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Derrick Adams

Beacon 2, 2018

Look closely at this work from MAD’s collection to learn about American history, talk about what spaces make you feel safe, and imagine what a sanctuary of your own making would look like in this object lesson for students in grades 3-12.  

Inspired by the Green Book, a travel guide for black Americans published during a time of widespread segregation in the United States, Derrick Adams’ Beacon reimagines safe destinations for travelers of all races and backgrounds.


Take a good look at Derrick Adams's work:

  • What different components does it consist of?
  • How do you think the artist made it?
  • What materials did he use?
  • What other objects or words come to mind when looking at it?
  • Imagine seeing a number of these objects in a darkened room. What feeling might you get as you approach one of them?


The artist created a number of sculptures like this one as part of the site-specific installation that made up the 2018 MAD exhibition Derrick Adams: Sanctuary. Each of the sculptures was placed on a pedestal with a painted-on roadway and was entitled Beacon.

  • Based on this title, what do you think the artist meant to communicate?

Derrick Adams was inspired by the Negro Motorist’s Green Book, an annual travel guide established by a Harlem postal worker, Victor Hugo Green, in 1936. Green responded to an overwhelming need among black travelers to find safe spaces along the road during a time when segregation barred them from the use of the majority of gas stations, motels, and restaurant throughout the United States. Rather than look at a road map of the United States as a network of long stretches that presented danger and humiliation for travelers of color (which was certainly the case), he focused on the safe havens and accessible places along the way and spread the word about them in the form of a travel guide.

  • What is the meaning of “sanctuary”?
  • Where, within and outside your community, do you feel safe and where not?
  • What are the characteristics of “safe spaces”?
  • How can individuals contribute to shaping communities that feel safe?


The original meaning of the word “sanctuary” is “sacred space.” The usage of the word to refer to a “safe space” goes back to the Middle Ages, when churches often offered refuge to people who were persecuted. In the context of debates around immigration under the current United States administration, many cities and towns throughout the country have vowed to serve as sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants.

  • In what way do current immigration debates and Jim Crow–era racial discrimination relate to one another? How are they different?
  • Can you think of ways in which you or your family could provide sanctuary for others?  
  • How can communities contribute to creating a feeling of safety for their members?


Using a rinsed-out milk or juice carton, create your own “beacon.” Based on your thoughts about what makes you feel safe, comfortable, and at home, collect images (e.g., photos, magazine cutouts, your own drawings, fabric pieces, or wallpaper) that would evoke a sense of “sanctuary” in and around your house. Use these materials to embellish your carton. Then cut out windows and doors and place a tea light inside.

Share a picture of your creation via email to

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