Nonprofit ARTNOIR Continues to Empower Artists of Color with a New Scholarship for MFA Students

Folasade Ologundudu
Jul 13, 2021 2:00PM

Since launching in 2013, the nonprofit ARTNOIR has built a reputation for empowering artists, curators, collectors, and cultural workers of color through resources and educational programming. This July, ARTNOIR, in partnership with Artsy, is holding a benefit auction to launch the Artistic Pathways Scholarship Fund, to support MFA students at CUNY and SUNY schools throughout New York City and State.

“To my knowledge, this will be the first scholarship of its kind that specifically focuses CUNY and SUNY schools,” said ARTNOIR president and co-founder, Larry Ossei-Mensah, who runs the organization with six co-founding members. “It’s us, ARTNOIR, continuing to think about how we can be of service to the community by creating something that’s tangible.” The fund will support Black and Brown MFA students of exceptional talent based on merit and need of resources. The new initiative is a prime example of how ARTNOIR, with its global arts community from New York to Johannesburg, gives back to artists while creating meaningful change.


The auction, ARTNOIR From: Friends To: Friends Benefit Auction 2021, which runs from July 13th through 27th on Artsy, features the works of esteemed young artists—such as Kevin Claiborne, Ryan Cosbert, Adjei Tawiah, Cydne Jasmin Coleby, Ashanté Kindle, Marcus Leslie Singleton, Patrick Eugène, Damien Davis, and Tiffanie Delune, among others—with opening bids ranging from $500 to $7,000.

In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, ARTNOIR collaborated with Artsy on its first benefit auction. Proceeds from the sale went to the Jar of Love fund microgrant initiative, which offered artists relief during a time when exhibitions were canceled and unemployment rates soared. The auction raised over $100,000 and featured the work of now-lauded emerging artists including Tiffany Alfonseca, Conrad Egyir, Alanna Fields, and Chase Hall, among others. The auction further solidified ARTNOIR as a unique force within the art world.

ARTNOIR began as a group of friends making trips to see art together around the world. Today, it stands out in the size, diversity, and reach of its co-founders and global network of artists and partners. Co-founders Ossei-Mensah, Carolyn “CC” Concepcion, Danny Báez, Isis Arias, Melle Hock, Jane Aiello, and Nadia Nascimento come from a diverse mix of cultural and professional backgrounds. What connects them is their love of art and community. “The group of humans behind ARTNOIR makes the difference,” said Danny Báez, co-founding member, curator, and owner of the gallery Regular Normal. “The honest sense of community has definitely set the standard of how other nonprofits (similar or not) should operate.”

Together, the co-founders share a wealth of professional experience with curating, galleries, art fairs, creative direction, and design. “Being in the arts professionally affords us a different level of access in terms of our relationship directly with the artists,” said Ossei-Mensah, who is currently guest curator of BAM’s Rudin Family Gallery and co-curator of the 2021 Athens Biennale.

The multitude of events and programs spearheaded by ARTNOIR over the past eight years is testament to its unwavering commitment to reshape and reenvision the art world from the inside out. In the spirit of inclusivity, the nonprofit operates as a family-oriented organization. “We treat you like family because we consider ourselves family,” said co-founder Isis Arias. From brunches in L.A. during Frieze Art Fair to artist talks with Wangechi Mutu and Julie Mehretu at NeueHouse, the nonprofit employs an open, dynamic approach to building a thriving arts ecosystem where audiences can get involved.

“We have come up with really amazing programs that touch the community, that create artist residencies, that are educational, showcasing the breadth and depth of things we want to put out and the relationships we have with artists,” said Arias. “The hope is that we are able to continue to create impactful programming both in our city and globally.”

Arias is an executive producer and brand marketer with over 10 years of experience in the creative sector; she’s worked with brands like Airbnb, Google, and Nike, and spearheaded activations at events from Art Basel to All Star Weekend. Driven by a love of community, she seeks to make space for Black and Brown folks who’ve often felt unwelcome and unseen in the art world. “The industry has always been seen as something a little unattainable,” she said. “Our folks aren’t going to museums, aren’t going to galleries; they don’t feel welcome in those spaces. So how do we crack that open? How do we say, ‘Yes, you are welcome here, too’?”

From the beginning, the members of ARTNOIR have worked tirelessly to redefine what it means not only to build a community, but more importantly to serve one. The new scholarship fund and the artists it will support further this mission. And in empowering artists with the resources they need to keep creating, the hope is that in turn, they will foster rich communities of their own for generations to come. “What I see for ARTNOIR is becoming a legacy,” said Báez.

Now, at a time when much of the world is reopening and folks are desperately trying to adjust to the “new normal,” ARTNOIR continues to pivot, taking greater steps towards building more equitable futures for Black and Brown artists. While the previous Jar of Love fund offered relief to those already in the field, the new scholarship focuses on the artistic practices of young artists in need of funding to pursue their education and entry into the art world.

This year’s auction will feature the work of over a dozen rising contemporary artists who are in the midst of gaining recognition in the art world and beyond.

The New York–based multidisciplinary conceptual artist Kevin Claiborne examines Black life in the United States, homing in on issues of identity, the environment, and mental health. His piece in the auction, Therapy Boy (2021), is a bright, mixed-media abstraction. Claiborne’s work recently graced the cover of New York magazine’s “A Reckoning with a Reckoning” issue, reflecting on the police murder of George Floyd and racial unrest in America, one year later.

The painting in the auction by the emerging Ghanaian artist Adjei Tawiah, titled IRONY, depicts a woman, her skin painted blue and black, wearing a brightly colored turtleneck, staring off into the distance. Tawiah has shown with the esteemed Gallery 1957 in Accra, and has already garnered much success as an emerging artist.

Ryan Cosbert’s Heritage (2021) is a bright abstract painting with a kaleidoscope of yellow, green, blue, and hints of red. The work features the artist’s signature “tiles” creating balanced geometry. The young Brooklyn-born artist embeds her works with narratives mined from her own personal experiences, as well as politics and history.

“It’s important to highlight that to support what we do, you don’t have to be a big corporation,” said Ossei-Mensah. “You can be an everyday individual. People have donated as small as five dollars. Everybody has the capacity to be part of telling our story.”

Folasade Ologundudu