A longtime gallery owner is debuting an exhibition Jan. 13 that he hopes will draw people from all over the country to see African-American art in St. Louis.
“All Colors” features the work of 66 national and local artists. The Portfolio Gallery nonprofit will present the show at the Artists’ Guild, 2 Jackson Ave., in Clayton, the first exhibition following the sale of its Grand Center building.
Portfolio owner Robert Powell sold the gallery space in 2015 with the goal of supporting African-American artists.
“What we want to do is provide an opportunity for artists and organizations that the mainstream seems to have forgotten, or has little or no interest in,” Powell said.
Lack of lead sponsor forces cutbacks
“All Colors” features the work of national, predominantly African-American artists such as Ed Johnetta Miller and Thomas Sleet as well as local artists including Cbabi Bayoc. It includes painting, sculpture, textiles and other media.
Powell had planned for a budget of $150,000 and hoped to find a single contributor to cover a major portion of the invitational and juried exhibition.
“We wanted someone to be a lead sponsor, to brand it as their event,” Powell said.
The highest level of sponsorship included the contributor’s name in all promotions and a private opening reception. But there were no takers.
“So we cut back,” Powell said. “I had hoped to put a catalog together. I had big advertisements I wanted to do.”
The bid for support did garner smaller amounts. Some proceeds from the sale of the Portfolio building 3514 Delmar Blvd., behind Powell Hall — $480,000 in all — will also help fund the endeavor.
Powell plans to make the art exhibition an annual event.
“I’ll be looking for sponsors for next year,” he said.
‘We need a champion’
The lack of a major donor underscores the plight of all African-American arts institutions in St. Louis, Powell said. These include not only Portfolio but also the Black Rep, the Griot Museum of Black History, Urb Arts and other groups.
“We, as cultural organizations, suffer greatly,” Powell said. “We could go out of business in a moment.”
For many years, Powell has touted a broad solution: the creation of an African-American subdistrict under St. Louis’ Zoo-Museum District, which oversees the distribution of $76 million in tax revenue.
A bill allowing the new subdistrict has languished in the Missouri legislature since 2005. St. Louis city and county voters would ultimately have to raise property taxes to create it.
Pushing the issue forward requires a committed leader in a position of power, Powell said.
“[We need] a champion who would pick up the banner,” Powell said. “If you have a good champion, someone who has the ear of civic progress, who has the ear of corporate American, then it gets done.”
Powell’s been repeating this message and hanging onto hope for a long time.
“There is a saying … ‘Where's my chicken; everybody eats chicken, so where's my chicken?,’” Powell said. “So, it’s disheartening.”
If you go:
‘All Colors’ art exhibition
When: Jan. 13-Feb. 28
Where: Artists’ Guild, 2 Jackson Ave., Clayton
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