A BAIA Talks conversation with Michelle Barnes, co-founder and executive director of the Community Artists’ Collective (Houston, Tx)

30 Year Legacy

The COMMUNITY ARTISTS’ COLLECTIVE (The Collective), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, was conceived  in 1985 by Michelle Barnes, artist, art educator and director of Barnes-Blackman Galleries and Dr. Sarah Trotty, artist and art educator at Texas Southern University. The Collective was organized to meet the needs of the professional African American artists and with a special sensitivity to African American women artists.

With the encouragement of Vince Hamilton who was at that time structuring the Black Arts Caucus of Houston, we sought the assistance of Flora Maria Garcia, administrator of the Cultural Arts Council of Houston. She suggested meeting with Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts where Dinah Goodwin and Nan Morris guided us through the initial organizational process. The Community Artists’ Collective was chartered by the State of Texas in July 1987.

Ron Scales of the Community Music Center of Houston helped us satisfy the I.R.S. requirements. In March 1988 it was determined that our organization qualified for tax exemption as a 501(c)(3) organization by advanced ruling. In December 1992 we received a letter modifying and reaffirming the previous ruling.

In 1987, while expanding our Board of Directors, we coordinated our first exhibit “Women of Color” at Security National Bank in Shreveport, La. In 1988 we organized three exhibits for Houston audiences. The Ensemble Theatre in Houston hosted two of the exhibitions, and the Dishman Gallery at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, hosted the other.

In 1988, we began offering educational programs through existing, primarily African-American organizations. Activities at our Midtown Art Center studio/office or with Kuumba House and S.H.A.P.E. Community Center helped to enrich cultural experiences and made arts education more accessible to inner-city youth and teens.

By fall of 1989, our Board of Directors reaffirmed the mission statement, developed a strategic plan, helped formalized our artistic goals, and secured a 5,000 sq. ft. building just south of downtown Houston between the Museum and Theater districts. In 1997, thanks to the Houston Endowment, Inc., and the continuing leadership of our Board of Directors, we retired the debt on our facility and began to stabilize our programs.

We are especially proud of the after-school programs, Saturday classes and specialized workshops in art appreciation, ceramics, photography, sewing, quilting, collage and other media at our facility and elsewhere. These education opportunities are led by our artists-in-residence or other professional artists and are designed for adults and children.

The Collective challenges local artists to make their own career decisions and to produce work, which truly reflects their unique vision, and to work with our organization or some other organized effort to give something back to the community from which we have emerged.