A nation reckoning with race has led to a renaissance for artists of the African Diaspora.
That’s because diversity, equity and inclusion efforts by some corporate and academic institutions have expanded to the very art on the walls, some Chicago artists of color say.
One such gallery in Bronzeville — Gallery Guichard and its owners, Andre and Frances Guichard — have witnessed that uptick as beneficiary to several recent efforts by entities ranging from Sterling Bay and University of Chicago to ComEd and Blue Cross Blue Shield.
“While there have been gains in many different sectors where there exists inequity, the art world is still behind the curve in representing in museum collections and corporate c-suites, investments in original art by artists of color and women,” said Andre Guichard.
“Our representation in those collections is less than 1%. But we are seeing a change.”
The Guichards, along with partner Stephen Mitchell, opened their gallery at 436 E. 47th St. in 2005, with the mission to expose patrons to multicultural artists specializing in art of the African Diaspora. In 2014, they opened their Bronzeville Artist Lofts and today are part of a six-gallery Bronzeville Art District that organizers bill as the largest art district in the country.
Gallery Guichard has been retained by real estate investment/development firm Sterling Bay for an art installation to be unveiled in the lobby of One Two Pru, the 2.3 million-square-foot, two-tower development at Randolph and Stetson, as Chicagoans begin returning to the office.
The gallery was also just retained by the U. of C. Law School to produce a portrait to hang in its library of Earl B. Dickerson, the civil rights lawyer who in 1920 became the first African American to earn a Juris Doctor there. Dickerson successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court Hansberry v. Lee case striking down racially restrictive covenants in Woodlawn.
Gallery Guichard was retained in August by ComEd to manage the utility’s installation of The Bronzeville Renaissance Mural, a 40-yard artwork at 38th and Michigan depicting the neighborhood’s historic legacy, on the wall of a ComEd-owned microgrid unit.
And several corporate entities, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, provided funding for the 15-year-old Bronzeville Art Trolley tour, held monthly from June to September, to go virtual.
“At Sterling Bay we are not only constructing buildings and urban campuses, but we are equally committed to designing equity programs to level the playing field, strengthen wealth building and showcase the immense talents of minority and women owned firms, in both construction and professional services,” said Keiana Barrett, Sterling Bay’s director of diversity and strategic development.
“This spring, we are pleased to unveil a series of historic multicultural art curations featuring local artists at various Sterling Bay properties.”
The art trolley tour is a project of all six galleries in that art district. The others are Blanc Gallery, Faie Afrikan Art, Little Black Pearl and the iconic South Side Community Art Center.
The trolley tours typically draw 4,500+ patrons over the summer, and attendance remained robust even when it went virtual, still drawing some 2,000 attendees during the pandemic.
Another byproduct of the push for inclusivity was a call in December from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, inviting Gallery Guichard’s inclusion in what is considered the world’s largest collection of contemporary art catalogues. Thus far, the museum has archived 14 of the Chicago gallery’s virtual art exhibition catalogues.
“We create a printed, hardbound copy of the exhibit, and those are archived at The Met permanently. It allows multicultural artists to have their work prominently documented, enhances value of those pieces for their owners, and allows for future study. Those who study Picasso will also be able to study Andre Guichard’s work,” Andre Guichard said.
That is not to dismiss entities that have always appreciated art of the African Diaspora.
National law firm Riley Safer Holmes & Cancila LLP, for example, had retained Gallery Guichard to provide more than 50 pieces of original art upon renovation of its downtown offices in 2018. Since then, the firm at 70 W. Madison St. has commissioned a portrait of every staffer upon hire, with some 20 such portraits completed during the pandemic.
But aside from a push for inclusivity, there has been another factor in the renaissance, Frances Guichard said.
“With COVID forcing us all to live and work at home, a lot of people have been purchasing art to enhance home offices for Zoom calls, as well as their feeling of wellness,” she said.
“It’s led to people getting to know the art, and the artists. It’s bringing more opportunities to artists of color, and that is the ultimate goal: inclusion.”