After a tumultuous summer, the artists of the African-American Master Artists-in-Residence Program are coming together for an exhibit showcasing their work at this week’s Boston International Fine Arts Show. Recent work from nine of the 13 AAMARP artists will be on display, ranging from sculpture to cloth art to graffiti art.
As the group’s first collective exhibition in several years, the show marks a milestone for AAMARP, which was founded in 1973 by artist Dana Chandler.
“We’re very honored to be a part of this show and to have the opportunity to show our work,” AAMARP artist Don West said in an interview. “As black artists, that’s our raison d'être because we don’t get as much exposure as we would like.”
In June, AAMARP faced the possibility of being removed from the space it has occupied for almost 30 years on Atherton Street in Jamaica Plain. The property, owned and managed by Northeastern University, was deemed unfit and unsafe due to safety code violations in the building, which AAMARP uses free of charge.
Northeastern, with whom AAMARP is affiliated, originally gave the artists less than three weeks to vacate the premises. Since June, the removal date has been postponed as negotiations take place between AAMARP and the university with mediation from the city of Boston.
Boston International Fine Arts Show founder Tony Fusco reached out to AAMARP to exhibit at the show after learning of the group’s negotiations with Northeastern.
The Boston International Fine Arts Show was created 22 years ago in the hopes of cementing a space for the international arts in the city. Forty galleries, featuring artists from across the globe, are brought in every year, showcasing a wide array of art mediums including sculpture, drawings and contemporary art.
“It’s the only show of its kind that happens in New England,” Fusco said. “It’s important that our city supports and highlights artists, especially the ones living here.” He’s concerned that rising real estate prices and a general lack of public investment in the arts can erase contributions from artists in Boston.
AAMARP has been a safe haven for black artists looking for space and community in the city of Boston since its inception in the early ‘70s. At its genesis, AAMARP offered studio space to eligible black artists at no cost, along with a three-year residency program with an option to extend.
Some artists have been with AAMARP for decades. In the 40 years since opening its doors, AAMARP artists have produced thousands of pieces of work and have traveled internationally to showcase their art. “Our art has developed over many years,” West said. “Our exhibit at the BIFAS is another opportunity for us to really express ourselves locally.”
The exhibit at the Boston International Fine Arts Show provides a unique opportunity for the general public to see the breadth and scope of the work created by AAMARP artists, untainted by the context generated by headlines highlighting artist evictions.
The fragility of working conditions for artists in Boston and beyond has been evident in the last couple of years, with increasing rent prices, threats to divest in integral arts institutions like the NEA and removals or evictions from longstanding art studios.
The BIFAS, Fusco said, is a way to showcase the inherent importance of art.
“Arts budgets are always the first to get cut,” he explained, informed by his 40 years of arts consulting in Boston. “If we don’t protect our artists, we’re going to be a city without soul.”
AAMARP, as one of the last standing residency programs for black artists in Boston, is one of those pieces of the city’s soul, Fusco said. He added that their exhibit at the Boston International Fine Arts Show is a testament to the strength and perseverance that’s driven the program since its birth in 1973.
“This exhibit is a showing of community. ... We’re a very strong body of artists,” West said. “We’re a representation of black artists in this city.”
An earlier version of this story referred to the possible removal of AAMARP as an eviction. The artist group is not a tenant of Northeastern University, and thus does not pay rent. We regret the error.