Born (Dollie) Clarice Helene Simmons in Antigua, West Indies, Dollie McLean was raised in Manhattan, later lived in the Bronx, and graduated from both the University of Hartford and FIT. Mrs. McLean has been an avid participant in the arts throughout her life, having performed off-Broadway as an actress and dancer with various organizations like the Negro Ensemble Company.Dollie McLean was the first to initiate the acquisition of works by Black artists at the Wadsworth Atheneum, and also the first to mount exhibitions of African, Puerto Rican and Black American art. Dollie married jazz saxophonist John Lenwood “Jackie” McLean, and together (with fellow artists) they founded the Artists Collective, Inc. in 1970. The Collective has served since then as a multi-cultural arts center, which includes dance, music, theater and visual arts. In 2001, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts awarded Dollie McLean with a fellowship in recognition of her commitment to the community and the arts. Ms. McLean has served as Executive Director for the organization since its inception, and (with colleague Cheryl Smith) opened the Jackie McLean International Arts Festival in 2013.
Mrs. McLean’s accomplishments are just a few of many in the Black community in the state of Connecticut. Black History Month may be near the end, but the endless examples of African American achievements are continuously discovered all year long.
Sierra Dixon is a Research & Collections Associate at the Connecticut Historical Society