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Navigating Challenges and Elevating Recognition for Black Artists

Written by: Jourdan Hicks

On a rainy Pittsburgh fall Saturday, Downtown streets shimmered as Professional Black artists gathered at Emerald City on Smithfield Street. The event's Think Tank, was formed under the consultation of Hilombo (Justin Laing) and the African American Leadership Association (Darcel Madkins) and coordinated by Greenwood Plan (Khamil Bailey, Samantha Black, Jazmyne Kenney) and BOOM Concepts (D.S. Kinsel, J. Thomas Agnew), aimed to unravel the path to artistic success in Pittsburgh. Among the organizers, Justin Laing facilitated the Think Tank, delving into intricate social and political realities for Black residents in Allegheny County. Their mission: to advocate for fair compensation and genuine recognition of Black artists, directly challenging undervaluation and dispelling the myth of the struggling artist.

During the Think Tank, several artists stood as witnesses, amplifying specific facets of the roses, buds, and thorns in their own artistic journey toward realizing success.
The Roses symbolize the highlights or aspects that are working well, contributing to artists success as individuals, regionally and nationally representing Pittsburgh. 
The Buds represent the aspects with potential for growth or that could further enhance success of individuals, regionally and nationally representing Pittsburgh. 
The Thorns signify the challenges or obstacles that hinder the achievement of successful individuals, regionally and nationally representing Pittsburgh. 


Roses Summary  

  • Pittsburgh Culture

  • Intergenerational community

  • Legacy of artistry 

  • Consistent funding opportunities [from local non-profits]

  • Connections to universities and young professionals

  • [Artist have] Long lasting connections with multiple community organization.


For the roses, Rap Recording Artist, Fedd the God emphasized integrity as a crucial Pittsburgh cultural value, while Jacqueline Walker,  a local-independent yoga instructor, passionately uplifted for intergenerational connections within the Black artist community. 

Musician/Recording Artist Benji. shed light on the abundance of funding resources available in the city, and emphasized the unspoken code of artists helping and elevating each other. “Resources exist. A lot of us have been able to put ourselves in a position and at some point to provide an opportunity to somebody.”


Buds Summary 

  • Having Perseverance

  • Potential for a substantial arts/music scene 

  • Standardizing administrative and or business practices as well as educating others on these standards 

  • Development of resources for mental health

The buds were a need for a standardized administrative practice and mentoring for all artists to follow, mental health resources, and the real potential for Pittsburgh to have a thriving arts scene with homegrown talent. 


Time, space, and energy were mentioned as factors specific to the city by Le Siren fka The Childlike Empress; felt artists needed to have holistically stabilized lives to be productive Pittsburgh artists. “It’s a small city” but pressure still exists to possess enough of these resources to make art to be consumed by others. “you're not going to create if you don’t have the time, space or the energy”.

“It’s not all just financial… sometimes it’s depression and anxiety, it could be mental, it could be housing related blocking someone… from doing their art.” 

Thorns Summary 

  • Funds and Compensation!!! 

  • Linear Mindset: ​​a rigid way of thinking. adverse reaction to change. 

  • Expectations

  • We need artistic + professional sabbatical 

  • Working through imposter syndrome

  • Engaging in initiatives as someone who is not “socially acceptable” 

  • Personal Circumstances

Bradley Hill, a community educator, content creator, and stylist, highlighted the marginalization faced by Black LGBTQIA+ experiences within the broader Black Arts community. He noted, "Cis-hetero Black men don't always see my issues as viable issues because they are not issues they have to endure." Later, he emphasized that seemingly simple solutions, such as enhancing visibility or communication through press kits or social media, may work for certain individuals but might not suffice for others seeking similar opportunities.

During the conversation, artists rallied to fortify Pittsburgh's artist community but encountered resistance to Bradley Hill's advocacy for multi-marginalized artists. Some hesitated to acknowledge the needs of doubly marginalized individuals due to entrenched heteronormative and patriarchal beliefs, limiting their willingness to consider experiences beyond their own. This division reflects a broader schism between communities upholding inequitable societal norms and those defying them, such as POC, Queer, and differently-abled individuals, whose worth, contributions, and safety  are undermined when the entirety of their human experience and needs aren't  respected along with their artist  identity and needs.  

The discussion never fully regained its original focus, and the sense of agreement that was previously felt among the participants never returned.

Greenwood Plan's Executive Assistant, Jazmyne Kenney, noted that the emergence of differing opinions showed the urgency of the group to engage in difficult dialogue with one another, "It was a necessary and challenging conversation that brought those issues forward.” In the conclusion of the Think Tank Jazmyne says that there was  still a strong sense of unity overall as the event came to an end. 

Continuing ahead, the collective goal of the organizing cohort is to ensure that the journey towards success isn't obscure, isolating, or prone to inducing imposter syndrome, as articulated and highlighted during the think tank.

Khamil emphasized that the next phase of the Think Tank is an action-oriented approach, identifying avenues for change and cross-community needs for artists and the larger Black Pittsburgh community, addressing issues like professional assistance, mentorship, and opportunity building. 

“This isn't just talk; it's a call to action for a more inclusive, fair art world.  

Let's Work 

213 Smithfield St 

2nd Floor 

Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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