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Tammy Jo Wilson seeks to prominently showcase Black artists, value them for broad talent

COURTESY PHOTO: AARON JOHANSON - Tammy Jo Wilson, visual arts program manager at Lewis & Clark College, poses along the McLoughlin Promenade in Oregon City.Oregon City resident Tammy Jo Wilson is organizing an exhibition of Oregon artists to help facilitate a conversation around race and lift up the contributions of Black artists above systemic oppression.

Wilson, the Visual Arts & Technology program manager at Lewis & Clark College, curated the group show to speak more to the experience of being human, rather than simply express the experience of living in a state and country rooted in systemic racism.

"Often art exhibitions that prominently feature Black artists require that their artwork speaks to racial injustice and race-based traumas they have experienced," Wilson said. "I want to see an art exhibit that celebrates and represents the totality of the human experience."

Wilson began curating the "Black Matter" exhibit in response to an invitation she received from the Arts Center in Corvallis to curate a gallery exhibit of all-Black artists. Hester Coucke, the center's curator, came to Wilson as a Black artist and arts organizer to bring together a group of Black artists.

COURTESY PHOTOS - Pictured from top left are works by Black Matter artists MOsley WOtta, Jeramy Okai Davis, Christine Miller, Maya Vivas and Jamila Clarke."As I began the process of researching artists and thinking about the show, I felt strongly that I wanted to continue the work I was doing," Wilson said.

Wilson was able to arrange for a second "Black Matter" exhibition at the Newberg-based Chehalem Cultural Center's Parrish Gallery to run right after the show in Corvallis. The second "Black Matter" show allowed Wilson to add 10 more artists, including important Black and African artists living and working in Oregon. Artists for both exhibitions were found through a public call for art, by nomination and by invitation. 

"My goal for this exhibition was to put together the kind of art show I would want to be a part of," Wilson said.

She found inspiration in a quote by writer and art historian Tania Inniss.

"True progress will be achieved when works by Black artists are collected based on the same criteria as their mainstream white counterparts instead of being judged as having an inherent racial bias," Inniss said. "It is up to modern-day art collectors, curators and art historians to change the perspective."

As a curator, Wilson wanted to offer Black artists the opportunity to share artwork that expresses what's in their hearts and minds without the requirement of a political agenda.

"This exhibition is about prominently showcasing Black artists and valuing them as artists with broad and deep talent," Wilson said.

Wilson serves as the president of Art in Oregon, which has remained busy during the pandemic. Earlier this year, the nonprofit organization arranged for a new major artwork donation to the Museum of the Oregon Territory in Oregon City, which received a 4-foot-tall wood-cut print titled "Willamette Falls" from prominent Oregon artist Erik Sandgren. 

Art in Oregon also is continuing the Artist-in-Residency program with the Stevens-Crawford Heritage House this summer after completing the first year of the program during the pandemic. With an April 17 application deadline, four selected artists will get one month each in a private 11-by-9-foot studio room on the second floor in the heritage house, where they must commit to 20 hours of volunteering.

Learn more about the residency program and the nonprofit's other activities at Artists can be part of the community for free by joining the database. "Black Matter" will be exhibited from June 22-July 31 at 415 E. Sheridan St., Newberg.

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