The Art Center of the Bluegrass is currently hosting The Art of Being Black: Conversation and Experience, an exhibit that tackles the issue of race through the lens of conversations, memories and stories of African Americans in Kentucky.
The Art Center convened an advisory committee of Black community leaders and creative professionals who worked together to shape the exhibit. In addition to issuing an open call for artwork that addressed the theme of the Black experience, the Art Center commissioned five Kentucky artists to create artwork for two inter-related exhibits.
The Conversations exhibit provides a visual interpretation of a series of community conversations, hosted by the Art Center in the fall. Black community members shared their memories and stories of life in Danville. Louisville artists Ashley Cathey, Sandra Charles, and Lexington artist LaVon Williams created artwork inspired by those conversations, with artwork that speaks to issues of community and the sense of “home.”
Themes of identity and perception are at the forefront of the second exhibit— Momentum. For this exhibit, Louisville artist Tomisha Lovely-Allen and Lexington artist and poet Frank X Walker were asked to respond to civil rights photographs of their choosing. The result is a visual through-line of the struggle for racial justice.
A third exhibit—Call and Response: A reflection on the African American Experience—was an open call for submissions and includes pieces by 16 Kentucky artists.
Visitors to the show can also view “The African-American Experience in Kentucky,” an hour-long film by P Pi Productions in which Chuck Taylor and Elliott Porter interviewed Black community members to document and share their stories. Visitors can also respond to the exhibit through several hands-on engagement opportunities, including creating their own collage quilt squares and responding to creative writing prompts.
PNC Bank stepped forward early in the planning process as the presenting sponsor of the exhibit, while Toyota Motor Manufacturing provided a grant to help underwrite the cost of curating the show. The Kentucky Humanities Council provided additional funding to bring the exhibit to life.
Because of the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on public gatherings, the Art Center is presenting the show both in-person and virtually. The online version of the exhibit includes videos of the artists discussing their work along with opportunities for the public to engage and respond to the show. It is accessible via the Art Center website at artcenterky.org. The Art Center has also developed a virtual field trip curriculum that is available to educators throughout Kentucky, with fourth and fifth grade classes able to participate free of charge.