The Art of Blackness

Tomorrow night’s “Art of Blackness” exhibition is expected to bring more than 700 people together in celebration of work by nearly two-dozen artists of color from across the United States. Beginning 6 p.m. at Block 37, it will mark the 6th annual run for the event.

Participating exhibitors include established as well as emerging artists. Among them are Tawny Chatmon, an artist and photographer who was recently featured in Vice; and Elise Swopes, a designer / photographer / Instagram star with 271K followers.

Image by Marcus Alleyne

The event, which is sponsored by Jack Daniels and Working Not Working, will include music by DJ Kwest-On, trumpeter Sam Trump Harris and acoustic performer Mischa Arnett.

The man who founded Art of Blackness is LaShun Tynes, a freelance creative director with experience at many of Chicago’s most renowned advertising and design agencies. When the inspiration came to him, he was also serving as Art Director / Co-Chair of Public Relations for the Chicago for the Metropolitan Board of the Chicago Urban League.

“People would ask me to help on diversity issues as if I had some kind of sway over recruiters,” he recalls. “I was constantly hearing stories from people who needed help getting into certain agencies.”

At the time, he was busy with work arranged by Creative Circle, a freelance representative service that “gave me some of my first looks” and “opened a lot of doors.” Eventually, the company would sponsor the first five Art of Blackness events.

Photo by Janice Bond

But upon further investigation, Tines discovered that a number of agencies showed “a lack of desire to hire people of certain ethnicities.”

“It wasn’t a conscious bias as much as it was a sub-conscious bias,” he continues. “The criteria to get hired seemed to be elevated for people of color.”

He determined that the major source of the disconnect between hiring authorities and talented artists in search of employment “seemed to be a lack of familiarity.”

“I’d look at their portfolios, and their portfolios would be awesome,” he recalls. “But they still couldn’t get any work.”

So he decided to organize — and celebrate — for change.