Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative plans to nonprofit kicks off a busy year with a panel discussion on Jan. 25.
There’s nothing quite like the artistic process for Michéle Des Verney Redwine — it's how she says she finds joy.
The former Ringling Museum board member has been deep in the arts world for years, first as a painter and more recently as a sculptor. She's also been on several local arts boards in the 15 years since she moved to Sarasota — and nothing has made her happier.
But, she says, that joy isn’t shared by a diverse enough group of people. For all the artistic avenues in Sarasota, she feels diverse artistic voices are hard to find.
“We find that if there's an interesting exhibition that has been created by an African-American or an Asian (artist), those communities come out to see that,” Redwine said. “Eventually they'll start to become an active participant within that organization. But most people of color in this community do not feel connected to the arts.”
Redwine formed the Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative in 2017 to help bridge that divide. The group partnered with Arts Center Sarasota for salons and guest artists to promote diverse artists and viewpoints. While it was a good start, Redwine feels it wasn’t enough to break through.
“No one really knew us,” Redwine said. “We were not entrenched in the community. And that was the missing link.”
She decided 2020 would be different. Redwine and her organization spent the pandemic year establishing themselves as a legitimate nonprofit, expanding the board of directors and forming partnerships with other nonprofits to emphasize diversity and inclusion.
Now, as 2021 gets started, Redwine feels it’s starting to pay off.
The group plans on Jan. 25 a new panel series about the intersection of art and racial justice. Subsequent panels are planned in March, April and May.
On the same day as the “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in the Visual Arts” panel, the group will launch the “2021 Black Muse” exhibition, which highlights local artists of color and their works. The virtual exhibition is a collaboration with Art Center Sarasota and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.
“I honestly believe everything that we do has to be through some form of collaboration, or partnership,” Redwine said. “That's the only way that we are going to help a community to look at the missing pieces.”
This year’s exhibit will have more emphasis on young artists. Following last year’s exhibition which had several of the artists visiting Sarasota schools to discuss their creativity and process with students, the 2021 exhibition will have a student segment including works from Sarasota High School, Booker High School, North Port High School, Riverview High School, and Booker Middle School.
Redwine also plans to launch an Ambassadors for African-American Art program to involve students in the arts scene in the local community. Redwine is drafting a proposal to receive grant money for the program and hopes to have it operating by the end of spring.
She hopes that program, in turn, will spur interest in inclusion and more varied exhibitions at art museums and organizations. Redwine is of the belief that professional art groups respond to community engagement — if local groups show interest in more diverse lines of art, they’ll change their galleries to reflect that.
“We need to consider being involved more in this area,” Redwine said. “Influence is very important in terms of operation and those things drive involvement.”
Redwine says she works on the various initiatives morning to night, every day of the week. Planning and managing a slate of programs throughout a pandemic year was both exhausting and invigorating, and she hopes the new year will bring more progress.
"We're so engaged with the work we're doing," she said. "I hope a year from now that we have a good solid face in this community, and people know about us ... and we have a good partnership."