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OURS: The Importance of Collecting Black Art

The Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition was nothing short of spectacular. From the featured artists and their striking artwork to the special guests in attendance. But there is a collective who makes all the difference in recognizing the value in the artists and contributing to their rising success: art collectors.

Art collectors see the advantages that artists bring to communities and society. When an art piece is purchased, it’s considered an investment to help artists continue their craft while building excitement around an artist’s oeuvre, especially for Black artists who are severely underrepresented in the art scene.

Founder and curator of the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition, Okeeba Jubalo established the exhibit in 2009 to provide a platform for artists to showcase their talents and for art collectors to buy exclusive, one-of-one artwork.

The Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition is a nationwide mobile fine art showcase. The most recent installment was hosted at the Emma Darnell Museum and Conference Center in Atlanta, Georgia, in early 2023. This year’s exhibition featured 44 artists that displayed work ranging from sculptures, mixed media pieces, collages, and paintings.

Atlanta-based art collectors and married couple Yvonne and Randall Dragon understand the need to sow their financial seed into the community of artists to help them flourish. As business owners, they acknowledge that entrepreneurs have to start somewhere, and all it takes is for someone to take a chance on them.

“My husband and I are entrepreneurs, so we always want to support other entrepreneurs in creative fields,” said Yvonne Dragon, who, along with her husband, Randall Dragon, bought the “Mother and Child II (Never Abandoned)” artwork by Shanneil Clarke. “Collecting art is a way to express our style, make a statement and support small businesses at the same time.”

The Dragons intentionally push the Black culture forward by purchasing artwork by Black artists and business owners.

“It is vital to amplify Black artists, galleries, and patrons. Black people across the diaspora have so many stories to tell,” said Randall Dragon. “Art shows like the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition bring like-minded individuals to elevate and celebrate art on a level that Black art deserves.”

Telling the story of Black art can be challenging, especially when you must go against a system that has oppressed Black art and Black people for centuries. However, Okeeba Jubalo understands the needs of artists because he is also a multi-disciplinary artist. He knows the feeling of being on both sides of the fence: as an artist and business owner who advocates for artists.

“Unfortunately, the brand name "Atlanta" means more for artists when they are away from the city than when they are in the city. 98 percent of the artists who claim Atlanta do not really live in the city. It is a very challenging landscape for professional creatives, mainly because of the limitations of stagnant county agencies and the gallery market,” said Okeeba Jubalo, who is a top-tier purveyor of fine art. “My vision is to build a world-class mobile platform centered around Black art. All ethnic groups are welcome, but I am making sure that we are at the center of everything. I am being intentional about our success.”

As a teenager growing up in North Charleston, South Carolina, Okeeba Jubalo created art as a means of self-expression. As he grew into a young man, he decided to attend The Art Institute of Atlanta to sharpen his craft and enter the executive-level suite of the art world. He soon noticed the “starving artists” narrative running rampant throughout Atlanta and the nation. So, he famously coined the term “thriving artists” to spearhead a new movement for artists.

“One of the biggest challenges for artists is dispelling the myth of the “starving artist.” Artists are very important to communities,” said Ty Davis, a featured artist in the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition. “I believe that the city governments should do more to honor and utilize artists in and around town for not only the artwork but also creative out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to new ideas.”

“Also, there aren't many spaces that are willing to work with, show and develop artists. Many times it's not about how good your art is. Sadly, it's more about who knows you. It's a lot of unnecessary red tape when it comes to showing your work and getting into different types of exhibitions,” said Ty Davis, who spoke candidly about the “starving artists” narrative. “The best way to resolve this is for cities all over to honor and appreciate their local artists. Give them a platform and allow them to change the world.”

For decades, people have believed that artists don’t earn any money because their pieces are worth more when they die. The collective narrative is quite clear with artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Vincent Van Gogh, whose paintings are worth millions today but couldn’t be bought for less than a penny when they were alive. Fortunately, that isn’t the case under the regime of NobleSol Art Group, another influential company founded by Okeeba Jubalo.

Featured art by Jessica Michelle Hill

“This was my first time working with Okeeba and the NobleSol Art Group team. It truly was an absolute pleasure working with them,” said Jessica Michelle Hill, a featured artist whose artwork sold on the night of the opening reception. “They really have respect for the artists. I felt supported as an artist and as a businesswoman. I am looking forward to working with them again in the future.”

NobleSol Art Group advocates for artists and gets their artwork seen by key individuals and corporate companies who want to do more than stare at a pretty picture; they want to invest in the lives of creatives.

“The exhibition brought together a broad spectrum of collectors seeking emerging and established artists. It created more visibility for me in the Atlanta market,” said Damon Mescudi, a featured artist who sold his artwork at the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition. “It’s important to break away from the brick-and-mortar as they have controlled the narrative for too long. The mobile exhibit exposes a whole new way to invest and educate new collectors and art aficionados.”

Dr Ed Garnes addressing the ATLANAFAE audience (Image by Katrina S Crawford)

The mobility of the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition has changed the game for the entire art scene. Thus far, the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition has traveled to states like South Carolina, Washington D.C., and Nevada. Jubalo has reinvented the wheel by providing unlimited bandwidth on how he connects with artists and art collectors.

“There aren’t many African-American art galleries across the country. That’s why mobile exhibits like the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition are so important,” said Michael Johnson on his experience with other exhibits compared to being a featured artist at the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition. “I know there are a lot of young kids that used to be like me with unlocked talent, and they just need a little inspiration to unlock it. They should see the art, and their parents should get the opportunity to own some art.”

Society truly thrives when artists thrive. Private collectors, museums, and unique exhibits all have one thing in common: telling a story through the lens of an artist.

“We are big fans of James Baldwin, and we’ve looked at other pictures of James Baldwin, but we haven’t pulled the trigger on it. I noticed [Michael Johnson’s] piece as I was in line for a glass of wine. It was a mixed-media piece that used Vinyl records to compose it,” said Theo Guidry, an art collector who purchased Michael Johnson’s “James Baldwin” art piece at the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition. “It showed Baldwin in such a unique light. We met Michael Johnson, and he talked about the piece, and with the artist being there and us having an opportunity to speak with the artists themselves, it gave us a much better appreciation of the piece.”

Theo Guidry and his wife, Della Guidry, have collected artwork for years and have also gotten their family into collecting artwork. They have even made it a tradition to visit Black-owned museums and exhibits whenever they travel. Theo and Della Guidry purchased two pieces, one by Michael Johnson and one by Darrien West, on the opening night of the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition.

“Jubalo was very nice to us. We told him we wanted to take pictures with the artists, and he cleared the red carpet for us. He made way for us to get that picture taken, and my goodness, there were so many cameras on us I couldn’t believe it. I felt like a movie star,” said Della Guidry about the amount of press, the people who attended the event, and the smooth transaction of buying and leaving with the artwork the same day of purchasing it. “It was a fun event! My highlight of the event was meeting Michael Johnson and Darrien West. Jubalo’s wife, Kat Brown, was very nice and patient in helping us to purchase the art.”

The Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition has always brought out several well-known art collectors and future art collectors like Spelman College student Veralyn Wen. An art history major, Wen was encouraged by her Spelman professor, Dr. Shady Radical, to attend the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition.

“I grew up with art around me. But the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition was my first time purchasing art. Collecting art is something that I know, and as an art history major, documentation is important. So, making art our history book and archiving, participating, and putting your dollar in is what my family has been doing for years. It’s kind of what’s expected of me as well,” said Veralyn Wen, a newly established art collector who bought the “Zinc” piece by Ty Davis. “As a college student, your pockets don’t run that deep yet. But I knew that if I left without that piece, something inside me was going to hurt. I got it, and it was a beautiful and satisfying moment, and I was able to leave with it.”

Although artists are the stars of the show, art collectors help them shine even brighter by financially supporting their creative endeavors. Artists can inspire, educate, and change the world through their art. Not only does art assists in the uniting of different cultures, but it also increases economic growth.

“I was absolutely delighted to be included in the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition. It was a wonderful evening, and I was so proud and happy. I bought [art] too,” said Sandy Teepen, a featured artist in the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition who also collects art and bought Okeeba Jubalo’s piece, “Hello Charleston.” “My motto is “make art, buy art.” That’s the way we [financially] support artists, museums, and galleries.”

By purchasing artwork, people have the power to elevate the eyes and ears of everyone around them by allowing them to take heed to an emerging artist.

“It’s our time to make our staple in this world because we exist also,” said Shanneil Clarke, a featured artist at the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition who sold his “Mother and Child II (Never Abandoned)” piece. “One time, someone asked how much my work cost and they said to me, ‘You must think your Basquait.’ I didn’t think that at all. I told him, ‘I am Shanneil Clarke.’ I don’t think I am Picasso, and I don’t think I am Basquiat; I am Shanneil Clarke.”

Black artists like Shanneil Clarke are often compared to artists of pastimes. But, providentially, the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition puts Clarke and other artists on a bigger stage without any of them having to be put into a comprised and disillusioned box.

Countless artists have gone through the runaround regarding why they can’t be featured in a particular exhibit or why certain business sectors declined their offer to display their work. But NobleSol Art Group and the Okeeba Jubalo Gallery have changed the landscape and opened the doors for deserving artists to show their work without hindrance.

“Some of the challenges with the art industry is access to the museums, galleries, and publications. Who decides which artists get the big platforms? Why are most artists holding space in these arenas still white males? How do we get galleries to value the work that artists do? Without the artists, there would be no art industry. Taking 50% without actively supporting the artists is extreme. But this is the established relationship most galleries have chosen to have with artists,” said Jessica Hill. “Pouring money directly into the artists through studios spaces, materials, and community programming would help to combat these challenges. Diversity, inclusivity, and more art programs for people of color would be ideal. As Black creatives, I believe we are the catalysts for change. Going against the mold like the Atlanta Fine Art Exhibition and NobelSol Art Group is a great way to start remedying the problems artists of color face.”

All artists who participate in the exhibitions powered by NobleSol Art Group adhere to the ethically and morally sound business model created based on keeping the artist first. NobleSol Art Group will continue to advocate for its artists and create safe spaces where their creative abilities can prosper, and they can earn the income they deserve.

Okeeba Jubalo & family





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