Florida exhibit focuses on Black experience
PANAMA CITY — Ricky Steele’s father was one of the first African-American police officers in Bay County. He said that gives him a unique perspective as one of the artists involved in the Black Lives Matter exhibition opening Friday at the Panama City Center for the Arts.
“I’m conflicted in trying to figure out a solution,” Steele said. “One bad officer’s action can make everybody look at all the cops like that.”
The exhibition, Black Lives Matter, opens at 10 a.m. Friday, July 3, at the Center for the Arts, 19 E. Fourth St. Its goal is to amplify Black voices and experiences that can get overwhelmed by other narratives. Local artists will share personal stories through their art and an accompanying statement.
“For me, I hope the exhibit will bring people in to talk about what’s going on in our society,” Steele said. “Our community is a good community. Of course, there could be some improvement. But the exhibit is definitely a platform, and I hope it can create a dialogue.”
Steele added that he’s part of a multiracial family, and because of that he only sees family — not race. “I don’t have racism or prejudice in my heart,” he said.
Artist Christon Anderson said the exhibit is deeply meaningful, especially to him as an artist of color.
“I’m honored to be a part of it,” Anderson said. “It shows we’re part of the conversation, and we want to be seen as much as the rest of the world wants to be seen. To be looked at properly, as opposed to negatively.”
Anderson added that Panama City isn’t a big city like other places where rallies and protests have taken place this spring, and the fact that the Center for the Arts and Bay Arts Alliance was willing to hold this exhibit “is a big deal.”
“Art shouldn’t be silent — especially in times like these,” said Jayson Kretzer, executive director for Bay Arts Alliance, which oversees the Center for the Arts. “But we didn’t want to make a statement without actions to back it up. We met with a group of local Black artists to hear their ideas. This exhibition grew from that conversation as the first step of a longer-term collaboration.”
Artist Willie Morris said the exhibit was just a first step in what must be a continuing walk. He said some Black people in the community don’t feel they belong in downtown Panama City, and having this show at the heart of Downtown is a good way to start.
“As a man, a husband, a father, a community leader, I wanted to do my part to bring forth awareness,” Morris said. “The Black life does matter. What we do every day matters to the betterment of humanity. It’s time to get to the root of how we, as a community, can do our part.”
Morris, raised in East St. Louis, Illinois, and Kalamazoo, Michigan, said each of the artists participating in the exhibit come from different backgrounds or distant parts of the country, but they face the same injustices and tell the same stories.
“With all the things going on, the racial tension in the country, we felt a need to respond as artists in a creative way and express a need to be part of the social change,” Morris said. “Our actions matter, and it’s important that we stand together in solidarity.”
The exhibit also features a community wall for all visitors to share their own feelings, thoughts, and experiences. The show will continue through Aug. 1.
Because of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, no formal opening reception is planned. All visitors are asked to wear masks inside the building to protect the staff and other visitors. Total building capacity will be 50 visitors, and groups will be restricted to 10 people. For details, see PCCenterForTheArts.com.