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News Stories

“A Fuller Spectrum of Voices”

By Lara Zielin

The Bentley Historical Library is proud to announce that the National Conference of Artists (NCA), Michigan Chapter has donated their papers to the archive in partnership with the organization’s founding members and current leadership.

The NCA, Michigan Chapter was founded as a nonprofit membership organization in 1974 and began operating a commercial art gallery in Detroit in 1985. The mission of the chapter is to preserve, promote and develop African American culture through the visual arts and to foster the creative forces of artists emanating from the African American and African World experiences.

The materials donated to the Bentley Library showcase the NCA’s membership activities and programming, which provided critical infrastructure and support for Black artists across the state of Michigan. The organization is still in operation today and the NCA, Michigan Chapter will celebrate its 50-year anniversary next month.

“These papers could have gone to the Smithsonian or the Library of Congress, but the NCA, Michigan Chapter leadership wanted them to stay in Michigan,” says Camille Ann Brewer, the chairperson of the NCA, Michigan Chapter’s archival project. Brewer holds multiple degrees including an M.F.A. from the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art (’94) and a Master of Library and Information Science from Valdosta State University (’10).

“The NCA, Michigan Chapter wants to demonstrate that it has a relationship with the Bentley Library and it will be fruitful for all involved,” Brewer says. “These materials have great depth, and the Bentley can help ensure they are preserved and shared widely.”

“The Library is honored to partner with the NCA, Michigan Chapter to preserve and make their archive accessible to the public,” says Alexis Antracoli, Director of the Bentley. “This is the story of the social and cultural history of the art scene across Michigan, and the ways in which NCA was an incubator of Black artistic talent. The collection helps the Bentley reveal a fuller spectrum of voices that have shaped art and culture across the state.”

The collection includes exhibit catalogs and promotional materials for the Detroit art gallery, which showcased prominent Black artists including Samella Lewis, Betye Saar, Howardena Pindell, Sam Gilliam, Robert Colescott, Sonya Clark, photographer Anthony Barbosa, and many more.

Artist Cheryl Hanna

An undated photo of artist Cheryl Hanna from the collection.

“We are celebrating 50 years of art services in the State of Michigan, as well as defining our amazing adventure into the community of the visual arts,” says Detroit-based artist Shirley Woodson Reid, a co-founder of the organization. Her late husband, Edsel Reid, provided organizational leadership through the first 25 years of the NCA, Michigan chapter and Reid’s son, Senghor Reid, a member of the NCA archives committee, is an internationally recognized artist and currently an artist-in-residence at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

“The collection of the NCA, Michigan Chapter highlights a sense of community and, in particular, a multi-generational artistic community,” says Michelle McClellan, the Johanna Meijer Magoon Principal Archivist at the Bentley Library and the field archivist who worked with Brewer and others to bring the collection to the Bentley. “Preserving the story of its evolution and growth shows its success and importance in fostering talent and elevating Black artists and voices.”

“For a volunteer-run nonprofit, it’s a testament to the strength and endurance of the organization,” Brewer adds.

The NCA had international chapters as well as chapters across the United States including New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Gary, Indiana; and Richmond, Virginia, but only the Michigan chapter was statewide.

The newly donated collection comprises around 20 linear feet of material containing articles of incorporation and constitutions, minutes of executive board, membership lists, exhibition announcements, exhibition checklists, newsletters, commemorative, convention and programming ephemera, publications, film/video, and photographs. The materials are in both digital and analog formats.

The materials will be processed by the Bentley Library and made available to the public as soon as the work is complete.

The NCA, Michigan Chapter is planning a 50th anniversary program, “NCA is GOLD,” to take place at the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit on Saturday, May 25, 2024 at 11:00 a.m. For more information, please contact the NCA Gallery at (313) 342-1786 or Shirley Reid at (313) 723-9610.

[Lead image] A group class at the NCA Conference of Artists in 2008.