To all, I'm speaking for a lot of young, Atlanta-based African American artists when I say this. The NBAF's presentation of itself to Atlanta, the country, and to the art world, at large, is dated and broken. NBAF coordinators and curators dont appear to be very inclusive of avant-garde african diasporal artists and ideas, at all. For the minute amount of contemporary artists that are included, dialogue about the work isn't established, in any form, and education about who that artist is, remains glaringly absent. Just last year, I witnessed works by talented contemporary artists Paul Benjamin, Nikita Gale, and Yanique Norman get treated as meer backdrop decorations at a packed NBAF event held at a car dealership. No docents. No info. No inquiries. No nothin'. Wow.
Also, fellow artists have expressed to me their frustrations about how the NBAF treats its participating artists. For years, artists who participated in NBAF's artist market, payed exorbitant prices, plus many others expenses, to travel here to present their work at Greenbriar Mall. This venue set the tone, past and present, for many an artist's disdain towards the NBAF. To my knowledge, for quite some time, it was very off putting for artists and collectors alike to engage in a venue as distracting and run down as Greenbriar mall. I've been told that directly affected sales and perceptions of their work.
I have a friend of mine, who's an art dealer in Northern Virginia, who flew down just to attend the artist market at the world congress center a few years ago. He told me how great it was to see the venue changed that year, but also how he was shocked to see so many commercial salesman in booths, directly adjacent to the artists, selling their wares! He stated that at one point, a gentleman asked him if he wanted to buy gutters for his home! What?!!
In regards to gala events and auctions, the NBAF asks artists to donate work, in which the organization recieves upwards of 50%-60% of the final sales commissions. In other instances, artists are asked to donate 100% of a sales commission of one work to the organization , and in return, have the opportunity to make 100% commission on the sale of another piece entered into the event. Seems cool right?
No. Many young artists are told that these auctions create interest in collectors to regularly follow their work, but in reality, these events are marketed as annual sale opportunities for collectors. These auctions have long been described as "feeding frenzies" for local art patrons who are unwilling to pay emerging artists, or their galleries, full price for prized work. These factors are the reasons why you NEVER see an artist's best work at these functions, just so you know.
Cumulatively, with all of the aforementioned factors added up, this is a probable reason why fewer emerging artists and local/national/international artists of note participate, which in turn, affects the amount and quality of critics, gallerists, and collectors who attend, critically write about and show financial support for the festival. I can't speak directly to advances in the music, dance, film, and stage components of the NBAF, but it appears to me that the art component of it is going backwards.
In closing, i believe some are thinking "Well, despite what you said, you aren't going to find a better place for african american art to be showcased." What you may be thinking is true, but just because its available, doesnt mean that its ACCEPTABLE. African american artists in Atlanta, and beyond, have too much artistic talent to offer to other organizations and cities, to accept what the NBAF is offering to them at this time.
Creative Loafing Atlanta
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