THE HARLEM FINE ART SHOW: It’s Not Just A Black Thing

Art is an intellectual and cultural asset for every culture. Like history, it is the memory of a people. Not long ago, it was difficult to find black art in the mainstream, commercial market. The Harlem Fine-Art Show (HFAS), the premier fine-art exhibition presenting original artwork grounded in the African diaspora, has become a major force in bringing some of the best artists of color to the forum. Its founder, Dion Clark, has a calling, and exposing the world to this cultural expression is his mission:

The first fine-art fair to highlight artwork by artists of color was the New York Black Fine-Art Show that was founded in 1997. It was held at New York City’s historic Puck Building in the arts district. Despite the demand from a growing, black upper-middle class, the genre had been left out of the mainstream art market. The show helped to advance a long-neglected area of African-American culture and economic development. In those days, it was the event of the year for black art; and a veritable who’s who was seen purusing the galleries, from Diana Ross and Johnny Cochran to towering members of the New York Knicks. Equally important, it promoted black artists, and enabled them to pursue their artistic goals.

Fifteen years later, the light dimmed when the Puck Building was sold, and the founders of the New York Black Fine-Art Show decided to let the show go. However, Dion Clark, the consultant who did marketing for them, picked up the torch; and with a great commitment and verve, he created the Harlem Fine Art Show, two years later. Understand that when you buy a piece of artwork, you’re not just buying a thing. You’re buying a piece of someone’s soul, a piece of someone else’s life! Most important, you are buying that artist more time to do something they are truly passionate about, something that brings life to the living. When asked how things have changed, Clark replied, “Over the years, attendance has grown from 1,500 to more than 15,000; and the people that attend, buy, and celebrate black art has become very diverse, and sales have grown exponentially.”

Clark mobilized HFAS four years ago, and took the show to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Folks came in off the golf courses and the beaches to enjoy black fine art to the sounds of cool jazz. When the show traveled to Atlanta, it became a meeting of the Southeast hub, and the historically black colleges and universities got involved with supporting HFAS’ educational efforts to expose children of color to the arts. Chicago wrapped their arms around the HFAS. Clark declares, “…They had never had a show like that! There had been other shows but nothing like this; South Side and West Side coming together!”

The sixth annual Harlem Fine-Arts Show will be in New York on February 12 through February
15, 2015, at the Riverside Church, located at 19 Claremont Avenue on the Upper-West Side, on the edge of the Morningside Heights and Harlem communities of New York City. (Note: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., preached his famous anti-Vietnam War sermon from this pulpit; and Nelson Mandela addressed the nation during an interfaith celebration welcoming him to America.) The fine-art show presents more than 50 of the finest international artists exhibiting artwork in a range of media from paintings, photography, limited edition prints, mixed media, and works on paper to fiber art and sculpture spread out over four floors. All artwork will be for sale.

The Harlem Fine Art Show promises four days of exciting events: HFAS will open with a preview party, a celebration of Black History Month and African-Diasporic art. It will be an evening of networking and


fundraising. The Jazzmobile will be saluted as the fundraiser’s non-profit beneficiary. Since 1964, Jazzmobile has been committed to presenting free, outdoor, summer concerts, bringing jazz musicians to the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester County, Essex County, in New Jersey, Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia. The achievements of distinguished leaders in the media and publishing industry–i.e, The Amsterdan News, New York Beacon, Carib News, and The Harlem Times–will also be acknowledged. Celebrities, tastemakers, and movers and shakers will enjoy the exhibition, live music, passed hors d’oeuvres and an open bar.

HFAS Youth Empowerment Day is on Friday, February 13th, from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.: This educational opportunity exposes public, private, independent prep-school and charter-school children from the tri-state area to an American cultural experience. Youth Empowerment Day’s STEAM (Science, Technology, Arts, and Mathematics) initiative enables students to view the show as well as interact with the artists and corporate sponsors, like 100 Black Men, to learn more about career opportunities and establish mentoring relationships. The Harlem Fine Arts Show is committed to education as well as providing cultural awareness as a path to innovation and life success. HFAS will also showcase the history of historically-black colleges and universities and distinguished alumni as an additional component of Youth Empowerment Day. Clark quips, “Local, national, and international artists open the eyes of children and old guys, like myself.”

The fine-art exhibition and sale will run from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. that evening. Live jazz bands play as collectors, novice and professionals, are encouraged to purchase art as a financial asset and inter- act with the artists about their work. It’s also an evening for multi-cultural professionals to network, enjoy interactive entertainment, and embrace artwork.

The Winston and Carolyn Lowe Lecture Series is on Saturday, February 14, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This is a meeting ground for conversation. Experts and distinguished panelists will share their insights and knowledge about African-Diasporic artwork.

From 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., The play “Fallen Prince” gives an inside look at the lineage and family of Malcolm Lee and Spike Lee. The play is in memory of the Negro Social Movement and the Negro rural-school movement, which took place during 1868 in Alabama. This is a great opportunity for students and adults to learn about different aspects of black history that is not taught in the schools or books.

Closing day is a relaxing Sunday afternoon for all attendees to explore the exhibition and engage with artists. The HFAS will feature a live music set until 6:00 pm.

One eye sees, the other one feels: Clark affirms, “Here’s where the past connects to the future. It’s not just a black thing, everyone is coming to see the art!” There’s a demand for the artwork, annual sales have skyrocketed, and Dion Clark has his sights set on expanding the venues for the Harlem Fine Art Show around the country as well as taking the show abroad to London and Paris. Stay tuned.