african-american artists in kansas city: a student perspective

Recently, I wrote an essay for Temporary Art Review examining the unique struggles and challenges associated with being an African-American visual artist in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.

One group that I wanted to emphasize was emerging artists. As my deadline loomed near, I became aware of the Black Artist Culture and Community (BACC) group at Kansas City Art Institute and reached out to its President, Krystal Jolicoeur. Although I wasn’t able to include Ms. Jolicoeur’s statements in the essay due to time restrictions, I was impressed by her thoughtful and informative responses and wanted to share them here.

Adrianne Russell: While women make up the majority of art students in universities and colleges, exhibitions, museum collections and gallery holdings are dominated by male artists. Do you feel it’s especially challenging for African-American female artists to establish themselves?

Krystal Jolicoeur: The art world has essentially always been dominated by the male artist. This was predominantly due to gender roles and societal standards. In lieu of the “feminist” movement in the late sixties, the art world today is still dominated by the male. Paralleled, African-American and/or colored artists for an even greater period of time were barred or relegated by institutions within the art world. I believe it is certainly challenging for one who is both female and African-American to establish themselves in the art world.

Modernity has brought the playing field for one to potentially establish themselves as an African-American artist to somewhat of a level position. Yet, the problem becomes that their work must now be measured in relation to their gender and race. Although this may or may not be what they choose to concentrate upon as artists, it becomes the central focus upon representing their work in galleries.

“As a black artist, the expectation of what you should be doing is always programmed for you regardless. There is a tendency to try to cubbyhole you that exists across the board in the art world,” remarks Lorna Simpson. Regardless of such standards, African-American female artists such as Elizabeth Catlett, Kara Walker, Betye Saar, Faith Ringgold and Lorna Simpson (to name a few) have been prime examples that although the path may be daunting the destination can be met.

AR: African-American artists seem to suffer from a lower profile in the Kansas City region. Do you find that Kansas City is supportive of a diverse pool of artists? What, if anything, should be done to foster a more inclusive artistic community, particularly at the University level?

KJ: As a non-native artist to the Kansas City area (being raised in Miami, Florida) I have found that Kansas City is surprisingly supportive to a large span and variety of new and upcoming artist. The art scene in Kansas City is certainly open to artist of all races and genres of conceptual thinking. At the University level, being one in which who attends a private art institution the arts are certainly all-inclusive, yet surprisingly outside and neighboring communities have certainly fostered an environment in which the art becomes all-inclusive on a community level as well.

AR: How long has BACC been in existence? What is the group’s mission?

KJ: Founded in August of 2010, the Black Artist Culture and Community have been in existence for the last two years. Black Artist Culture and Community is an organization that utilizes artistic talent to encourage cultural diversity at the Kansas City Art Institute. This is accomplished through student leadership, mentor-ship programs, community service, and campus activities. BACC recognizes that African-American students are a minority on the KCAI campus, thus we seek to foster a sense of community among all students of color. BACC serves as a liaison between students and administration, giving African-American students a voice on the issues that are most pressing to them as well as serving as a resource to make sure the social, cultural, and educational needs of these students are met.

AR: What kinds of events/activities does BACC put on? Is there an emphasis on involvement from the wider Kansas City community?

KJ: In past years the BACC has hosted several artist lectures open to KCAI students as well as the community ranging from the first African-American graduate of the Kansas City art institute Mr. Leonard Pryor, to the likes of award-winning illustrator Shane Evans. The BACC has partnered with the arts program at De LaSalle Charter High School to serve as mentors as well as on the KCAI campus to students in the Connect for Success program. From collaborative mural events open to the community on the notion of “what is black” to gallery exhibitions at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center, the BACC has been an active organization, striving to build connections with students of all races on campus as well as in the community.

Thanks to everyone for their valuable input on my essay! I’d love to hear your thoughts on Kansas City African-American artists in the comments.


talent round-up day

Highlighting nonprofit organizations and individuals doing stellar work!

  • Rosetta Thurman’s list of 10 Young Nonprofit Bloggers to Watch in 2011  is extremely diverse, with writers covering a range of topics from social justice to philanthropy to chasing your passions.  I was thrilled to see the inclusion of folks that I already follow along with new writers to admire.   Despite what some may think,  young people are ably pushing, prodding and pulling the kicking-and-screaming nonprofit sector into the future and redefining what it means to be an emerging leader.
  • Betty Farrell and Maria Medvedeva’s article, “Sea Change” (excerpted from the Center for the Future of Museums’ report Demographic Transformation and the Future of Museums) implores museums to account and plan for demographic shifts in the United States from both programming and staff perspectives.   The article is timely as I have been conducting research about African-Americans in the museum field and carefully examining my own career in light of what I discover.   Anyone who works in museums with even the slightest responsibility regarding programming, visitor services and/or human resources should pay special attention to Elizabeth E. Merritt’s “call to action.”  As the founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, she challenges her colleagues to addresses issues of diversity and inclusion (or the lack thereof) in concrete rather than theoretical ways. 
  • The Kansas Arts Commission is fighting back against Governor Sam Brownback’s decision to legislate them out of existence in his proposed fiscal year 2012 budget.  Mr. Brownback supports transitioning the Kansas Arts Commission from a state-supported entity to a nonprofit organization, which would result in the immediate loss of federal matching funds and grants and services from other local partners.   It seems ridiculous that anyone has to make the case that the arts are big business –with a demonstrated ripple effect that carries far and wide into surrounding communities–but time and again, when administrators seek to trim their budgets, the arts are first on the chopping block. 

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