February 5, 2021 Blog

Black History Month: Cherry Street Pier Artists reflect on Black art and its future

From Phillis Wheatley and the Harlem Renaissance (1920s) to the Civil Rights Movement (1954 – 1968) and the Blacks Arts Movement (1960s and 70s) to the current Black Lives Matter era, Black artists and art have played a valuable role in elevating, uplifting, giving voice and providing catharsis to the Black experience.

We asked our resident artists at Cherry Street Pier to contemplate the ways in which Black artists, culture, and movements have influenced their artistry and ponder the future of Black art.

This is what they said:


Athena Scott
Black artists, culture, and movements are the key components of the way I think about and create art. In them, I see and feel reflections of myself that help give me the confidence, to not only create but also move through this world. Though I’m not sure what this time will be called, I’ve felt for a few years now that we are in a type of creative renaissance. I feel Black creatives have consistently been an integral part of creating change and moving this country forward.

An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, and musicians … We will shape and mold this country or it will not be molded and shaped at all anymore. So, I don’t think you have a choice. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times? That to me is the definition of an artist.” 

– Nina Simone

“The precise role of the artist, then, is to illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

– James Baldwin

Acori Honzo

Portside Art Center
At Portside Art Center, Black artists of the past are influencing the next generation of aspiring young artists. The Creative Classroom Shark students created watercolor paintings inspired by African-American expressionist artist Alma Thomas.

Thomas (September 22, 1891 – February 24, 1978) was an artist as well as a public school teacher who lived and worked in Washington D.C. She is known for her colorful abstract paintings, which gained recognition in the 1960s when she pursued painting after her retirement. Thomas was the first African American woman to have her artwork hung in the White House when former First Lady Michelle Obama featured her work in 2016.

Samantha Billig

The Black Arts Movement heavily influenced my work because of the passion and dedication that came from Black artists in addressing political, social, and economic issues through their work. I find it inspiring that so many [Black] activists/artists use their art platform to connect with others positively even with odds against them. 

The Black Arts Movement allowed artists of all disciplines to creatively revive African American culture by channeling their African roots to bring new energy forward while awakening and reacquainting the black community. 

“I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Learn more about all resident artists.

[Last updated – Monday, February 2, 2023] This blog post features past and present Cherry Street Pier resident artists.