Chicago's Art World, Then And Now

African American Artists

The undisputed home of African-American cultural life in Chicago is Bronzeville, an area on the South Side that resulted from segregationist zoning laws. Notwithstanding, Bronzeville became the home of a vibrant African-American intellectual visual and literary scene, especially in the decades spanning the 1920s to the ‘40s.

Support of Chicago’s black artists was not always without prejudice. However, to understand the flourishing of African-American excellence in the visual arts, one must also look to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago right from the beginning of its charter. While other art schools shunned black students, SAIC welcomed and encouraged them. The artists Charles Dawson, William Harper, James B. Needham, and Archibald Motley, Jr. were alumni. The painter William Edouard Scott was one of Chicago’s most prolific muralists, and had earned the support of Kate Buckingham (the benefactress of the Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park) as early as 1909. Buckingham purchased and donated Scott’s mural Commerce (1909) to Lane Technical High School, at the time a cutting-edge vocational high school, located on Chicago’s North Side.

In 1927, the Art Institute of Chicago hosted The Negro in Art Week sponsored by the Chicago’s Woman’s Club. SAIC alumnus Charles C. Dawson facilitated this groundbreaking exhibition, which was the first ever large-scale show of artwork by black artists to be held at a flagship museum in the United States. Dawson, whose work was included in the exhibition, also illustrated the cover of the catalogue, choosing African motifs that he incorporated into a streamlined modernist design. M.d.B.