When Elgin artist Freddrick D. Wimms was asked just after Christmas to curate an art exhibit for Black History Month, he didn’t have much time and didn’t know what he wanted the show to be. But he did have an idea for a name.
“Black Then, Black Now, Black in the Middle …”
“When I set the name, I had no idea what the show was gonna be,” Wimms said. “I knew it couldn’t be based just on Black history. It had to be about the essence of Black culture, and then that will reflect on Black art and that will reflect Black history.”
Wimms ended up with the idea to tell the story of how Black culture in America was born out of the darkness of slavery, how far it had come up to and since the Civil Rights movement, and how far it can still go.
“This all came from a dark place,” he said of Black culture. “And even though the show has a little bit of darkness, it’s about the light. It’s about the art. It’s about what Black people added to America.”
“Black art is out there and you just have to find it,” Wimms added.
The exhibit runs through the end of the month at Side Street Studio Arts, 15 Ziegler Court in Elgin. The show opened with a reception Feb. 5. The gallery is open Saturdays, noon to 6 p.m., and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Capacity is limited to allow for social distancing.
The show features works from 30 artists, some with multiple pieces. The artists run the gamut from new to experienced, from local to national, who submitted work in several media, including photography, painting, drawing and mixed media. Most of the pieces are for sale.
“We got a good response and a good mix of artists,” Wimms said. “We wanted variety and that’s what we got.”
Side Street Studio Arts was founded in 2013 as an outlet for the Elgin arts scene. It offers educational programs with a mission to support the artist and artistic journey through collaboration.
“We’ve been wanting to do an exhibition in honor of (Black History Month) for years and it just never came together for a variety of reasons,” founder and executive director Erin Rehberg said in an email.
“This year, on the heels of the extensive Black Lives Matter protests, especially locally, we felt a greater sense of urgency, and made ourselves move forward as an organization.”
Having worked with Wimms for years at Side Street, Rehberg said, his point of view was right for the project.
“Fred is extremely active in our community, and is a strong creative Black voice,” she said. “We knew Fred would come at this exhibit from a thoughtful place of knowledge and investment, and he did just that.”
In this moment of extreme societal upheaval, where creative voices are essential, the concept he came up with is perfect, Rehberg said.
“Set on the platform of the past, representing the current moment, and pushing for forward momentum,” she said. “All with an open mind — working to include a variety of voices and experiences.”
Wimms said he would have liked the exhibit to be more interactive with the audience, and maybe feature more performance, but he was limited because of the pandemic. There will be a performance by spoken word artists on Feb. 19 that can be streamed on the Side Street website.
A member of the board at Side Street since 2018, Wimms, 38, said he considers himself a “painter at heart,” though he works in several media. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Columbia College, where he majored in film and minored in fine art.
Wimms, who has lived in Elgin for 26 years, said he hopes the show is the first in an annual tradition.
“We did this in a short time period and it’s a really good show,” he said. “I think if we do it again, it could be out-of-the-world stellar.”
And, Wimms liked the opportunity to give Black artists in the Elgin area a chance to connect.
“I feel like, in Elgin, we don’t notice the Black working artists,” Wimms said. “So I want do it again to give them somewhere they can actually show their work and for next year give them more time to make something new.”
He said he hopes the show reflects the spirit of the Black experience in America.
“Yes, we started from darkness but yet we still live, we’re like the greatest underdogs of the American story,” Wimms said.
“I mean, you can’t be no more underdog than being Black in America.”