Exploring Black Art in Michigan

As we celebrate the stories, contributions and innovations of Black Americans this month, we’re turning the spotlight on artistic hubs throughout Michigan.

Two women walking in downtown Grand Rapids
Downtown Grand Rapids | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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Looking back at the works of painter Harold Neal and other Detroit artists of his time, we can see how these works responded to the Civil Rights, Black Power and Black Arts movements. Within a dynamic art scene that matched the caliber of other major American cities, Neal was instrumental in creating artistic statements of the era. The Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s was a period of creative expression that gave rise to a number of Black-owned artistic enterprises.

Today, we can explore several art galleries around the state that center the Black experience through visual art. In Detroit, an essential stop is Norwest Gallery of Art, founded in 2018 by photographer Asia Hamilton. Located in the Grandmont-Rosedale area where Hamilton grew up, the gallery specializes in exhibiting African and African American works from emerging and established artists from around the globe.

Find one-of-a-kind works at Jo’s Gallery on Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion. Run by second-generation owner Garnette Archer, the gallery features paintings, mixed media, jewelry and sculptures by Black artists from Detroit and beyond. Pop-up shops and workshops also take place in Jo's Gallery Café.

Outside of Detroit in Southfield, Umoja Fine Arts showcases the artistic achievements of both local and internationally acclaimed artists. CEO and curator Ian Grant brings together a robust collection of original paintings, bronze sculptures, prints and more in the gallery and gift shop.

A diverse array of artwork, from Detroit to the African Coast, can be found at Sherwood Forest Art Gallery in Livernois. Browse among canvas paintings, framed prints, sculptures and masks in this local institution that’s run by a father-and-son team.

Get to know Grand Rapids’ creative scene by starting at the Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives (GRAAMA), a space that’s rooted in oral traditions and celebrates visual works from local and internationally renowned Black artists.  Founded by artist, historian and archivist George Bayard, who also opened the award-winning Bayard Gallery of Fine African American Art & Books, GRAAMA continues to celebrate artists of color and was the recipient of ArtPrize's “Best Venue” award in 2018.

Step through the doors of Muse GR and you may be greeted with curated visual artwork, spoken word, performance art and pop-ups in this interactive art space. Founded by husband-and-wife team Stephen and Taylor Smith in 2018, Muse GR has established itself as a premier art venue in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids.

MW Gallery is home to the private Mott-Warsh Collection in downtown Flint. Admire this vast collection of fine art from over 200 artists of the African diaspora, featuring contemporary drawings, paintings, photography and mixed media. The gallery is always free and offers extended evening hours during Flint’s popular ARTWALK, every second Friday of the month. 

Experience these galleries and many more Black-owned enterprises throughout the state of Michigan on your travels.