MCCC’s Black History Month series celebrates Black Artists

Editor’s note: This version of the story corrects the spelling for Priscilla Phifer, Darin Darby and Dora Kelley.

Artists, historians and art lovers gathered in the new River Raisin National Battlefield Park Amphitheater to celebrate Black artists as part of MCCC’s Black History Month Series Feb.19. 

“I feel the creative power in the room,” said Walter Bailey, guest speaker and Black artist from Detroit.

A “creative force,” resonated from the many artists present, but also from the 50 plus attendants who were called upon to reflect on their own artistic responsibility, Bailey said.

MCCC President Kojo Quartey acted as Master of Ceremonies.

The lecture and art presentation were hosted by the newly formed Robert Seldon Duncanson Society Monroe chapter as the first of four Robert Seldon Duncanson Legacy Presentations to be held this year. 

Izaiah Ford shows his artwork. He said this piece is called “Observation of Kinetic Disclosure.” Izaiah said it was inspired by his own growth and change within as he absorbs the energy of creative criticism and turns it into a positive attitude. (Photo by Elisabeth Brockman)

Patrick Barley, president and founder of the Robert Seldon Duncanson Society gave a historical account of Duncanson’s life and accomplishments from his childhood roots in Monroe to his international fame.

“Duncanson is known as the greatest landscape artist of the west,” Barley said.

The Robert Seldon Duncanson Society was formed to honor Duncanson and inspire future local black artists.

Dora Kelley, a member of the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club said she initiated this movement when she realized Duncanson’s grave in Monroe’s Woodland Cemetery was left unmarked.

“I found his grave, designed a headstone and the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club generously raised the money to have it made,” Kelley said. “We righted a historical wrong.”

Organizations such as Robert Seldon Duncanson’s Legacy, Black Artists of Metropolitan Detroit, and Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club honor those who paved the way and build up new artists, Kelley said.

The 11 artists showcasing work ranged from beginners to leaders in the field. 

The gallery contained works from Dawud Shabazz, Jide Aja, Nathan Spratt Jr., Izaiah Ford, Patricia Baker, Darin Darby, Priscilla Phifer, Reggie Singleton, Terrell Anglin, Walter Bailey and Jonathan Harris.

“The Black artist community is a family,” artist Dawud Shabazz said. “We receive feedback and support from each other.”

In the gallery, artists mingled with the attendees.

In that community atmosphere, the artists shared their journey in art. They shed light on the inspiration and techniques used to create the pieces on display.

Attendees and artists gather in the gallery to discuss the artwork. (Photo by Elisabeth Brockman)

“There are many talented Black artists who, because of race and lack of appropriate marketing, are being overlooked,” Quartey said. 

Artist and guest speaker Darin Darby said he wants the rising generation of artists to recognize their work as viable businesses. 

“Black artist organizations are working to not only create artists but to turn artists into entrepreneurs or ‘art-repreneurs.’” Darby said. “The goal in the art business is to transform communities, provide for families, and inspire the kids.”

Artistic talent can envelop many fields of study.

“Baking is art. Gardening is art. Writing is art. Even a stick figure is a form of art,” said Sandy Vanisacker, co-chair of the event. “Be an artist of that passion, in any area you give your full heart to.”

Any endeavor where an individual follows their dreams and puts their soul into it is art, she said.

“Find out what you can do, how you can do it, and make it happen,” artist Walter Bailey said in a speech. 

To punctuate his speech, Bailey rhythmically stomped his feet.

During the lecture, Bailey recited a poem he wrote in 1976 titled “Recording the Creator.”

Walter Bailey spoke to the full auditorium about the in’s and out’s of being a black artist today. (Photo By Elisabeth Brockman)

“Into the universe humankind has come 

Creating symbols of knowledge and wisdom 

As knowledge is to know 

And wisdom is to understand 

We of humankind record the creator, 

And the creator’s divine plan…”

“We are all artists and responsible for the wise use of our abilities,” Bailey said.

The Detroit Black Artist Art Show will remain on display at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park Visitor Center until Monday, February 28. The center is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The next Robert Seldon Duncanson Legacy Presentation is to be held on April 19 at 5 p.m. at MCCC.

For more information about the Robert Seldon Duncanson Society, visit their Facebook page.