Chicago’s home to walkable, bustling neighborhoods filled with fine dining restaurants, attractions, and robust nightlife spots — at least it is depending on which side of the city you live in. Even though the historically Black South Side is home to plenty of mom and pop spots — as well as the DuSable Museum, Brown Sugar Bakery in Chatham, and the former Obama home in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood —  there simply aren’t as many art galleries and maker spaces as on the city’s whiter North Side.

Patricia Andrews-Keenan is out to change that. She’s the founder and owner of Pigment International, a South Side-based multimedia collective that promotes Black art, curation, and innovation. She founded Pigment International in 2018 as a Black woman-run space dedicated to connecting Black artists with galleries and reporting on the art, people, issues, trends, and events shaping Black contemporary art. 

Since its founding, Pigment International has held programs for Black artists and art enthusiasts across the South Side. Their current temporary gallery on 79th Street is part of the effort to revitalize Chatham — a predominantly Black area that Andrews-Keenan says has since been neglected due to gang violence and systemic racism. 

 “The Chatham neighborhood in Chicago was a very vibrant neighborhood — shops, and stores, and nightlife, and all of these things happening. But in the ’80s, when the gangs came, they pushed a lot of people out,” Andrews-Keenan says.

“Then we ended up with lots of empty storefronts and a decline in the community. The Greater Chatham Initiative has been tackling that. They invited us there. It’s bringing the community back through various different efforts. It’s using art to revitalize the community.” 

Her journey with Pigment International has shown her that Black Chicago artists and residents are eager to support their own. At the gallery, Andrews-Keenan says she is inspired by all of the folks who discover the space, praise the artists on display, and promise to come back. 

“People always come back,” she says. “Building those relationships helps us build community. Art is a beautiful way to build community.”

Connecting the Past and Present

Pigment International is special not only for its ability to uplift contemporary artists but because the organization honors historic Black artists as well. 

The times have changed, but the circumstances for artists are similar. You need to be able to look back and say so-and-so went through this and got through it. I can do it too.

Andrews-Keenan says that by examining the connections between historical and contemporary Black art, new generations of Black artists can have greater opportunities to succeed. 

“Those who don’t know their history don’t know where they come from. People need to know, and it seems in the Black community, we’ve always been trying to find that,” she says 

The challenges Black artists from the past dealt with, like failing marriages, juggling parenthood, or struggling with depression, “are all things artists have to deal with today,” Andrews-Keenan says. “The times have changed, but the circumstances for artists are similar. You need to be able to look back and say so-and-so went through this and got through it. I can do it too.”

Making Art Accessible

Along with serving artists through its rotating galleries, the organization also publishes Pigment Magazine, as well as weekly newsletters that educate the community about Black art, offer resources, and spotlight Black artists. 

Andrews-Keenan also takes pride in making art accessible to the everyday person. 

Winter 2021-22 Pigment Magazine.  Winner of the publishing industry’s Ozzie/Eddie Award for Best Cover Design Magazines Under 250K. Photograph courtesy of Patricia Andrews-Keenan.

“We are lay people. We are not art historians,” Andrews-Keenan explains. “We are not art educated. We look at art from the layman’s point of view, and I think a lot of people relate to that.”

Pigment International is also the force behind Black Fine Art Month — a month-long celebration of Black contemporary art hosted every October. The month’s goal is to gain national recognition for all the ways Black artists have propelled social movements and helped create a better society. During the inaugural Black Fine Art Month in 2019, Andrews-Keenan says she got her member of Congress to enter it into the Congressional record.

Black artists looking to get involved with Pigment International can check out their website and social media platforms

The bottom line is, whether you live on Chicago’s South Side or not, Black creatives need support.

“Buy Black art,” Andrews-Keenan says, “and if you can, buy it from living artists because they’re trying to make a living and support their families.” 

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Writer and content creator Nadira Jamerson is the Digital Editor for Word In Black. Her focus is to create space for Black individuals to express the complexities of their communities and identities through an honest and inspiring lens.