Exhibitions, Shows and More to Honor Black History Month

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SPECIAL REPORT--It's fair to say that the African-American love affair with art began long before 1926's Negro History Week evolved into the debut of Black History Month in 1976. But nonetheless, many celebratory events in the art world take place in February.

Some museums highlight their permanent African-American collections while others showcase new art. From East to West the festivals and celebrations continue.

The National Black Fine Art Show in New York City brings together a number of galleries and dealers who represent the best in original Black art this month. Among the noted exhibitors are George N'Namdi of Detroit and Chicago; Bourbon-Lally of Haiti; Jerald Melberg of North Carolina; Caribbean Arts of Los Angeles and from New York, the Essie Green Gallery and ACA.

"The fact that we're in our fifth year is evidence that the works created by Black artists are very much a part of the legitimate art world," noted Joscelyn Wainwright of Keeling Wainwright Associates, the show's creator and producer.

Show organizers say another record sales year is expected following last year's $10 million dollar mark. The show's opening gala this year benefits The Studio Museum in Harlem.

The New York museum is among others across the country who continue to do this month what they do all year long--showcase some of the most notable work in the African American culture. The African American Museum in Dallas; the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago; the California Afro-American Museum in Los Angeles; and the National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., which is now part of the Smithsonian, are some of the museums where Black History Month is celebrated all year long.

Another East Coast feast of art this month is the National Black Heritage Festival sponsored by the African-American Visual Arts Association (AAVA) at the Baltimore Convention Center. A highlight of the show is an "America's Promise" youth art showcase and competition. The idea for the youth mentoring program was established by Colin Powell, the first African-American to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff. AAVA has developed its own model--a program for 3,200 youth called "Art is the Key."

Seventy African-American artists have worked with young people to develop their creative talents for the program. "Some are doing so well that a volunteer investment firm is helping them with their money," said AAVA President and Executive Director Glenda Boone.

Among the well-known art professionals participating in this year's program, which is free and open to the public, are Albert Fennell, Ted T. Ellis, Larry "Poncho" Brown, Tim Hinton, Kelvin Henderson and George Nock.

Synthia Saint James, designer of the U.S. Post Office's Kwanzaa stamp, created the exhibit's commemorative poster, "Celebration," which serves as a fundraiser for the youth program. Saint James has illustrated more than 50 book covers including Terry McMillan's New York Times best seller, Waiting to Exhale, that was later made into a movie by the same name. Saint James has long been a fan of young people and is currently writing and illustrating her 12th children's book. She will display some of that art in Baltimore. Her work is also featured this month, along with 40 other artists, at another East Coast event, "Art Attack! ... Visual Heartbeat" in Morristown, N.J. It is sponsored by the non-profit group, Art in the Atrium, Inc.

"Most of our pieces are in the $300 to $2,000 price range," said Finance Director Jacquelyn Bolder, "but we will carry pieces as high as $6,000. Our mission is to educate. There is so much going on in the African-American art world."

Charles Bibbs will also be part of the AAVA show in Baltimore. An entrepreneur and philanthropist from Southern California, Bibbs has formed a company to publish and distribute his artwork (B Graphics & Fine Arts, Inc.). He has also formed a national visual arts association, Art 2000, and introduced a national publication, Images Magazine, dedicated to ethnic art and artists. …