‘A Fighting Chance,’ emerging artists of color get exhibit

by | Mar 20, 2023 | Arts

Tucked in a low brick building on the campus of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is a collection of art that ranges from paintings to charcoal drawing to sculpture. The exhibit, A Fighting Chance, features the works of African American artists, many of whom have never seen their works in a gallery. It’s a collaboration between Vibes the Creative Arts Incubator and RCCC. People may not know that the college has an arts program, and others don’t understand what an arts incubator does. Step inside the exhibit and look at all the talent and variety and you’ll learn. At the opening reception, I met some of the artists, who enjoyed talking about their work. David R. Gaines uses a variety of media, which defines his style.

Artist David Gaines with one of his pieces in the exhibit A Fighting Chance, on display at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College through March

Looking for inspiration

“It took me 45 years to figure it out,” he says. “I can look at things and say what media would look good.” One of his favorite pieces is a painting of koi fish, a vibrant composed piece that has a traditional Asian style. People often approach him to ask about doing a painting. “I did a 50th wedding anniversary portrait. I’ve got to get a bead on the person first,” he said, so he talked to the couple and their daughter for three hours. The daughter lived in a town Gaines had lived in, and that established a connection that inspired his work. He hikes, rides mountain bikes and does yoga to clear his head “to be open to inspiration. I always have something with me” to create art. “When it calls, I go after it,” he says.

Getting artists what they need

Sabrina Harris, who drives the arts incubator, is always looking for inspiration, too. Her idea for Vibes is to get artists not just the supplies they need, but to get their work where it can be seen and shared. “I spend time connecting, looking to connect to the right resources. You’ve got to start with certain things, so you know where you want to be culturally.”

For African American artists, Sabrina says “our art scene here is very quiet, I’m working on changing that.”

Working with Bailey Wingler, graphic arts faculty member at RCCC, the two came up with a plan to educate the artists leading up to the exhibit. Two workshops offered help to the first-time exhibitors. One, “How to Prepare Artwork for Exhibition,” was held at Harris’ Vibes Center at 1915 W. Innes St. Artists could learn proper framing, matting and wiring techniques for professional installation of artworks.

Sabrina Harris, founder of Vibes Creative Art Incubator, and daughter Iesai Adams. Harris worked with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College arts staff to create the Black History Month Exhibit, A Fighting Chance, on display through the end of March at RCCC.

Getting the words right

The second, “How to Write an Artist Statement,” was held at RCCC and gave artists the information they needed to create a professional statement to go with their art. Artist statements verbalize what artists make and why they make it and can help viewers and potential buyers better understand artists’ process and practice.

Sabrina wishes “more people had taken the opportunity, how to write an artist statement and submit it online. There are different formats for artist’s resumes, art can be fluid; if they are multi-discipline, they may not know how to list everything they do.” Artists need to make an online portfolio and understand it’s not about where you are, but how you present yourself. “I want to do this again, maybe twice a year, instead of once.”

Sabrina says emerging artists need this basic information to be taken seriously when submitting art for an exhibit.

What is an incubator?

Bailey worked with Sabrina pre-Covid on Sabrina’s arts incubator idea and was very encouraging. “People struggle with what an incubator does,” Sabrina says, “so this is a way to highlight that in an incubator, you come and talk about what you need guidance with. I connect you to community resources and help get supplies.”

When Bailey approached Sabrina about a possible exhibit, “We agreed this was a great idea to get the incubator going.”

Sabrina and Bailey want to work with the whole curriculum and programming so people can go on the Vibes website and understand what’s offered.

“People have to be told what to do and how to do it,” Sabrina says.

At the Vibes website, you’ll see Sabrina has a passion for helping kids be creative. She’s had summer arts camps and is planning one for this year. She’s also a seamstress who is always busy.

Her nonprofit, Right Brain 2, Inc, provides affordable access to art supplies, helps artists have their first exhibition and develops skills so the artist can work towards a degree in arts.

Being seen

Delores Medlin has shown her pencil and charcoal drawings at Rowan Public Library, Rowan Museum and at barber shops and salons. She’s been drawing since she was 9 but got serious about it when she turned 45. Looking at the art surrounding hers, she says, “A lot of people wanted this. I love all the exhibits.”

Delores Medlin takes a traditional turn with work in pencil and charcoal.

Michael Quillen, Vice President of Academic Programs at RCCC, said A Fighting Chance does a great job of getting faculty, students and the community involved for a common goal — to celebrate Black History Month.

“We hope to incubate the talent, too,” he says. “Sabrina is a friend of our program.”

The overall statement about the exhibit emphasizes that this collaboration with the incubator and the college supports artists who identify as “Black, Indigenous or Person(s) of Color. BIPOC+ artists have traditionally been underrepresented in United States galleries and museums. The the intention of this exhibition is to recognize this while sharing The Bridge Gallery space and elevating underrepresented voices and experiences in the community.”

The participating artists include Iesai Adams, Ashley Briggs, Madison Jefferies, David R. Gaines, Raven Gaines, Sabrina Harris, Regina Hoyt, Kela Hunt, Kasen Jefferies, Ayouba Kouyateh, April Lockhart, Nieko McDaniel, Isaiah Neal, Natalie Perez, David Duran Romero, Walter Russell, Vanessa Sanns, Julia Scott, Ranard Steele.

Ashley Briggs’ Oasis, a sculpture made with Bristol paper.

Ashley Briggs also works in different media for her art. Childhood is graphite on paper.

A Fighting Chance can be seen at The Bridge Gallery now through March 31, Monday- Friday, 9 am-4 pm, in the Art & Design Building on the Salisbury (North) Campus, N107.

You can also follow Vibes on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/VibeSalisbury

Madison Jefferies uses acrylic for their artwork.

It’s back to basics with Kasen Jefferies marker drawing of Godzilla.

Wallace Russell’s Black is Beautiful, oil, seashells, resin and costume jewelry on canvas. This large piece got a lot of comments during the opening reception for A Fighting Chance exhibit at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

Sabrina Harris and Kela Hunt of the Kollectivez created A Common Thread, a Beautiful Mess, with acrylic and fabric on wood.

Upcoming arts events

Salisbury Symphony — Ravishing Romantics, March 18, 7:30 pm, Keppel Auditorium, Catawba College, 2300 W. Innes St., Salisbury. 20th Century Romantics, Samuel Barber’s “School for Scandal” Overture, the famous Piano Concerto of Edvard Grieg, and Brahms most lyrical Second Symphony for a charming evening featuring Zachary Saffa on piano. Tickets, $15, available at https://salisburysymphony.org/shows/ravishing-romantics/

Serenade Strings, March 24, 7:30 pm, Hedrick Theatre, Catawba College, 2300 W. Innes St. Join the string players of the Salisbury Symphony for an evening of string quartets. The serenade series features small ensembles from the orchestra in a showcase. These hour-long concerts are hosted in more intimate venues. Tickets, $15, https://salisburysymphony.org/shows/ravishing-romantics/

Piedmont Players — “James and the Giant Peach,” March 24-26 and March 31-April 2; 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 pm on Sunday. The Norvell Theater, 135 E. Fisher St. Based on the children’s classic by Roald Dahl, James has adventures inside a giant peach with human-sized insects. See https://piedmontplayers.com/show/james-the-giant-peach/ to check on tickets.

Waterworks Visual Arts Center — “All Things Great and Small” https://www.waterworks.org/see highlighting paintings, sculptures and mixed media works by nine nationally and internationally-acclaimed artists, through May 26.

Second Saturday Workshop Build-a-Bug, for 4- to 5-year-olds, March 11, 10 am-12:30 pm. Visit https://www.waterworks.org/make-youth-and-family-workshops for registration.

Introduction to Oils: Fundamentals of Composition, March 25, 10 am-4 pm with Phyllis Steimel. She will give examples of effective compositions and discuss methods of drawing attention to your paintings. https://www.waterworks.org/shop-classes


About The Author

Deirdre Parker Smith

I grew up in the theater; my father was a set designer and my mother was an actress. My most magical memories are from the days when we worked on stage and backstage together. My father, James “Parkie” Parker was a well-respected member of the theatre arts department at Catawba College for 33 years. Though I was born in New York City, and lived for a time in Washington, D.C., I graduated from Salisbury High School and Wake Forest University and was a writer and editor at the Salisbury Post for 35 years. Watching talented people do their thing is a great joy — acting, singing, playing an instrument, painting, drawing, writing. I’ve been lucky to meet many awesome creative people over the years. Art, in all its forms, heals people, makes connections and gives us a deep joy.