Black History Month: How South Side center, children's museum promote African American art

ByKay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, February 12, 2023
Our Chicago Part 1: How South Side museums promote Black art
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Here's how the South Side Community Art Center and African-American Children's Museum have promoted African American art in Chicago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The oldest African American art center in the country is in Chicago.

The South Side Community Art Center was founded in 1940, created under the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project.

Its mission is "to conserve, preserve and promote the legacy and future of African American art and artists" while also educating the community on the value of art.

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Monique Brinkman-Hill is the South Side Community Art Center's executive director.

"Before centers like ours were in existence many of the artists that first came to Chicago were really showing their works in the Y and church basements. And so, back in the 40s, this gave them the opportunity to have a place and a space to show," Brinkman-Hill said.

The South Side Community Art Center is one of more than 100 community art centers created as part of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project. And, it's the only one opened under the WPA to remain open, more than 80 years later, in the same building.

A recent New York Times article called the center one of eight places across the country that "illuminate" Black history. Brinkman-Hill said hundreds, if not thousands, of artists have passed through the doors of the South Side Community Art Center. Among them are Gordon Parks and Gwendolyn Brooks.

As for it's longevity, Brinkman-Hill said, "It speaks to the importance of art in the community. It speaks to the power of the Black artist. It speaks to the power of the Bronzeville community."

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And, she said it's important for "young up-and-coming artists to know there's a space and place they can come and learn about the history. There's a space they can come and potentially be a part of an exhibition."

Chicago is also home to the country's one and only African-American Children's Museum. It was founded in 1993 with the mission of educating and exposing children to the "rich contributions, culture and heritage of African Americans and people of Africa."

ABC7 spoke with Peggy Montes, the woman behind it all.

"The impetus behind this was to make certain that children of all ages, but especially African-American children, would have a history, would have knowledge about who they are, from whence they have come, and what they can do in terms of achieving potential, their potential in their lives. And so, that has been our struggle for the past 25 years," Montes said.

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Her daughter, Pia Montes is vice president of the museum.

"We want everyone to learn, the adults as well as the children. And hopefully, it will spark different conversations and they will go to the library and maybe find more information about, maybe, some African-American inventor, or something that they learned here," she said.