Healthcare, education, the justice system, and social care are just a few of the sectors in which systemic racism and social disparities have been highlighted, and increasingly addressed, thanks to the Black Lives Matter Movement. Now it’s the turn of the art industry. 

Chester Gregory’s 'Black Art Matters' jacket at the Tony Awards made a statement about the lack of diverse representation in the New York theater scene. A survey from 2020 found that just 20% of theater in New York was created by people of color. Another equally damning statistic from the art sector highlights that only 2,000 artworks in the UK’s entire permanent art collection are by black artists - most of which aren’t even on display.

To give perspective, the National Gallery alone has over 2,300 works. 

 
 
 
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Art has the ability to transcend barriers, penetrating race, gender, sex or nationality. Confronting its audience with truths that may otherwise be buried, art's importance in relaying unspoken messages is fundamental. The intersection of art and activism has long reflected social issues of the time. Black art matters. 

The Black Art Matters movement aims to inspire young artists to strive to make positive contributions to the arts. The movement also focuses on the education and celebration of accomplishments from African Americans and Afro-Latin American artists.

 
 
 
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Created by Everett Kelsey, the movement works to unpack societal and cultural conditioning reinforced by the media, that leaves the black community feeling ‘less than’. The website states; “Black lives must first matter within the black community, before our lives can matter to those outside of our demographic”. 

The Black Art Matters movement finds its roots in the Black Arts Movement, started in the US by a group of politically motivated black writers, artists, and musicians. Described as the cultural section of the Black Power movement, its participants shared many of the ideologies of Black self-determination, and cultural and political beliefs. 

The deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Patrick Lumumba, combined with the politicisation of black students and the Watts uprising in 1965, ignited radical black arts and politics. It was in this context that Poet Amiri Baraka established the Black Arts Repertory Theater in Harlem, New York, as a place for artistic expressions, laying the foundation for what became the Black Arts movement. 

 
 
 
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The movement reached its peak in the early 1970s, addressing issues of black identity and liberation and shifting the focus to representing the black experience rather than convincing white audiences of their inherent worth. Artists associated with this movement range from Audre Lord to James Baldwin, Gil Scott-Heron to Kay Brown. 

The movement migrated to the UK in the 80s, finding its home in Wolverhampton. A key exhibition from this period was The Other Story, displayed at the Hayward Gallery in 1989 and curated by Rasheed Araeen. The exhibition brought together artists of African, Caribbean and Asian heritage, and featured artists including Lubaina Himid, Hassan Sharif, and Sonia Boyce. The legacy of this landmark exhibition set the precedent today for establishing the work of systematically overlooked artists.

 
 
 
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As Chester Gregory wrote on his Instagram feed: “Now that the world is slowly opening back up, we can’t ever forget the work that needs to be done to ‘redesign the room’.” Even with the achievements of the Black Arts movement and the efforts of Black Art Matters movement, the redesigning is far from complete. 

Collecting and displaying artworks by Black artists, donating to organizations that support Black creatives, and educating yourself about the important work Black artists are making now and have made in the past, are just some ways to redress the gross discrimination that burdens the art industry.  

Though many commercial art institutions fail to make any moves towards resolving the sore lack of representation, many nonprofits are doing a better job at modeling the kind of diversity the art world needs and deserves. 

Here are a few organisations we have selected that amplify and support Black voices in the arts and that need your support. Give them a follow, attend their events, and donate your time and/or money.

Activation Residency

Afrotectopia

Arts Administrators of Color Network

Black Ticket Project

Black Artist Fund

The Black Curriculum

Black Girl Magik 

Black Lunch Table

Black Trans Femmes in the Arts

ArtNoir

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