Out of Africa aspires to spotlight local African-American artists

By Scott Faingold

In early 2013, Lynn Williamson came to a disturbing realization while visiting art galleries in anticipation of a visit from her college-age artist daughter. “I would ask if there were any African-American artists represented,” she recalls, “and 100 percent of the places we went to either said ‘no’ or ‘well, there’s one – their stuff is on the back, in the attic, in the basement.’”

That experience was the start of a year-long effort to address this imbalance by finding ways to spotlight the kind of talented African-American artists that Williamson felt were being underserved in local exhibition spaces. “I went out on a quest to find artists in Springfield and throughout Sangamon County,” she says. “I was able to run across wonderful, wonderful people.” Now Williamson is in the process of opening her own gallery space, dubbed Out of Africa Heritage Arts Center, at 210 S. Sixth Street.

Following a successful trial run displaying six artists at October’s African-American History Museum gala, Williamson and her collaborators worked on securing a space while exhibiting work in alternate spaces, most recently Café Andiamo and Marine Bank.

With hopes for a grand opening of Out of Africa before the end of March 2014, things have reached an exciting point. “This is going to be more than a gallery,” says Williamson. “We have programs in place, such as the Art of Healthy Living, geared toward exercising, and programs for youth and seniors as well as history taught through art.” There are also plans to host events both in the gallery proper and in the proposed adjacent wine lounge, to be called Zanzibar.

“It’s not just African-American artists that we are highlighting,” Williamson points out. “Our goal is to embrace all cultures and celebrate that.” She smiles. “We’re making it work!”

Scott Faingold can be reached via [email protected].