Jazz and the Black Aesthetic: Connecting Community, Blackness, and the Art of Jazz at the American Jazz Museum

 

By Lisa Alpert and Luke Harbur

The American Jazz Museum is proud to partner with Black Space Black Art (BSBA) to present Jazz and the Black Aesthetic, a new exhibit in the museum’s Changing Gallery, opening February 2021. BSBA Founder and Curator Natasha Ria El-Scari started this collective with a simple goal in mind: Create a space for African American visual artists to show and sell their work on a consistent basis, and to create community for African American artists. The exhibit, running through April 2021, features work by six Kansas City-based artists: Vivian Bluett, Adrianne Clayton, Warren Harvey, Avrion Jackson, Harold Smith and Lynell Diggs.

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Painting by Harold Smith, BSBA Member

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Painting by Vivian Wilson Bluett, BSBA Member

When El-Scari first thought of BSBA in December 2017, she wanted to combine four passions: art, education, access, and building a vision from the ground up. In November 2018, BSBA was in eight area barbershops and salons. Since then, BSBA is now in approximately 25 different locations.

“We’ve now expanded into offices, business suites, restaurants and small businesses, and most of these places are Black-owned,” El-Scari said. “After partnerships with some of our original businesses ended, some Black businesses realized how much they need this. It’s not a luxury; it’s a necessity.”

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Painting by Lynell Diggs, BSBA Founding Member

Another part of the collective’s success is its approach to selling the art work it features. El-Scari understands how paying all at once for a piece of artwork can be difficult, especially during the era of COVID-19.

“If you see a work for sale that you want to purchase, you are encouraged to pay for half of a work upfront, but paying a third is recommended. It’s interest-free for 90 days. As long as it’s paid in 90 days, that’s all that matters. This payment plan is so we can be the entry point for people getting high quality, affordable art for three to four figures. We want to create lifelong patronship, and our plans allow for people like students and elders to afford our work.”

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Painting by Avrion Jackson, BSBA Guest

One of the collective’s major projects was being core collaborators of Kansas City’s Black Lives Matter street murals. Though the opportunity gained momentum for El-Scari and her team, COVID-19 has presented all artists with new challenges. After recovering from COVID-19 herself, El-Scari sees 2021 as a year where strategic togetherness fosters strength.

“My 2021 goals are to elevate: I don’t want to add something new; I’m looking to elevate what we already have, and this upcoming exhibit showcases that. Jazz is not dead. Just because you don’t see it in mainstream music doesn’t mean that it’s gone. It’s worth studying and listening to; it’s worth digging for.”

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Painting by Warren Harvey, BSBA Member

Adrianne Clayton is a BSBA member as well as an art teacher. She’s brought her students to the American Jazz Museum for years, and she said being featured in this exhibit feels empowering.

“This collective made me work and focus. I have been teaching for 20 years, and when I teach, I now also think about my own work. I’m with a great group of artists that support each other. It’s about unity, love and support, and my kids, my birth children and kids I educate inspire me to be better.”

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Painting by Adrianne Clayton, BSBA Member

From acrylic paintings to works made of 3-D textures of wood and resin, Jazz and the Black Aesthetic offers something for everyone. Learn more at americanjazzmuseum.org.