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Batt, James R. (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 20, Number 2 [3] (Summer 1974)

Birtha, Cheryl Coomer
The state of the arts in the Black community,   pp. 25-28

Page 28

   And the problems do not stop
there. Very often, the work of
Afro-Americans in all artistic me-
dia, but particularly the visual
arts, is subject to the interpretation
of critics that have had little or no
contact with the black experience
in America. As a result, says
Freida High, Professor of African
and Afro-American Art at the UW-
Madison, the work of black artists
is often misinterpreted and inac-
curate evaluations of the work are
presented to the black community.
   According to Professor High,
"Black art is that which captures
the internal characteristics of black
culture which embrace every ele-
ment of life extending from birth
to death, be it joy, sorrow, anger,
or tranquility."
   When explained in terms of
imagery, black art can exist in
realistic or abstract representa-
tions of black people, the way they
live and their particular heritage.
It can be expressed symbolically
through African motifs or through
depicting the interactions of Afro-
Americans in a country whose
political, social, and economic
ideologies are deeply rooted in the
arbitrary use of color to discrimi-
nate against certain segments of
its population.
   "It must be emphasized," says
Professor High, "that no artist
who has not lived in society as an
integral part of the black cultural
experience can produce the inter-
nal characteristics of black culture,
though many have attempted to
   "On the Beach" from
 series of four etchings      l
   in charcoal and conte
crayons by Evelyn Jerry
of Milwaukee, depicts the
experience of searching
    and exploring which
    children of all colors
 have. (23" x 30", 1972)
do so. What they do produce,
however, is an outsider's observa-
tion of blacks and what they see
as the black man's relationship to
society which, obviously, is not a
black interpretation."
        THE FUTURE:
   While the basic ideological
thrust at this point concerning art
and the black community is one
of defining how art by and for
Afro-Americans will evolve, the
crucial problems of sustaining and
adequately promoting the creative
process within the black commu-
nity cannot be i g n o r e d. Even
though the exposure of black ar-
tists in all areas has increased,
particularly in music, theatre, film,
and electronic media, such as
radio and television, it has often
been done in a way that takes the
control of the arts outside the
black community. While perform-
ing artists frequently give concerts
in cities like Racine, Beloit, Mil-
waukee, and Madison, the profits
from these performances seldom,
if ever, find their way back into
the black community. Black visual
artists are often forced to organize
their own exhibits as they are gen-
erally overlooked by established
galleries and civic art centers.
Dance and repertory companies
like Ko-Thi or People's Theater
are forced to practice and rehearse
in facilities that are totally inade-
quate for the kinds of extensive
training their members need and
desire. Evelyn Terry, a Milwaukee
artist whose works have been on
exhibit at the Whitney Museum of
American Art in New York and
who is affiliated with the Milwau-
kee Art Center's Collectors' Gal-
lery, sees a desperate need for
more black art teachers in the
schools and the inclusion of black
artists in art history texts and
   Then, there is always the need
for financial resources to sustain
the artists and their work. While
the black community is respon-
sive, it is often not in an economic
position that will allow it to sup-
port and adequately fund the
kinds of activities desired, e.g.,
cultural exchanges between cities
in other states, dance and music
   Thus, there is a need for facili-
ties and funds that will allow
groups like the Inner City Arts
Council of Milwaukee and Edu-
culture of Madison to pursue and
realize the kinds of efforts that are
needed to perpetuate the develop-
ment of the arts and artists in the
black community. An institute for
the study and presentation of a
wide range of Afro-American art
has been the desire of many within
the black community; promotional
funds and activities must be had
if black artists are to get the kind
of exposure all artists desire and
need so that they can continue to
create; and most importantly, the
control of the resources that are
produced from the sale and pro-
motion of art originating in the
black community must be realized
if the creative process in all its
forms can become a viable politi-
cal, social, cultural, and economic
force that will benefit the black
  Like the struggle for freedom
that black Americans have waged
for over three hundred years, the
struggle to develop and sustain
definitive art and cultural forms
rooted within the Afro-American
experience continues. The impact
of its development thus far has
been one of presenting and
strengthening directed social and
political images of black Ameri-
cans in this society. Its future de-
velopment must see an element or
elements of control which will en-
sure not only the cultural survival
of Afro-Americans, but which will
help to direct the course and con-
tent of their political, economic,
and social survival as well.

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