Collectively speaking, several organizations are championing Kansas City’s Black arts scene.
The brainchild of renowned quilter Sonié Joi Thompson-Ruffin, the African American Artists Collective has entered its second year of existence. The AAAC includes artists from multiple genres including visual art, dance, filmmaking, jewelry making and quilting. In addition to organizing exhibitions, the AAAC advocates for the inclusion of Black artists in Kansas City’s art-based opportunities.
A recent AAAC Black History Month exhibition, co-curated by Ramona Davis and Thompson-Ruffin at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center in Overland Park, showcased Michael Toombs, Keith Shepherd, Frank Norfleet, Joseph Newton, Stefan Jones, Jason Piggie, Harold Smith, Diallo Javonne French and Michael Brantley.
The KC Black Arts Network, founded by Davis, has entered its third year of existence. With an artist’s directory, website and newsletter, this network seeks to identify local professional artists of color, promote their work through social media and advocacy, and cultivate strong relationships between the artists, art enthusiasts and the Kansas City arts community.
Relatively new, but making a big impression, Black Space Black Art, founded by poet Natasha Ria El-Scari, seeks to bring awareness and promote local Black artists by “bringing the art to the people.” El-Scari’s goal is to “create a space for African American visual artists to show and sell their work on a consistent basis and to create community for African American artists.” She has achieved this, in part, by managing several simultaneous exhibitions in non-traditional spaces such as barber and beauty shops.
The power of community is evident in the ability of these collectives to co-exist and share resources for the benefit of the community. Both El-Scari and Davis are members of the African American Artists Collective. Several artists actively exhibit in more than one collective.
In a 2014 citizenship ceremony for immigrants who served in the armed forces, President Obama stated that “Diversity makes us stronger, creative, and different.” The diversity of talents, both artistic and administrative, are truly strengthening Kansas City’s Black arts community.
Note: The author is a member of the African American Artist’s Collective, Black Space Black Art, and The KC Black Arts Network. He is also a collector of works by Warren “Stylez” Harvey and Stefan Jones.
Above: Black Space Black Art founder Natasha Ria El-Scari (third from left), with artist members of Black Space Black Art and the African American Artist’s Collective. At left, Warren “Stylez” Harvey and Vivian Wilson Bluett. At right, Nikita Graves, Adrianne Clayton-Edwards and Lynell Diggs. Photo by Carmen Hubbard.