William S. (“Bill”) Arnett passed away peacefully at the age of 81 in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 12, 2020. A writer, editor, and art collector, Arnett devoted himself for several decades to the art of varied civilizations, from the ancient art of the Mediterranean to China and Southeast Asia to sub-Saharan Africa. In the mid-1980s, Arnett changed his focus to collecting and championing African American artists from the Deep South.
Arnett went on to organize or support major exhibitions of their artworks at more than 40 museums, from the Whitney Museum of American Art to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, delivered lectures at over 100 museums and educational institutions in the United States and abroad, and edited and contributed to numerous catalogues and books. In 2010, with the donation of over 1,300 artworks, he founded the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and documentation of the works of African American artists from the southern United States, yielding the donation of a comprehensive archive documenting their lives and works to the library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Souls Grown Deep Foundation today advocates the contributions of these artists in the canon of American art history by transferring works to the permanent collections of leading art museums and supporting related scholarship, exhibitions, education, public programs, and publications. Its new parent organization, Souls Grown Deep Community Partnership, builds upon the Foundation’s dedication to racial and social justice by making grants and fostering collaborations benefiting the communities that gave rise to the artists in its collection. Current members of Souls Grown Deep’s Board of Directors are Mary Margaret Pettway (Chair), Richard Dial, Jane Fonda, Bernard Herman, Linley Jones, Valerie Cassel Oliver, Mary Margaret Pettway, James Sellman, Michael Sellman, Jacquelyn Serwer, Franklin Sirmans, Lola C. West, E.T. Williams, and Maxwell L. Anderson (ex officio).
Arnett was born in Columbus, Georgia, and received his B.A. in English from the University of Georgia. He is survived by his brother, Robert Arnett, and his sons Paul, Matt, Harry, and Tom, with whom he shared his passion for art and often collaborated.