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Tacoma Art Museum grant will support Black artists with thousands of unrestricted dollars

A Black woman with long black hair poses for a photo with her arms crossed in a room with apparel and other merchandise some of it enclosed behind glass on a table.
Mayowa Aina
Tacoma Art Museum Artist Award Manager Victoria Miles stands in the TAM x eTc x Kinsey Collection pop-up shop. The pop up shop was a collaboration between the Kinsey Collection and local Tacoma brand eTc to offer exclusive merchandise.

Black artists in Tacoma will soon have an opportunity to win $15,000, thanks to a new grant from the Tacoma Art Museum.

"The Current" grant will support Black artists from the greater Tacoma area. Along with the initial award, the awardee can use additional $12,000 for museum programming.

Artist Award Manager Victoria Miles said too often Black artists have been excluded from the museum, which sits just blocks from the historically Black Hilltop neighborhood.

“Black artists are missing, but they're very much here and they're very much present,” Miles said. “Tacoma is for Black artists, and we need to be honoring that.”

Two years ago, Miles completed a Black History Month project for the museum that showed the institution had hardly any Black artists in its collection. That’s a problem for a museum in a city with a notable Black population.

“I think it's a turnoff for a lot of people in the community to just come and see yourself not be reflected on these walls,” Miles said. “I don't think it's fair to Black folk in the city, and so we really just wanted to highlight that we know this as an institution, we are acknowledging that our collection has excluded and is missing Black artists.”

The grant comes along just as the museum is wrapping up an exhibition of The Kinsey Collection — a priceless collection of art and artifacts considered one of the most comprehensive surveys of African American history and culture outside the Smithsonian Institution.

The exhibit created and built multiple local connections, including a pop-up shop with exclusive merchandise in partnership with local Tacoma brand eTc, and featured local organizers and prominent figures from Tacoma’s Black community. Further, a University Place family whose father started working for the Pullman Car Company in the 1940s donated his Pullman porter uniform to the Kinsey Collection, and it’s currently on view.

The new grant will be a radical departure from the way artist awards are typically given. The funds are unrestricted, allowing artists to define for themselves what exactly support looks like, and the community voice is critical to the process, Miles said.

“Everything we do requires community voice for us to move forward first,” Miles said. “If we don't hear back from the community, (if) we don't hear back from the folks, it's like, hold up, wait, stop.”

Miles said the goal is to “reimagine” the relationship between institutions like the Museum and the communities they are part of.

“How do we reimagine how we are engaging with Black artists and Black folk in Tacoma? And how do we make that more connective? How is that more generative rather than just getting, getting, getting, how are we truly giving and seeing something prosper and grow?” Miles said. “That's what's most important, is that we want black folk to feel comfortable being here and to want to be here.”

And to do that, Miles said, they have to listen to their voices.

The grant is expected to be awarded in November 2022.

Mayowa Aina covers cost-of-living and affordability issues in Western Washington. She focuses on how people do (or don't) make ends meet, impacts on residents' earning potential and proposed solutions for supporting people living at the margins of our community. Get in touch with her by emailing