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FIA gala excites, enlightens and helps expand African American artist collection

Featured photo: Talisha Gilbert with work by John Riddle, Change the Plan, 1982, Serigraph (3)-2.jpg

Written by Tanya Terry, with contributions and photos by L.M. Land

Sources used include Wikipeda and lecture by Emily Bibb

In continuing the Flint Institute of Art’s (FIA) celebration of Black history, the 16th Annual Community Gala took place took place at the FIA on Jan. 28 and was enjoyed immensely by approximately 275 members of the community!

Emily Bibb, the curator of The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art, presented a lecture to kick off the event, which many event attendees considered fascinating! The lecture was given prior to the exhibition opening for “Ways of Seeing: The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at the University of Alabama.”

For Community Member Kalayia Tomlin, who was attending her second FIA Community Gala, the best part of the gala was the lecture. She liked that there was an opportunity to learn about the art she looked at and ask questions.

“I didn’t know a person could have an art collection of this magnitude, kept it and was gracious enough to donate it so other people could see it,” Tomlin said.

Kalayia Tomlin with Orlando J. Gibson

Tomlin works with the children of the Chosen Few Arts Council at Berston Fieldhouse. She looks forward to returning with children for field trips to see the collection again.

The Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art at The University of Alabama includes one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of 20th-century African American art in the world.

In 2001, Jones also donated 1,000 pieces of art and photography to the University of Delaware. Jones later donated a 1,700-plus piece collection valued at more than $10.3 million to the College of Arts and Sciences at The University of Alabama in October 2008. His intention through the donations was the preserve the legacy of African-American artists, spark the interest of future art collectors and help elevate African-American art in the eyes of the art world

Matthew Grady with one of his favorite pieces in the show, 2 8 M, 2008, by Whitfield Lovell, b. 1959, conte on wood, radio(4)-2 (1).jpg

“It was great to hear why she made the selections for this exhibition, and it’s also great to know that she had Paul Jones’ goals and ideas in mind when she was doing that,” said Rachael Holstege, associate curator at the FIA, said of the lecture.

According to Bibb’s lecture, in 1967, Jones had bought three cheap mass-produced prints (a Degas, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec). He learned that he liked art. So, he started researching and learning about art. Eventually, he learned he liked artwork by people who were like him best. But he did not see any art by Black artists in museums or galleries at the time.

Emily Bibb, curator, Paul R. Jones Collection of American Art

Community member Linda Ryals-Massey said the lecture by Bibb touched on a lot of pieces that a lot of people of color don’t recognize.

“We always think that only the wealthy collect artwork, but that isn’t true,” said Ryals-Massey.

Ryals-Massey collects from up-and-coming artists. She said after hearing the lecture, she is considering offering her own art collection to a school when she transitions.

Joe Massey and Linda Ryals-Massey

This year, the Community Gala Committee aimed for and achieved something bright, eclectic and fun.

Community members also said they connected with the art they saw.

An artwork titled “The Funeral Repass” by Keith Duncan was purchased with funds raised through last year’s gala, “Sons: Seeing the Modern African American Male.”

Community Member Theresa A. Stephens-Lock, who also is a trustee on the the FIA Board of Directors, said she feels many Blacks in our community can identify with the images depicted in “The Funeral Repass,” especially if they have southern roots. A funeral repass is a tradition honoring the deceased with one last gathering before sending them off into their eternal rest.

Local Artist Ed Watkins also talked to the Courier about his digital print “Put on the Whole Armor,” which is one of his favorites.

Local artist Ed Watkins

“It’s an image of one of my uncles who was mustard gased in the war,” Watkins explained. “Part of his torso is missing. So, I put a sabre in his hand, and the background is, at the time, the Middle East. So, it’s called ‘Put on the Whole Armor.’”

Another piece by Watkins called “Surrender Pock” is in the FIA Expressions exhibition and part of the Surrender series.

In the Surrender series, Watkins depicts works that deal with life’s issues as a man of color. For Watkins, the idea of surrender is a journey of letting go of what was… surrendering to the holy spirit… or it’s just committing to change.

This lithograph “Surrender Pock” was based on a photograph taken by his son Adam of his friend Pock.

In addition, live entertainment by the Reichlin Small Group, heavy d’oeurves and a cash bar were available for event attendees.

Entertainment was by the Reichlin Small Group. Left to right, Kill Bill, Famadou Collins on drum, Reichlin Small.

The funds raised through this year’s gala will go towards acquiring another artwork for the now permanent collection of work by African American artists at the FIA, as well as museum programming. About $60,000 was raised by the gala, according to Ashley Toth-Mcmillan, events manager for the FIA.

Because of the Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Millage, admission to the FIA is free every day for county residents.

Shirley Johnson and Gwendolyn Nesbit








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