Black student artists form community, push for representation

From left: Neyo Prince, Shayne Herrera, Angelina Winston, Kiara Porter, Nick Vaughn of the Black Art Student Empowerment organization, or B.A.S.E. Photo by Tzeggai Isaac

Katherine Noble, Contributing Writer

When Angelique Scott saw a lack of diversity and awareness in her VCUarts classes and realized other black students were having experiences similar to her own, she set out to create a supportive organization that would be a safe space to uplift and empower black student artists. 

Scott found that other students in the school of the arts were often tentative about addressing the issues she posed in her artwork.

“My work was heavily tied to race relations, and most of my critique classes were silent for a period of time,” Scott said. “So I had to be intentional about seeking out other artists of color throughout the school of the arts.” 

In 2015, Scott — who graduated in 2018 from the craft and material studies and art education departments — founded the Black Art Student Empowerment organization, or B.A.S.E, with four other VCU students. 

Their mission is to advance awareness of black artistic ability and cultural heritage, support black artists and connect diverse groups in the community. 

“Just having a support system of black artists to look out for you and uplift you — that’s why B.A.S.E. is important,”  Winston said.

Scott noted that the group has been influential in pushing for increased diversity and support for students of color. It also puts on arts-focused social and service events. 

“The main reason why I joined B.A.S.E. in the first place was because I felt alone in all my classes,” said B.A.S.E. vice president and communication arts major Angelina Winston. 

Among the events put on by B.A.S.E. is its annual art showcase, which features student artwork, including traditional painted and drawn pieces as well as sculptures, dance and musical performances. The group also holds informative talks, hosts get-togethers and works to mentor students at Huguenot High School.

Last Friday, B.A.S.E. and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs hosted a talk addressing misconceptions and stereotypes around black arts and artists, where members touched on how important it is for different communities to share their experiences and perspectives. 

One of B.A.S.E.’s goals is to challenge a misconception that the club is only for black artists. The student group is open to all students but specifically focuses on the representation of and issues faced by black student artists. 

“They have provided students with opportunities to support each other,” Scott said. “Whether that’s feedback on work, exhibiting in a show, connecting with mentors, etc.”

Very few of the 45 staff members listed on the art foundation department’s website, including faculty and advisors, are black.

“One of my goals is to start advocacy for students of color that experience, like, a lot of racial bias by their professors because I know that it can be a huge problem,” Winston said.

Winston credits Chioke I’Anson, an assistant professor in the African American studies department, for being in their corner in those kinds of situations.

“Just having a support system of black artists to look out for you and uplift you — that’s why B.A.S.E. is important,”  — Angelina Winston

“It’s a lot less scary having, like, a whole organization behind you when talking about some crappy professors or something like that,” Winston said.

Shayne Herrera, president of B.A.S.E. and a painting and printmaking major, said one of the group’s strengths is that it is not limited just to art majors.

“The club caters to all forms of artwork,” Herrera said. “It doesn’t, like, disconnect from people who don’t have their major in the arts.” 

Nick Vaughn, a psychology major and activities and programming chair for B.A.S.E., said he sees the group as a powerful platform to engage with the Richmond community and to uplift underrepresented voices.

“I would just like to see more community,” Vaughn said. “Collaborating more with other organizations, like art organizations and other organizations just around the VCU community.”

Herrera noted that students can become isolated in different communities and have difficulty in overcoming these cultural barriers to connect with each other. B.A.S.E. hopes to use art as an avenue to break those barriers.

“If you step into that zone and become uncomfortable,” Herrera said. “It can make you comfortable with everyone else, and we can do a better job unified as VCU.”

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