By John Baker is the President of the WNY-Urban Arts Collective
Consulting with a respected community leader about my concerns and whether I should speak out, he said, “ a closed mouth don’t get FED.”
Addressing the Public and Public Art issue began with many heated and passionate discussions with local African American visual artists, especially our young talent seeking answers to their many questions. As a senior artist in our community, their frustration was nothing new to me. Their issues are historical experiences shared by myself and artists before me. These issues were often the topic of conversations with my mentors William Y. Cooper and William West Sr. It is unbelievable that obstacles they faced in the 50s and 60s are still prevalent in 2019. Twenty-five years ago as a graduate student at Buffalo State College my master’s paper documented in detail the need for respect, equity, diversity and inclusion in a multicultural community.
We all owe a great deal to those before us that made a cultural stand that we benefit from today. By no means am I comparing or measuring my small actions with the historical sacrifices they made. I just feel it’s time to take a stand for the local African artists and our community by taking actions and exposing the Public Art old boy’s club method of operation.
The purpose of my many public and private meetings was to share my experiences and inform our community with facts. I used myself personally as an example of the relationship between artist and community such as:
•My 4th grade BPS #37 teacher recognized and made me aware of my talent.
•Pastor William Gillison gave me the opportunity to collaborate with him on the stain glass windows for Mt Olive Baptist church.
•-Buffalo Juneteenth selected me as the artist to represent them in Washington DC at the National Juneteenth exhibit, which lead to my Negro Baseball series being summited for US Postal Stamps.
•It was because of community insistence that I, along with 2 other local African American artists, was selected for the FREEDOM WALL Project.
What do all these experiences have in common? Community support!
I further discuss in detail funding and resources for art organizations, developers and institutions. They receive tax breaks, contributions, donations and grants – millions of taxpayers’ dollars. We’re offered pennies while they make money. In response to our meetings I’m hearing a lot about community outreach and strategic plans: hollow words which are used to qualify for funding. ENOUGH is ENOUGH. We need less empty words and more action. The local African American artists and their community expect and deserve results not continued promises.