How to be an African-American art lover: Why investing in original black art is affordable, easy and edifying

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In today’s lean economic times, purchasing art might seem frivolous (and by all means don’t have your electricity cut off for the sake of owning a painting you can only view by candlelight), but you don’t have to be a millionaire to own quality artwork.  That idea was part of the theme at the panel discussion held recently at  Strivers Gardens Gallery in Harlem.  The discussion was part of series of events put on in conjunction with “eMerge: Danny Simmons and Artists on the Cusp,” an art exhibition featuring a wide range of talented artists.

The exhibit, which runs through September 6, 2012 at the Strivers Gardens Gallery, was co-curated by Souleo Enterprises, LLC and Lisa D. Hayes, Esq. It includes quilts, mosaics, paintings and even a door. Much of the work relates to African-American culture. Gentrification, hip-hop and survival are among the themes of the works. Prices for the pieces in the exhibit range from $125 to $15,000.

The all-female discussion panel, moderated by Hayes, provided insight into how a lover of black culture could come to own creative treasures like those on display in the exhibit. The joy black Americans can gain from buying original art derives in part from the ability to preserve our culture in images we approve of, while spend money on objects that can appreciate in value (rather than depreciating like most consumer goods).

Black art in America is a thriving realm just waiting for regular consumers to take part. Below are some of the tips and insider secrets the art professionals provided to aspiring collectors of regular means.

Educate yourself
“Educate your eye,” Amy Kisch, founder of AKArt and former Sotheby’s senior manager, told theGrio. “You might start seeing patterns or themes in the types of pieces you like.” Once you get an idea of what styles of art you enjoy, learn the lingo of the art world. The next time you’re in an art gallery, you will know what you want and how to articulate your tastes.

Another tip? “Read absolutely everything you can get your hands on,” advised Debra Vanderburg Spencer, a Harvard-trained arts management specialist. Her clients include Harlem’s beloved Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. By educating yourself, you can come to know the artists and types of art you might want to buy, as well as the various price ranges out there. You’d be surprised at what you love that might also have resale value in this varied field.

Go where the art is

Finding art to view, especially if you live in a big city, is not difficult. “Google galleries in your area and just go there. Get on their mailing lists. Go to flea markets and art fairs and local museums and non-profits,” suggested Krista Saunders, an independent curator who also attended the panel discussion. Break out of the pattern of buying posters and mass-produced prints. An artist in your neighborhood might have an original drawing or sculpture that you love. More famous artists might have limited edition prints of famous works available at small galleries in your area that are signed — but still affordable. These can beautify your home, and make valuable investments. In addition, many black-owned galleries and African-American artists have web sites and sell directly to the public anywhere.

Do it for love not money

Art can definitely be an investment and something of value to pass down to future generations, but the most important part of collecting art is the love. “Think of it as investing in your happiness,” said Kisch. “Your personal art collection is something you will live with and see everyday. You have to love it.” It truly uplifts the soul to look at original things of beauty that you adore in your home.

Make a fair deal

“Most galleries are more than willing to make payment arrangements,” said Tracy Causey Jeffrey, owner of Causey Contemporary Gallery in Brooklyn. “Smaller galleries in particular will do that because that’s guaranteed revenue.” Causey Jeffrey noted that most payment plans are for six months or shorter. She also pointed out that it is a huge faux pas to ask a gallery owner to shave off a few dollars. “Galleries are not flea markets,” said Causey Jeffrey. Yet, the flexibility of a payment plan can make acquiring a somewhat expensive piece more accessible.

Do a test run
There are websites that help you rent high-end handbags and clothes, so it only makes sense that there is one for art too. allows its clients to rent art for as little as $25 with an option to purchase.  Rent-to-own might not sound classy, but it makes sense to “test drive” a piece of art before you commit to a significant investment.

Will you find a dusty forgotten Picasso or Romare Beardan at a thrift store for $5 through these methods? Probably not. But you can find art that thrills you within your budget and help support a living artist at the same time.

African-Americans in the fine arts are making interesting contributions to the field that you can easily make a part of your life, regardless of your income level. The beautycreativity of our culture is so often celebrated in pop media, African-Americans might want to consider exploring the world of original art so that we can explore another realm of black beauty.

Are you an art collector or enthusiast? In the comments, share your favorites pieces and artists.

Follow Demetria Irwin on Twitter at @Love_Is_Dope.