Dara Harper has one goal: To ensure Akron’s Black community no longer feels excluded from the arts.
As an artist and owner of Art Only Boutique, Harper and her mother, Diane Johnson, grew tired of being the only Black people in art venues and festivals. While they brainstormed ways to address this challenge, ArtsNow was in the process of publishing the Akron Cultural Plan, which highlights challenges in Akron’s arts and cultural scene and potential solutions to those challenges.
When ArtsNow interviewed residents for the plan, time and time again, issues of inclusion came up. In fact, according to the report, 97% of residents who participated in the report mentioned the importance of equity.
“While reading the cultural plan, I was taken aback,” says Harper. “People are finally saying what we’ve been thinking for years: That we do not feel connected. That we’re isolated. That people of color and young people do not feel a connection to the arts and cultural scene.”
To address these issues, Harper partnered with Dominic Moore-Dunson, founder and creator of the Black Card Project, which facilitates conversations about Black identity within communities. Together, Harper and Moore-Dunson are launching a Black Artist Guild.
Editor’s note: Dominic Moore-Dunson is a member of The Devil Strip’s Board of Directors. Moore-Dunson was interviewed for this story because he is a co-founder of the Black Artist Guild, but he was not involved in the editing of this story and did not see it before publication.
The goal of the guild is to help connect Black artists to each other and to resources in the community, and to create a safe space where artists can collaborate and exchange ideas with one another.
“We’re in silos,” says Moore-Dunson. “As Black artists we don’t know where other Black artists are or what they do. And a lot of us don’t feel like we have a central support system or a way to find resources.”
The guild, which is funded by the Knight Foundation and supported by ArtsNow, is considering the next year to be a prototype year. They’ll be holding community conversations and workshops while testing some ideas to see what works and what doesn’t.
For example, Moore-Dunson and Harper would like to have educational opportunities for artists who want to learn how to write grants, start nonprofits and better market their work.
Right now, the group has about 20 members, including nationally renowned artist Woodrow Nash, actor, director and playwright Josy Jones and musician Theron Brown.
“The beautiful thing is people are ready,” says Harper. “People are ready to come through the door, people are ready to connect, to collaborate. To know you have a cheerleader in the background, people supporting you no matter what is huge.”
Join the Black Artist Guild’s kickoff meeting on Wednesday, February 3 by clicking here.