“Common Partners with Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago to Spotlight Top Chicago Artists — Plus rapper, Quavo’s 8ft. Painting by Chicago Artist, Tyler Clark” Written by Debra Hand 

The Chicago arts’ scene has been particularly exciting these last several weeks.  Painters, sculptors, and muralists, alike, PIcked up new opportunities and collectors.  One of the cultural warriors leading the charge for many of those art opportunities was Chicago’s very own Oscar and Grammy Award-winning artist, Common.  Thanks to his deep commitment to his hometown, and the visionaries at the Common Ground Foundation led by its extraordinary President, Dr. Mahalia Hines, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago topped off the year with an amazing exhibit featuring some of Chicago’s most talented and thought-provoking artists.    

The event curator, Erika Jordan, had long been imagining this zenith moment which included a morning-to-night series of events that took over the MCA for a day with a range of inspiring activities.  By day, excited CGF students filled the museum; by night, two floors of the museum were transformed into an artistic wonderland for cultured art-loving guests who journeyed from floor to floor for an assortment of art related experiences.   

The exhibit, aptly titled “Art in the City” was designed to illuminate and celebrate the beauty and richness of the city by showcasing amazing “Chicago creatives” as Jordan so proudly referred to them; and it was made clear by her devotion and tireless round-the-clock work in producing the show that the Common Ground Foundation wanted the world to know what they know all too well: namely that Chicago is a true “incubator for Global influence on the arts.”   According to Common Ground, the goals of the event were to feature Chicago artists “who have contributed to the rich cultural tapestry of the city”….and to help change the narrative too often thrust upon the city “by giving Chicagoans something to be proud of while also raising funds to nurture the youth.”  

Forefront at the event, the beaming,  multi-talented students of the Common Ground Foundation  illustrated that the guidance they are receiving from CGF is changing their lives, awakening their gifts, and preparing them to become remarkable people who will help change the world by starting right in their own hometown.  Throughout the day and evening, these young people showed that Chicago’s future is being shaped by conscious and caring mentors, who are guiding them to strive internally for the very best; and who are instilling in them the consciousness to eventually give back in the same way.  

Unlike most celebrities who breeze down red carpets signing an occasional autograph, Common truly rolls up his sleeves for Chicago youth.  But, even with all that he does to inspire their self-confidence, the “Art of the City” event was an extra special opportunity for the students to spend time with Common in a world-class museum where they could feel the pride of participating in a day of dream-come-true activities planned for them by the foundation, and organized by Erika Jordan’s event production company, JaneeSeQuoi.  

 The CGF students began their day with Common at a fireside chat.  Afterward, the students participated with Common in an actual video shoot for Common’s new “GOD IS LOVE” release.  The foundation also treated them to a delicious lunch.   

All of this was followed by a series of Master Classes designed especially for the CGF students.

For the occasion, Chicago’s very own celebrity artist, Hebru Brantley, graciously returned to his hometown to help mentor the CGF students.  By the way, Brantley has created an amazing art installation in Chicago titled “Nevermore Park” that allows you to actually go inside of an artwork and experience the art installation as a “touchable” experience, rather than just a painting on a wall.  As for Common ‘s event, along with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Brantley instructed a master class titled “The Art of Creation & Curation.”   

Other master classes held during the event for the CGF students included the “Art of the REMIX” led by Amazon Future Engineers; the “Art of the STEAM” led by PwC;  the “Art of Design” led by PHLI and Dave Jeff; and, of course, the “Art of Music & Cinematography” where students actually had the chance to engage in the editing and production workflow of Common’s video.  This master class was led by Think Common Ent.  

Other artists, such as the widely-collected Chicago artist, Francine Turk, and visual artist/designer, Louis De Guzman also participated in the daytime festivities.  

According to the Common Ground Foundation, “The 5 master-classes were designed to teach students about music production and the ways that art influences business, technology and robotics; to teach them about the world of cinematography, and how to create, curate and monetize art, design, fashion and other genres of art.”  This corresponds directly with other activities the Common Ground Foundation has organized and hosted. The CGF also recently presented their annual “Youth Business and Leadership Conference” titled “Global STEAM: The Imagination Generation,” hosted by Google at Google’s Chicago headquarters. There, the young people heard from professionals working in multiple fields.  Presenters included surgeons, technology and business leaders, and many others who shared their stories and inspired the students to imagine how they might use education to shape their own futures. Art was also a big part of the Google event, coordinated by Erika Jordan and her team.         

At the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago event, it was a full day, evening, and night of fantastic happenings.  While the daytime activities catered to providing CGF students with new skills taught to them by role models working in the specific fields — the evening portion of the celebration (with proceeds benefiting the CGF) took on a whole different vibe as the museum was transformed into an elegantly appointed  VIP reception featuring sculptures by the iconic artist, Theaster Gates, who is internationally known for his tremendous commitment to reinvigorating Southside communities through his art activism and other initiatives developed by him to create corner-stones of  culture and unity. Gates is also the Founder / Executive Director of the Rebuild Foundation. Additionally, the VIP reception featured sculptures by the museum-collected artist, Debra Hand (humbly noted).  

The upscale gathering of Chicago’s artfully attired movers and shakers was followed by an Arts’ Showcase in the Edlis Neeson Theater at the MCA where a very talented mix of CGF students performed with great enthusiasm as they were cheered on by a packed audience of excited supporters.

The program was Emceed by the spoken word artist and poet, Harold Green, and included a cypher. As for the culinary arts, the celebrated Executive Chef, Jason Hammel, was in the house.

It was an extraordinary evening of beauty and culture; an evening emanating with hometown pride as Chicagoans celebrated the wealth of talent emanating from its diverse communities. Following the theater performance, the adults proceeded to the Art Walk which was distinctly announced by a gorgeous custom designed art wall, designed by Erika Jordan.

The stunning Art Walk was lined with the work of renowned national and international Chicago artists including Minnie Watkins, Dana Todd-Pope, Martha A. Wade, Paul Branton, James Nelson, Blake Lenoir, Dwight White, Eddie “Edo’ White, Solomon Adufah, Joseph A. Medcalf, Blake Pierre Johnson, Tyler Clark, and the museum-collected artist, Gerald Griffin.

Many of the artists exhibiting that night were coming fresh off of an exhibit at the DuSable Museum, and several of the artists had work showing concurrently in Miami at Art Basel.  Even as the show proceeded, Dana Todd Pope’s work was acquiring new attention and collectors while being featured by the Pigment International at the Spectrum art show in Miami; as was the work of Eddie “Edo” Santana White, Dwight White, James Nelson, Tyler Clark, and Paul Branton.  

Meanwhile, Martha A. Wade, a self-taught phenomenon, recently had her work exhibited at the historic South Side Community Arts Center, alongside the artwork of her father, the great artist, Eugene “Eda” Wade.  The amazing portrait painter Minnie Watkins also had a big year, having been commissioned by Delmarie Cobb, Founder of Ida’s Legacy, to paint a portrait of Ida B. Wells for a personal presentation to Hillary Clinton.  Eddie “Edo” Santana White is currently exhibiting work at the Logan Center, University of Chicago, and Gerald Griffin is in his usual high demand. In fact, while Griffin was prepping for the MCA show, he was also crating work for his solo museum show at the Art Museum of Greater Lafayette which runs through February 28, 2020 (see photo below), as well as preparing for the ribbon cutting ceremony of his 46,000 Square foot Bourdeau-Griffin Interiors and Architectural Supplies, Inc., which he co-owns with his wife, the Internationally known interior designer, Frantzie Bourdeau-Griffin.  

Tyler Clark has also been making some significant boss moves.  She just completed a major commission for an 8ft. tall portrait of the rapper Quavo.  (See photo below).  

All in all, the Common Ground Foundation’s President, Dr. Mahalia Hines, as well as its board members, staff, and Erika Jordan’s event production organization, JaneeSeQuoi, all deserve a standing ovation for the “Art in the City” event; and for having the vision to partner with such an iconic institution as the MCA to bring these remarkable “Chicago creatives” to this world-class stage.  

Dr. Hines has always been relentless in her cultivation and development of young Chicago minds.  She is a phenomenal life-long educator who keeps the youth at the forefront of her every mission as she continues to change lives, and as she expands the outreach of her compassionate heart to more and more young Chicagoans who need her.  It is easy to see the love and respect that each and every student has for Dr. Hines. For them, Common Ground is much more than just a foundation, it’s a family filled with encouragement, guidance, and support.

The Common Ground Foundation is a sparkling jewel among Chicago foundations, and Common shows up resolutely to keep it polished. He is there among the youth to not only mentor and guide them, but also to hear from them about what they believe they need so he can invest in them accordingly.

Common is a supreme visionary who’s focused on establishing conduits to growth and empowerment for the youth. I mentioned both he and Theaster Gates in my article in Black Art in America titled “The Greatest Artists of Our Time” where I spoke about a very special subset of artists that I call “cultural warriors.” This particular kind of artist is not merely looking to create and sell art or content, but rather, they’re looking to use their artistry to change the state of the world. In my opinion, this is the highest possible form of artistic expression and it doesn’t matter whether an artist accomplishes this challenging goal through the actual subject matter they choose for their art, or whether they accomplish it by effectively using the platforms that art might provide. Common manages to do both. He is in the process of changing the world, starting right in his hometown where last year he founded a magnificent high-tech creative arts’ school that is already changing the trajectories of hundreds of teens and budding artists. The school “Art in Motion” is filled with young, inspired students that are excited about discovering their gifts so they, like Common, can one day return to their communities as blessings.

As for the partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art, it also created a unique opportunity for CGF students to exhibit their work as part of the art walk. Imagine how proud these teens were able to feel…having their work exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in conjunction with some of the city’s premier artists. To top it off, being able to perform on the MCA stage and have their talents appreciated by their city is a feeling that will inform the rest of their lives and assure them that they have something inside of them that is worthy of them protecting from thoughtless decision making, and that they each have something worth doing the work to develop. The event was sponsored by Amazon Future Engineer, PwC, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Honorary chairs for the CGF event included Kimbra Walter, Les Coney, Frank Clark, Marc Brooks. The host committee included the ever-inspiring entrepreneur Erika Bracey, Jonavan Smith, Gail and John Ward, and The Moe Group.

Speaking of Chicago artist, the work of Chicago’s art Grande Dame is getting well-deserved recognition. The work of the late Chicago legend, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Principal founder of the DuSable Museum in Chicago, is on exhibit at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The comprehensive exhibit titled “Faces of My People” was curated by Sachi Yanari-Rizzo and is on view through February 23, 2020. There will also be a museum talk on February 5, 2020, by Dr. Mary Ann Cain, author of the comprehensive and beautifully detailed account of Dr. Burroughs’ life titled “South Side Venus: The Legacy of Margaret Burroughs.” The talk will be followed by a tour of the exhibit led by the author. Left: is my favorite painting created by the portrait artist, Minnie Watkins.

Speaking of museum shows, check out this astounding piece from Gerald Griffin’s solo show currently installed at the Greater Museum of Lafayette. The show, which runs through February 28, 2020, includes a mix of his large scale paintings together with his bronze sculptures. Griffin’s work continues to unflinchingly address the profound complexities of America’s history and its implications in the evolution of African-American life in America. This is a must-see show that will educate viewers in surprising ways, as Griffin’s insight into history, along with his artistic skills, leave audiences with both thought-provoking questions and proposed solutions to ponder.

Chicago artists are having some big moments, within the city and beyond.

The Chicago artist, Tyler Clark, has been rising fast in popular culture. Her work was included in “The Wearable Art” gala produced and hosted by Tina Knowles-Lawson and her husband, the actor and leading man heart throb, Richard Lawson. The annual event benefits their “Where Art Can Occur” (WACO) Theater which is doing some fantastic work with youth on the West Coast. I wrote extensively about the couple’s work and their foundation, in an article for Black Art in America titled, ”Tina Knowles-Lawson: Artist Extraordinaire Moves the Culture Forward.”

In addition to that event, Tyler Clark was commissioned to create an 8ft. portrait of the rapper, Quavo – one third of the famous Hip Hop trio, the Migos. The unique work-of-art was commissioned by Quavo’s girlfriend, the rapper, Saweetie, who wanted to present something impactful to her saweet heart. It’s obvious from the photo above that the artist, Tyler Clark succeeded in delivering on her client’s wish.

Also, congratulations to the Chicago artists Jason E. Jones and Pearlie Taylor who were both selected for inclusion in the Museum of Science and Industry’s prestigious Black Creativity Exhibit running throughout February.

Abstract by Pearlie Taylor and ballerina by Jason E. Jones

And in closing, a great big shout-out is an order for the public muralist and fine artist, Dorian Sylvain — a long time mentor and supporter of CGF who recently unveiled a monumental mural celebrating the history and culture of Bronzeville. The mural was commissioned by Mariano’s, and Sylvain brought together and mentored youth in the community so they could assist with the project. The work was unveiled to a proud and excited community.

Chicago is a historically vibrant contributor to global culture, and foundations such as Common Ground are making sure that young people in Chicago know who they are and the strong legacy of talent they come from. Common, summed it up best when he said, “Imagine when our kids can feel empowered and are like, ‘I can try anything!’…and they actually have the mentors and the leadership and the access to try it and to go for it. I want them to feel ‘THAT! …And to feel like, man, there are no limits! I’m from Chicago! I can do anything!” Well, those words are now possible for those youth to speak with both confidence and determination, thanks to Common and Dr. Mahalia Hines. The students at CGF and the students at the Art in Motion school are living in THAT reality of empowerment daily as they uncover and discover the many gifts that they will one day use to help change world. So, much respect to Common, a true “G” in the game!!!

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