BOULDER, Colo. — Black artists across the country are fighting for more jobs in the art industry, saying they are underrepresented in numbers and influence.
Many involved with getting more eyes on Black artists say it’s not just about paychecks, but also a way to preserve culture and inspire others.
“Art from where I come from, art is incorporated in everything we do,’ said SaToro Tafura, an artist based in Boulder, Colorado.
“If you want to go back, all of our cultural story was told through art from an ancient time,” said Adderly Grant-Lord, an artist and curator based in Boulder.
Grant-Lord is an African American artist dedicated to abstract painting, but she’s also at the forefront of fostering African American artists.
“I go to all the museums, I go to all the shows, but the one thing that was not there for inspiration was that there were no African American artists for me to talk to,” she said. “There was nobody here for me to say, ‘I can do that too.’”
The online recruitment service Zippia says there are 10,600 artists currently employed artists in the United States.
While Black Americans make up around 14% of the country, they are only 4.3% of working, paid artists.
The industry news site Artnet reports that Black artists made up only about 6% of major museum exhibitions between 2008 and 2021. Museums buying art by Black artists was even worse— at only about 2% of their acquisitions in that timespan.
“I think the industry has to open up and be more welcoming to more backgrounds,” Tafura said. “It’s about privilege to... who can do art and who is afforded that opportunity to do that.”
“We did not believe the world at large will give you a space for you to be able to take care of your family in this career,” Grant-Lord said. “I think a lot of us do not go into this career. When my parents go to a museum, they do not see artists from Black or African Americans hanging in the museum.”
To help bring more Black Americans into the industry, some are using tactics like renting out exhibit space to promote Black artists, hoping to inspire the next generation.
“I am teaching kids five to 12,” Tafura said. “When you have someone like me, that relates to something that you don’t know, then it opens you up to other cultures.”
One positive development Artnet reported is the number of Black staff in art museum leadership positions doubled between 2015 and 2022. It increases the hope that artists like Grant-Lord and others will find a higher profile in the art world— beyond Black History Month.