo and Dr Teena Cartwright-Terry said, “It’s been a privilege to work alongside the panel in selecting an artist for this project. Ensuring that we found someone from the city region, that could present Douglass in a relevant and respectful manner, whilst appealing to passersby to stop and reflect, generated some rigorous conversations. We’re confident that Vicki’s striking design has struck that balance and will honour Douglass’ legacy and inspire future generations in a beautiful way”.
The plaque will now be realised by Photocast Products Ltd, a Liverpool-based specialist manufacturer of etched zinc and cast bronze interpretive, decorative, architectural plaques. It will be positioned on the front of the Everyman to the right of the main entrance and unveiled as part of the theatre’s Open House Day on Saturday, 23 March 2024.
Lead image: GOOGLE