This story is part of “All Those ‘Racial Reckoning’ Promises” Word In Black’s series exploring the pledges made to the Black community following the Summer of George Floyd and what organizations and leaders can still do now to promote racial equity and justice.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police in 2020, communities worldwide stood united, taking to the streets to protest and echoing Floyd’s haunting last words: “I can’t breathe.”
The phrase was seen everywhere — painted on shop windows and worn on T-shirts. It symbolized an all-too-common, painful reality: Black people being killed by police.
Black folks were fierce in their demands for justice, and organizations and government officials vowed to do better to promote racial justice and equity. In response, companies — from Penguin Random House to Adidas — promised to uplift Black voices, particularly in the arts.
But has much really changed?
Companies committed to allocating more funds and opportunities for Black artists to showcase their work. However, while the market for Black artists grew by nearly 400% between 2008-2021, Black art still only represents 1.9% of global auction sales, according to a 2022 report from ArtNet.
For Black women artists, the numbers are even more bleak. Black women in the United States comprise only 0.5% of art acquisitions while representing 6.6% of the population. Collecting in this category was higher in 2020, immediately following protests about Floyd’s murder. However, artworks by Black women comprised only 0.1% of all global auction sales between 2008 and 2022.
Patricia Andrews-Keenan, the founder of Pigment International — a South Side of Chicago-based organization dedicated to connecting Black artists with galleries and reporting on the art, people, issues, trends, and events shaping Black contemporary art — says she has noticed opportunities dry up since 2020.
“All of a sudden, there were all of these companies that had some kind of support that was centered on Black people. We got some of those things, but now I see fewer of those,” Andrews-Keenan explains.
Yet, she remains motivated to do this work despite these obstacles because she is inspired by Black artists’ dedication to persevere. While opportunities have faltered, Andrews-Keenan says the resolve of Black artists to share their voices has not.
“Those things started because of the George Floyd time, and we want to have more recognition,” Andrews-Keenan says. “But how Black artists have taken advantage of it and turned it into something specific to them, I think that’s really exciting.”
For example, Pigment International is a proud supporter of Paint the City, an organization that began showcasing its artwork through murals painted on boarded-up stores that were looted during the 2020 protests. Now, they have expanded into Chicago Public Schools, where they help K-12 students create impactful murals.
While Andrews-Keenan believes there is more mainstream organizations should be doing to uplift Black artists, she also believes that the responsibility to champion Black artists cannot rest solely on these organizations. For artists looking for more funding for their work, Andrews-Keenan recommends looking into Forefront, an online database where artists can put in who they are and their mission and be matched with donors looking to give to their cause.
Most importantly, Andrews-Keenan says that community building and leaning on the spaces that truly value Black art, outside of when caring is trendy, is vital to the success of the Black arts community.
“Find your tribe. Don’t look at yourself as being out here alone because there are other people trying to do what you do,” Andrews-Keenan says. “Look around at the galleries that carry work that looks like yours. Which gallery would you go to? That gallery that you would go to is probably the one where you want your work to be.”
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