Gallerist Alaina Simone On The Art Of Preserving Culture

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She elaborates, “The African-American community is still separate. …You have your five faces that you see [at the parties] all the time. They’re gonna be there. But it’s like everyone else isn’t really invited.”

This social separation colludes with a general ignorance regarding art and artists from certain parts of the world.

“[When people] first think about tribal or African art, or Oceanic art,” of which the Merton D. Simpson Gallery has an extensive collection, Simone says, “It’s like this foreign thing to them.” The Gallery’s goal is to erase the middle wall of mystique between artists and consumers; and between artists themselves.

To this end, Simone says she is working to produce artist talks and other programming for the Gallery that enables the community to engage directly with artists about their work and their process. She also directs a sculpture park in Switzerland as part of her role at the Gallery, inviting artists from all over the world to create in an artist residency.

“[Artists] create the sculptures in situ,” she explains, “and then place them on top of the mountain [in the sculpture park].”

Simone cites a network of players who work to connect talented black artists with buyers including Texas-based curator Alvia Wardlaw. Wardlaw, she says, introduced her to Tina Knowles who ended up buying a piece from a gallery Simone once worked at.

You don’t need Mama Knowles’ money to collect art, Simone insists. “I’m a collector myself.” It’s about investing in artists on the come up as well as the little-known treasures that have been contributing to the culture for years.

She recommends work by up-and-comers Shani Peters and Noel Leon while collectors with more to spend should consider pieces by the late Purvis Young, abstract painter Sam Gilliam. “People need to know about Howardena Pindell,” Simone adds, referring to the visual artist whose work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, among others.

“I would just encourage young people to start acquiring artwork,” she stresses. “It’s the only way that our artists will flourish.” When our artists grow, “our voices only get stronger.”

And just like that, that 100-year-old time capsule becomes a lot more well-rounded than a booty selfie.

Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of the novel Powder Necklace and founder of the blog People Who Write. Follow her on Twitter @nanaekua.

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