Know Your History

South Side Community Art Center exhibits its permanent collection

There is a palpable sense of history at the South Side Community Art Center. The floors are scuffed from the thousands of people who have walked through over the years; the walls are pockmarked with holes from nails used to hold up past pieces. And in its newest exhibition, “Hidden Gems,” the Center is taking advantage of its own artistic history, presenting art from its permanent collection in honor of Black History Month.

“We have a vast collection of African-American art, and we don’t get to showcase it a lot,” says Raymond Thomas, the Center’s creative director. “Every now and then we want to celebrate artists from the past.”

Many of the pieces date from the sixties and seventies. In “Olympic Victory” (1968), Alonzo S. Parham depicts the Black Power salute Tommie Smith and John Carlos made at the 1968 Olympics. The black-and-white figures of the painting are lanky and faceless on their podiums, heads bowed above a vague crowd that is abstractly rendered with a few curved lines.

A William Walker piece, “A Tribute to Schools Along King Drive” (1978), is part of the collection of works from the seventies. The painting looms large, hanging in the stairwell with black-and-white photographs of South Side scenes and community art events run by the Center. A little boy and girl nervously clutching their books occupy the far-right and far-left sides of the painting. In the center a graduate holds his diploma. Children play in the background.

One of the most eye-catching pieces on display is a small, abstract, untitled piece by William McBride. It is beautiful in its simplicity: blocks of color and lines slice through the paint at various angles. The lines evoke an urgency within the colors that gives the piece vibrancy and life. As Executive Director Heather J. Robinson says, “It begs to be photographed.”

Alan Kimmbel, a longtime patron of the SSCAC, remembers its history. “Margaret [Burroughs, one of the Center’s founders] felt very strongly about promoting black culture and black history. She didn’t confine her promotion just to the black community…I remember her kind of holding court here.”

“This center was made as an art incubator for art talent,” says Thomas. “We go into the community to engage people with our art. Last year we had an event called ‘Paint the Block’ in which we created pop-up studios in which talented young people went out and painted. We were in abandoned lots and liquor store parking lots and kids would come up and engage these works.

“The South Side Community Art Center is a historical institution, it’s Mecca for black artists all over the country. Our mission statement is, ‘A frame of the past, a window to the future.’ This show represents that. We’re framing up the past to show to the future what we’ve done…To be excellent in whatever you do, you have to know your history.”

“Hidden Gems,” South Side Community Art Center, 3831 S. Michigan Ave. Closing reception Monday, March 3, 2pm-5pm. Wednesday-Friday, noon-5pm; Saturday, 9am-5pm; Sunday, 1pm-5pm. (777)373-1026.

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