I was glad to learn of the exhibition “Restoring Pride in Culture: Legacy & Tradition” held at the SUNY Ulster @ Kingston on Marys Ave. The exhibit was dedicated to the spirit of Benjamin Wigfall, painter and printmaker who was a forerunner of the contemporary Black Arts Movement that emerged in the 1960-70s as a reflection of pride in African-American history and culture. I knew him as the owner of Watermark/Cargo Gallery located in the Rondout section of Kingston, meeting him in early 1989 and frequently visiting his gallery as I delivered the monthly copies of ART TIMES. He always had time for a chat and to show me some of the fine Print work he was going to exhibit as well as Paintings and Sculpture —many from artists in NYC. He reached out to Kingston’s African American community, specifically the kids in the area and created an innovative art center he called Communications Village. In this learning laboratory he brought together local residents and artists, his students and colleagues at SUNY New Paltz and Nationally-renowned artists.
And so it is quite fitting that TRANSART has dedicated this exhibit to Ben. Included in the show are works by Romare Bearden, Robert Blackburn, Betty Blayton, Melvin Edwards, Ann Tanksley and Emmett Wigglesworth, all artists that showed in his gallery and were part of the Communications Village project. Other artists in the exhibit include: Robin Holder, Dinga McCannon, Otto Neals, Donovan Nelson, Ademola Olugebefola, Michael Kelly Williams, Willie Mae Brown, Myrah Brown Green, Bryan Collier, and Roy Crosse. The exhibit was curated by Marline A. Martin who wrote that she “framed the show from 1970 to present to look at paintings, lithographs, monoprints, collages, quilts and etchings created by black artists who envision an art that speaks directly to their aspirations during a significant time in history. These artists”, she continues, “helped shape the art of the 20th century by creating works of art that are visually powerful and are assembled in this exhibition to restore pride in our cultural heritage”.
There will be a film and Talk Back “Living Treasures of Harlem-Continuing the Movement”, a documentary on the Weusi Artists Collective and community building through the arts on May 31, 5-7pm at the SUNY Ulster @ Kingston Center (KCSU), 94 Mary’s Avenue, Kingston, NY. KCSU is housed in a former elementary school and for the past 3 years has been an extension of the Ulster Community College site in Stone Ridge offering over 200 programs and serving several thousand people ranging in age from 7 (in the summer camp program) to Seniors. Christopher Marx, Dean at KCSU told me that the programming is evolving and responsive to the local community and also focusing on Adult Students. He is looking forward to more arts related programs and cooperative efforts with Kingston’s organization.
In 1990, Greer Smith established TRANSART and in 1996 their headquarters were moved to West Park, just a bit South of Kingston, NY in the Mid-Hudson Valley and fills a void as the only African American cultural organization.
TRANSART promotes cultural literacy, stronger communities and stimulates economic growth through performing arts presentations, educational programs, exhibits and tourism initiatives. It uses the transformative power of art to advance and preserve the history, popular culture and art of peoples of African ancestry, cultivating communities where all voices are heard, understood and valued.
The stated purpose is to enhance the cultural environment of communities of color and fill the need for better access to culture and art for a population that has been historically underserved. To that end, there are exhibitions and performances with local and international artists with the idea of building communities, addressing critical social issues and taking advantage of new resources to infuse art and culture into the civic life of people of African descent.