A newly formed organization of Black art galleries has been established in St. Louis, Missouri. The organization is the Alliance of Black Art Galleries, consisting of eight art galleries with a shared focus of exhibiting culturally relevant art and supporting artists whose career aspirations would benefit from broader exposure in galleries. The three primary reasons for starting the Alliance are: (1) to identify areas of cooperation and collaboration; (2) to share information of mutual interest; (3) and to express and demonstrate publicly the mutual support the galleries have for each other.
The Alliance galleries, which include public, private and nonprofit art galleries, are as follows: 10th Street Gallery (Patricia Smith Thurman and Solomon Thurman); 14th Street Artist Community Gallery (William Burton, Jr. and Robert A. Ketchens); Exodus Gallery (Carlton Mitchell); Gya Community Art Gallery (Dail Chambers); Jah’z Art Private Gallery (Sami Bentil and Annetta Vickers-Bentil); L. D. Ingrum Gallery & Studio (Lois D. Ingrum); Portfolio Gallery and Educational Center (Robert A. Powell); and Salon 53, a private residential art gallery (Freida L. Wheaton).
The Alliance galleries represent and show regional, national and international artists, most of whom are African Diasporan artists. Although small in number, eight is perhaps the greatest number of Black art galleries ever in operation at the same time in St. Louis. Thus, Freida L. Wheaton, owner of Salon 53, convened the group of gallery owners and principals on August 20, 2013 to discuss forming an alliance.
Over lunch at the new Panorama Restaurant in the Saint Louis Art Museum, Wheaton expressed that the convergence of talented artists and available places to show their work provided a unique opportunity for the galleries to collaborate and to be allies. Further, the Alliance is instrumental to ensure that the galleries and their constituents are full beneficiaries of the economic growth of the arts and culture economy as documented in the 2012 report presented by the Regional Arts Commission, The Arts Mean Business in St. Louis. "Ultimately the collaboration will lead to longevity and prosperity of the galleries and will promote success of the artists we show and work with in our galleries," Wheaton stated. William Burton, Jr., curator/artist in residence at 14th Street Community Gallery adds "For so long the Black art gallery has suffered due to lack of support and resources, and has continuously been omitted from mainstream attention. The world needs to know that we exist and that we are committed to the preservation of our culture through art."
The unanimity of support to form the Alliance was immediate and astounding. "By organizing, we are creating a healthy and beneficial environment for promoting good quality art by people of African descent," stated artist Sami Bentil, owner of Jah’z Art Private Gallery. Dail Chambers, founder and collective coordinator of Gya Community Art Gallery echoed, "It is necessary for Black galleries across the nation to organize for accessibility and visibility in the arts world. Now is the time for Black Americans to show others that Black art is fresh and aesthetically diverse."
Two areas of collaboration the Alliance quickly identified are: an annual gallery hop to begin in 2014; and a coordinated thematic exhibition annually. Other Alliance activities will include quarterly salons with invited guests, and bimonthly discussions among gallery owners.
On September 28, 2013, five of the galleries will participate in the Friends of African and African American Art (FAAA) Gallery Hop. The FAAA, led by Renee Brummell Franklin, Community & Public Programs Director at the Saint Louis Art Museum, is one of the several collecting groups at the Museum. Starting in 2014, gallery hops of the Alliance will be coordinated over a 2-day period to ensure sufficient time for participation of all the Alliance galleries.
The Alliance has selected "St. Louis" as the theme for its 2014 coordinated thematic exhibition. The theme "St. Louis", suggested by 10th Street Gallery chief artist Solomon Thurman, will provide a presence and perspective on the 250th anniversary of the founding of the City of Louis. The exhibition will mark a milestone in the history of the City of St. Louis and a milestone in the history of art in the City. The exhibitions will open at each Alliance gallery in the Spring of 2014.
The Alliance of Black Art Galleries will serve to enhance opportunities and participation of galleries in the greater arts community in St. Louis. The principals of the Alliance galleries know only too well that for many African American artists, the choice of where they can show their art in a bricks-and-mortar gallery is limited. Robert A. Powell, executive director of Portfolio Gallery, is considered by some as "the dean" of Black art galleries in St. Louis. He feels that creating the Alliance is "a major first step" and is optimistic that the Alliance will be a major factor in the preservation of Portfolio Gallery, a 24-year old cultural institution located in Grand Center, the arts and entertainment district located in the center of St. Louis, where Portfolio Gallery has been located for 20 years.