The Black experience: How the arts give Black culture a voice

The+Black+experience%3A+How+the+arts+give+Black+culture+a+voice

Collegian | Photo courtesy of Jevon McKinney

JJ McKinney

Jevon McKinney, Guest writer

The Black community in Fort Collins makes up 1.5% of the city’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

For a college town that loves to celebrate its diversity, community leaders such as Jamal Skinner, founder and executive director of the city’s Cultural Enrichment Center, report rarely ever seeing it or respect for communities of color. 

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“Many students experience blatant racism from peers with it going unchecked by adults,” Skinner said.

They’re not the people shown in travel ads convincing potential students and tourists how great of a community this place is. They’re not the ones whose homes and communities are highlighted. They’re not the ones who get their stories told — at least, not in the way they should be told.

This isn’t a problem Fort Collins deals with independently. According to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, across the country Black and Indigenous people of color are constantly having the stories of their lives misinterpreted and warped by people who have never been part of those stories and could never understand them the way the people who lived through them could. Artist Louise Cutler hopes to change this.

Photo courtesy of Louise Cutler Studio

Cutler has dedicated her life to using arts to give a voice to the Black experience. Her art has traveled the country, using its beauty and themes to give the Black narrative back to communities in stylish and impactful ways.

Cutler hopes she has been able to share her narrative of the Black community with her art. It was here where she vocalized her thoughts about the theft of the Black voice by a society that benefits so heavily from it.

“If you go into some of the major museums and cultural institutions, the Black American voice has not been heard,” Cutler said. “It has been snuffed out. You do not see enough Black American artists in these institutions.”

Cutler’s words expressed a painful truth. The Black community is often not the narrator of their stories, even at the highest levels of education, cinema and pop culture.

In a bold and beautiful attempt to gain the narrative back, Cutler curatedA Culture Preserved (in the Black Experience)at the Museum of Art Fort Collins, an exhibition that will close Oct. 16.

“Being able to share this exhibit with Fort Collins is allowing Fort Collins to see how Black people see themselves, not how (non-Black people) see us,” Cutler said.

A walk-through of the exhibition showed just what Cutler envisioned. The hopes, dreams and ideals of world-renowned Black artists and the pride they had for their community were seen through their work.

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Issues facing the Black community range from inequality to oppression; the beauty and pride this Black art shared was all present in one room. It seemed like these artists were using the art as their voice to advocate for the stories of the Black community.

So much was said in a room full of silent paintings.

“Being able to present who we are the way we envision ourselves … has literally given people a voice,” Cutler said.

Photo courtesy of Jevon McKinney

The arts have been used by Black people as a way of social activism for decades now. Black artists have used the arts as a way to use their voice to take a stance against the world that is hellbent on silencing it.

Cutler’s exhibition is another beautiful example of this truth within the Black community.

When Cutler was asked what it will take for voices to be fairly represented on all levels of society, she gave her insight on the uplifting of Black voices through art. 

“I love being able to show these exhibits,” Cutler said. “Because they provoke conversation, and conversation promotes healing, and conversation brings about change.”

Cutler believes art like this can be the catalyst to provoke true change. It won’t be an easy change. It will continue to take more hard work, but with enough hope and passion, the narrative of the Black community and all the voices contributing to its stories can finally be given the respect they deserve.

Reach Jevon McKinney at life@collegian.com or on Twitter @csucollegian