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Celebrating Black artists: Black History Month and beyond

HomeNewsCelebrating Black artists: Black History Month and beyond

COMPAS is honored to collaborate with many Black artists. These talented, visionary Teaching Artists put creativity in the hands of Minnesotans of all ages and abilities, every day, all year long.

As we bid farewell to Black History Month 2024, please join us in honoring the remarkable influence of Black artists worldwide, whose creativity and artistry have enriched our shared cultural tapestry. Here are just a few examples of Black artists who have left an indelible mark on our collective consciousness. 

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) was an influential, prolific, and self-taught artist from Brooklyn, New York. In the late 1970s, he was a graffiti artist and used the tag name “SAMO©” throughout downtown New York.

During the 1980s, Jean-Michel became a famous painter and pioneer of the neo expressionism movement. During that monumental period, artists created abstract paintings with bold and vivid elements to express and/or invoke emotion.

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Sylvia Robinson

Sylvia Robinson (1935-2011) was a famous recording artist, Hip Hop pioneer, and mogul from Harlem, New York. She was a hit singer of the 1950s (Love is Strange), executive producer, record studio owner, and founder of the first rap record label, Sugar Hill Records.

In 1979, Sylvia discovered The Sugarhill Gang with assistance from her son. She also helped the dynamic group of artists record “Rapper’s Delight,” which went on to be a hit record, and from that moment, rap history was made.

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Selma Burke

Selma Burke (1900-1995) was a world-renowned sculptor and educator during the Harlem Renaissance era. She grew up in North Carolina and moved to New York in the 1920s, where she connected with a community of talented fellow artists (“Faces of the Harlem Renaissance”).

During the 1940s, Selma was selected to sketch an image of President Franklin Roosevelt that was used on the back of the U.S. dime. Her extraordinary work wasn’t acknowledged or given credit for over 40+ years.

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Arthur Mitchell

Arthur Mitchell (1934-2018) made history in 1955, as the first African American principal dancer with the New York City Ballet. During the civil rights era, he felt compelled to make change by giving back to youth in Harlem. So, in 1969, he became co-founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, and partnered with Karel Shook, a renowned ballet master.

Just two years later, in 1971, the Dance Theatre of Harlem was recognized as a neoclassical ballet company, and by 1979, they began an international tour. Thanks to Arthur’s vision, the dynamic theatre company was able to provide priceless opportunities to young, gifted, and talented dancers from Harlem.

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Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) was the first African American, independent filmmaker. He was born in Metropolis, Illinois. In 1900, he moved to Chicago and worked as a Pullman porter. Oscar saved money and moved to South Dakota in 1904, where he bought land. In 1917, his first novel, The Homesteader, was published. The book was then used in 1919 as the basis for a silent film. 

Oscar went on to make more history by writing and producing over 40+ films during his career. He was creative, driven, innovative, and dedicated to his craft, and utilized silent cinematic filmmaking to combat racial inequality, racial injustice, and negative depictions of African Americans.

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Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland (1982 – present) shattered glass ceilings in 2015, when she became the first African American, Principal Ballerina at American Ballet Theatre. Her inspiring journey represents the power of resiliency, strength, perseverance, and the significance of working hard to achieve greatness.

Misty is originally from Kansas City, Missouri. She grew up living in motels but found refuge in dance starting at 13 years old. Now, she is a mother of one, a published author, philanthropist, stage performer, and founder of the Misty Copeland Foundation.

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COMPAS is an arts education nonprofit that puts creativity in the hands of Minnesotans, regardless of their age, background, or skills. Based in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area, COMPAS teaching artists deliver creative experiences and arts programming across Minnesota.

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This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.