Because of another “shift and pivot” brought on by the pandemic, Kansas City residents will be able to enjoy a first-of-its-kind exhibit at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
When the pandemic shut down traveling and international exhibitions, the Nelson Atkins staff opened their mind to creating unique new exhibitions and also reflected on the museum’s role in social justice issues. They used some of their extra time to collaborate with local community groups and explore projects to offer some diverse opportunities for visitors.
As a result, for the first time ever, the Nelson-Atkins will feature an exhibition composed completely of the work of local African-American artists. The exhibition, “Testimony: African American Artists Collective,” features the testimonies of more than three dozen local artists through their art.
“Through our reflection during the past year, we have increased our commitment to creating a welcoming space for all people,” Anne Manning, deputy director of education and interpretation, said in a press release.
In the exhibit, 35 artists from the African American Artists Collective (AAAC) will showcase a piece of art that illustrates speaking their” testimony” or truth. The artists include painters, sculptors, poets, photographers, performance artists, and illustrators.
Founded in 2014, the AAAC is a group of nearly 150 local artists including painters, sculptors, poets, photographers and performance artists. The AAAC advocates for Black artists, provides mentorship, builds networks and aims to increase Black artist visibility in Kansas City. AAAC members share job opportunities with each other and help each other grow.
“If you look at the people in the collective, they are absolutely some of the best artists in the city,” said Taylor Brown, a AAAC member who’s also featured in the “Testimony” exhibit. “They are certainly trailblazers, and I find it important to surround myself by people who are better than me, who I can learn from.”
Brown specializes in spoken word and textiles and combines the two to create a poem on canvas for her Testimony piece. Brown said she hopes visitors reflect on what the Black community has overcome over time and reflect on the importance of enacting real change when they see her piece.
“I feel like sometimes we are satisfied by feel-good moments like marches or painting murals – not that that isn’t important, but it’s equally if not more important to really step back and map out what will create real progress, as opposed to being so satisfied with one moment,” Brown said.
Music photographer Diallo French, one of the founding members of the AAAC, is showcasing his photograph he took of Chalis O’Neal, a local trumpet player, performing before the pandemic hit.
In his piece, French wanted to showcase how the pandemic affected local musicians since many music venues closed.
“When you’re a performer, that’s the thing that brings you joy and that brings you peace. So, when you’re stuck in the house, that’s a difficult thing,” French said. “That’s why I named the piece ‘A Musicians Life,’ because it’s not always an easy life.”
The free exhibit opens June 5 and runs through March 27, 2022. The museum’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. The museum is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Testimony: African American Artists Collective Participating Artists:
Michelle Monette Beasley
J. LeRoy Beasley
Charles A. Bibbs
NedRa L. Bonds
Michael A. Brantley
Taylor Renee Brown
Ramona Elizabeth Davis
Gerald D. Dunn
Diallo Javonne French
Sherry Lyn Mirador
Dean Lamont Mitchell
Arie Dee Monroe
Joseph A. Newton
Joseph Tyler Newton Sr.
Kim Alexis Newton
Glenn A. North Jr.
Michael Tjon Patton
Jason D. Piggie
Harold David Smith
Michael Vance Toombs
Alton “AT” Webb