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Meet the 26-Year-Old Gallerist Championing Women Artists of Color

Ayanna Dozier
Nov 17, 2022 10:48PM

Portrait of Cierra Britton by Katherine Pekala, 2022. Courtesy of Cierra Britton Gallery.

Audacity, divine ordinance, and community helped 26-year-old Cierra Britton open her eponymous gallery this past September. Driven to represent and exhibit works by women of color, her space was an instant success: Her inaugural show, a selection of paintings by Jewel Ham, generated major hype, attendance, and sales.

Britton’s feat is especially impressive given the whims of the New York real estate market. For months, she searched Lower Manhattan to find a temporary physical space. She was bent on opening in September, so that Cierra Britton Gallery could be born a Virgo, just like her. After months of negotiation with a broker, her desired lease fell through two weeks before August ended. She thought: “I can’t let this one man deter the legacy of Cierra Britton Gallery.…September is the aligned timeline in which this gallery is going to open, and that is what it is going to be.”

Installation view of “Body and Soul,” at Cierra Britton Gallery, 2022. Courtesy of Cierra Britton Gallery.

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Britton proceeded to walk all over the Lower Manhattan neighborhoods of SoHo and Tribeca, praying to the gods and calling various phone numbers listed at vacant lots. Her budget of $10,000 a month—which was made possible by a $30,000 campaign she ran on IFundWomen of Color that she launched on Juneteenth in 2021—led some brokers to ignore her or hang up when she called.

Finally, Britton’s prayers were answered: She found the location for her fall 2022 shows at 347 Broome Street in the Lower East Side. The third and final exhibition there, “Body and Soul,” closes on November 25th and features the work of five female photographers of color: Satchel Lee, Ms. z tye, Kennedi Carter, Amandla Baraka, Flo Ngala, and Myesha Evon Gardner.

Britton’s entire career has featured such combinations of audacity and luck. Take, for instance, her road to becoming a curator. As a teenager, Britton left her hometown of Baltimore, heading to New York to pursue a career in the arts. After a failed start at Hofstra University, which she described as a “hot ass mess,” in 2014, Britton shifted gears and applied to The New School for her bachelor’s degree. “The first time I heard about the word ‘curator’ was in a class at The New School,” she said. “That was the first time I realized I could have a role in the arts without being an artist.” Instead, she wanted to support artists achieve their visions.

The course, “Practice and Curating,” taught her to think critically about what a gallery/museum space really is, and what it could be for artists of color. “Space is brought up a lot for Black and Brown people, [from the] ownership of space [to] being allowed in a space and being pushed out of space,” she said. “I knew that after leaving The New School, I wanted to create space for authentic representation of Black and Brown artists,” she added.

Britton cold-emailed Thelma Golden, chief curator and director of The Studio Museum in Harlem, for a meeting. Golden responded and helped Britton get an interview for a competitive paid internship with Jack Shainman Gallery—which Britton handily won and tackled with great enthusiasm. This internship helped hone her skills in curation, marketing, and business organization, which she then brought to a paid apprenticeship at the global collective ARTNOIR, which amplifies the work and voices of cultural producers of color through exhibitions, lectures, and apprenticeships.

ARTNOIR co-founders Larry Ossei-Mensah and Carolyn “CC” Concepcion praised Britton’s commitment to her work as a gallerist. “We’re happy to have someone like Britton be a branch from our tree,” said Ossei-Mensah. “To see her continue what she learned with us in her work supporting women of color artists is outstanding.”

In the three months her gallery has been open, Britton has recommitted herself to her ideas about community—and helping the stars align for others. She wants to ensure that as a woman of color who represents women of color, her artists and audiences feel welcome traveling to her space. “Not everyone feels welcomed going to Chelsea, and not everyone damn sure feels welcomed going to the Upper East Side,” she said.

Britton generates an inviting atmosphere at her openings, events, and performances: They’re packed with young people of color who are making and following the latest trends across fashion, culture, and the arts. She’s built an inclusive community by developing solid relationships with neighboring gallery directors, like Hannah Traore of her eponymous gallery and Andrea Delph from Nicodim.

Britton noted that online platforms, such as ARTNOIR and Artsy, have also been essential in helping her do outreach and ultimately realize her gallery dreams. She said that her Artsy page was instrumental to establishing a name for herself before she acquired a brick-and-mortar location.

Portrait of Cierra Britton by Katherine Pekala, 2022. Courtesy of Cierra Britton Gallery.

“Artsy has always been a part of my art journey,” said Britton. “I’ve always seen Artsy as the biggest online marketplace for art. When I opened [Cierra Britton Gallery] in 2021 without the brick-and-mortar location, I knew I wanted to reach more collectors. Not only do I want to continue to grow as a gallery, but I want my artists to be seen. A lot of the artists that I work with are emerging and young, and they need that visibility that Artsy can provide.”

Britton’s track record speaks for itself. She’s won competitive apprenticeships; received coveted mentions in Teen Vogue, Essence, and Amsterdam News; and established her own space—with plans for more on the horizon. She is also laying the groundwork for other young women of color. It’s a group effort, she said: “If I did not have any passion, I really do not know how I would be in this field, you know. Without community, I would not have my career.”

Ayanna Dozier
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019