Two years ago, artist Cisco Davis was looking to link up with a group he had something in common with. Thanks to the African-American Artists' Alliance, he has found that.
Davis serves as president of the group, which has an exhibition on display at Howard Community College's Art Gallery. Davis said the organization fills an important niche for the artists.
"Our main thing is to bring people awareness of who we are and how many artists there are in Howard County," Davis said. "We could all do shows individually, but this gives us an opportunity to show together."
The exhibition is the second for the alliance, which is affiliated with the Howard County Center of African-American Culture. The group of about 20 artists meets four times a year to discuss work and plan showings.
Vera I. Wilson, a founder of the alliance, said she originally came up with a list of about 30 African-American artists who lived or worked in Howard County.
"Through a questionnaire, we asked them about themselves," Wilson said. "The alliance has given them confidence in themselves, and they have formed new friendships."
Many African-American artists have complained that while their work is much in demand during February because it is black history month, they remain virtually ignored by galleries and museums the rest of the year. Wilson said that networking is key for artists of color and that the alliance and the exhibit give them more exposure.
"There are very few venues that African-American artists who are coming up have at their disposal," said Wilson, an artist. "The artists that belong to the alliance create from their hearts and their experiences, and people should have the opportunity to see that."
Strolling through the exhibit, visitors see a broad spectrum of pieces. From pastels to metal work to photography, each piece displays the wide range of talent among the alliance members.
"I think it's beautiful," said Linda Katsikasone recent Sunday as she paused by a pastel titled "Queen" by artist Pinkie Strother. "There is such a variety, and I am really impressed."
Strother, who teaches art at Owen Brown Middle School, said the group has brought her together with others who "share some of the same problems I have had."
"I like it because they are a group of people that I have a commonality with," she said. "We can discuss problems we have in terms of locations, materials we use and if you want to do something new, there is usually someone else who is already working in that medium that can help you out."
Davis said the group is close-knit. That closeness was further cemented by the recent death of member June Perry Robertson, who died April 27 at age 54.
Two of her last works, untitled oil paintings, hang in the exhibit with her picture and a poem honoring her memory.
"She was very important to us," Davis said as he gazed at the small memorial to Robertson. "It was hard for us to lose someone, especially her because she came to every single meeting except the one she missed when she got sick."
Clarence M. Page, an artist who works in metals, said he appreciates such close ties and the group's support.
"I enjoy the interaction with other African-American artists," said Page, who lives in Columbia. "There is something about artists that we understand each other even when other people do not."