Local venues keeping art history alive

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The history of the Bronzeville community, nestled on the South Side just east of the lake and right outside of downtown, is a storied one that includes being considered the city’s blues district.

The history of the Bronzeville community, nestled on the South Side just east of the lake and right outside of downtown, is a storied one that includes being considered the city’s blues district.

But also a vibrant feature of the community is its rich visual art offerings.

Bronzeville was the place artists came to hone their crafts and share their works in the 30s. It was described as the Harlem of the Midwest – an affluent area for Blacks a place where their work mattered and Black businesses thrived, local art gallery owners and art center directors pointed out.

“When Bronzeville happened music started happening,” said Faheem Majeed curator and executive director of the South Side Community Art Center. He explained that SSCAC was born out of the surge in the community’s Black population as people settled in Bronzeville from the South.

“A lot of Black people coming from South came here looking for blue collar jobs and in war time (WWII) women and men went off to the Army and (Bronzeville) started to expand. We were able to come in … and get this really nice building and renovate it,” Majeed said, explaining how SSCAC got its home.

Now his art center, located at 3831 S. Michigan Ave., is a beacon of cultural and visual artistry, showcasing works by renowned and up-and-coming artists. It also boasts a rich history.

“Gordon Parks, the first Black photographer for Life magazine, (his) first dark room was here. Gwendolyn Brooks’ first poetry class was here, Richard Wright, Margaret Burroughs along with a lot of other Harlem Renaissance artists came through the center at some point,” said Majeed.

The art venues in the community have sort of banded together in a unique way to, as their leaders say, ensure that Black arts culture does not become a remnant of the past but remains in the present and extends into the future. The venues included SSCAC, Gallery Guichard, DuSable Museum, Faie African Art Gallery and Little Black Pearl.

The venues keep art history alive in Bronzeville by holding community events, having art classes that youth and adults can take to find their artistic niche, and providing exposure for emerging artists.

“We’ve had riots obviously drugs and things have changed things dramatically, we’ve been here consistently through all types of things,” said Majeed.

Little Black Pearl, 1060 E. 47th St., is dedicated to creating opportunity for youth to deepen creative involvement through arts, said Hyleia Kidd, an employee.

She added that they strive to cultivate entrepreneur skills and to use the art as a means of economic empowerment and community transformation.

Supporting new artists’ work that represents the African Dispora is something Andre Guichard is also passionate about. His Gallery Guichard is housed in the Supreme Life building – the first Black-owned insurance company in Chicago – at 3521 S. King Drive.

Guichard considers Bronzeville a special place.

“This is a sacred land where we’re standing because of Black businesses and artist who were here, it’s a place of history and entrepreneurship,” he said.

Guichard, who regularly sponsors ¡– in the summer and early fall – art tours by trolley through Bronzeville’s art district, said when you see a room full of people interested in art it’s a renaissance.

“We’re bringing culture to heights that might be the pinnacle of the whole country,” said Guichard, who also brings in big names like Russell Simmons to help push art appreciation.

“Chicago is a city where there’s a lot of African Americans in positions of power, lots of entrepreneurship, culture and industry that support arts here,” he said.

The venue owners are passionate about art because they consider it not only part of Black history but also a way to record it.

“It’s not enough to collect our artist, we have to document and research them or one else is going to know a lot about them,” said Majeed.

“A people without culture are a people that have no foundation,” said Guichard. … “As long as we are able to support our artist we (Black community) will reap benefits.

Copyright 2010 Chicago Defender

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