At 26, Cierra Britton is already realizing her dream: to open an art gallery dedicated to supporting women of color
“My mission is completely aligned with the liberation of blacks and browns, because it is my life. I live as a black woman every day,” says Cierra Britton. “The lack of representation of women and women of color, in the gallery space in particular, creates this distorted notion that these artists don’t exist. I make it a point to make sure these artists get the platforms they deserve.
Cierra Britton, 26, explains why she decided to open her gallery, the only one of its kind in New York dedicated to representing female BIPOC artists. Her chance story illustrates the power of being supported by a community and how chance encounters can change the trajectory of your life.
Britton, a Baltimore native and New School alumna who graduated with a BA in visual studies in 2018, didn’t know when or how it would happen, but she was determined to one day open her own gallery. Certain that New York was the place to be, she hatched a plan to leave her parents’ house but was forced to go back to 2020, due to Covid, her expiring lease and the impossibility to live in New York without a stable income.
In February 2021, she returns to the city that nurtured her creativity. New York was energetic, lively and full of opportunity. For example, a fateful meeting with Thelma Golden, the director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, led to an internship at the Jack Shainman Gallery.
One day, while working at the women-only coworking space The Wing, Britton overheard two women discussing a gallery in Brooklyn. She shared with Victoria Alexander, the owner of the space, that she was a budding curator. This interaction led to Britton’s first exposure to Harlem-based friend and photographer Flo Ngala, who had worked with rapper Cardi B and rapper and record executive Gucci Mane. The exhibition traced the life of a school of young black skaters in Harlem, entitled Harlem Ice: The Selects Folder. The show attracted the press teen vogue, Essenceand amsterdam New.
Britton worked with the non-profit art collective Artnoir, where she was responsible for content management, scheduling coordination and general support for the co-founders, who each have full-time jobs, with Artnoir as a passion project. It was at Artnoir that Britton was encouraged to trust her instincts and open her first gallery.
“I do my best when I’m in a safe space. I feel comfortable sharing and contributing and reaching out and building,” she explained. Artnoir, the majority women and minority organization, has helped Britton see the endless possibilities for her own career and the ways in which a healthy work environment allows talented people to reach their full potential.
Since opening her pop-up gallery at 347 Broome Street she is looking to secure space for next year, in September Britton has shown the work of more than one a dozen artists including Ambrose Rhapsody Murray, Adama Delphine, Myesha Evon Gardner, Alisa Sikleanos-Carter and Jewel Ham, who opened the gallery’s inaugural solo exhibition, ‘stay cute,’ with an exhibition of paintings focusing on the duplicity of the black woman’s experience. The works cost between $800 and $20,000.
Each opening, followed by each closing party, was filled with trendy young black designers, other artists, writers, gallery managers, DJs and aspiring entrepreneurs. Earlier this year she also featured Bre Andy, Jewel Ham and Lewinale Havette in her stand at 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fairwhich hosted the fair in Harlem for the first time.
With the help of iFundWomen of Color, Britton attended weekly Zoom meetings with fellow members, sharing insights that provided valuable insight into the ins and outs of first-time entrepreneurship; such as creating pitch decks, writing business plans and proposals, and raising capital.
Britton remembers working in the toxic and racist work environment to The Wing and this chance encounter with Golden as major turning points in his trajectory. “I learned about her [Golden] during my time at the New School, and she is the main reason why I wanted to pursue conservation studies practical,” says Britton. After two years working as a receptionist at The Wing, she says she was passed over for higher positions and another employee told her they didn’t know if she had the personality or the ability to be. “herself authentic in such a corporate role.”
Britton could see the handwriting on the wall and the microaggressions filled with black coded language that people often face in corporate America. Worst of all, The Wing presented itself as a champion of inclusivity. “As a black woman, I know what that means. It’s a code because you’re too black for this role. says Breton. She left soon after and never looked back.
In March 2020, The New York Times wrote an article about The Wing, which opened in New York in 2016 and has expanded to several cities across the country, which detailed how it was not achieving its feminist goals and diversity. The Wing told The Times that employee concerns had been incorporated into a “radical recalibration of the business”. In late September, The Wing was shut down by its parent company, which cited the Covid pandemic and “global economic challenges”, in a letter to members, The Times reported.
The Wing was shut down by its parent company in late September, citing the Covid pandemic and “global economic challenges”, in a letter to members, The Times reported.
But while she was still there, Britton emailed Golden, a member at the time. His approach paid off, and that email was followed by an in-person coffee, which led to a meeting with Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, Jack Shaimain’s manager. Gallery. Bellorado-Samuels offered Britton a place in the gallery’s internship program the following spring, which opened new doors.
When it came time to open her gallery, Britton was encouraged by the co-founders of ARTNOIR where she had, during Covid, been instrumental in shifting the association’s in-person events to online virtual studio tours with artists.
“The passion, dynamism and determination that Cierra showed when she told me about her desire to open a gallery at such a young age, dedicated exclusively to showcasing and space for women of color, felt truly authentic, honest and timely” , says Danny Baez, co-founder of Artnoir and owner of the Regular Normal gallery. “Despite the obstacles, his dedication to achieving this in such a short time is truly impressive and no small feat.”
As she looks forward to more exhibitions and future projects, Britton acknowledges the role the community has played in her career. “I started my crowdfunding campaign and we ended up raising $30,000, all thanks to my family and community of supporters. I couldn’t have opened this space without these people,” she says. “It was so reassuring to see how many people made it their business to support me and support this mission for this gallery.”
Her dedication to amplifying the marginalized voices of BIPOC’s female artists and her timely rise in the art world rests on the mentors, advocates, friends and family who not only believe in her vision, but support and support her. rise through the spirit of community.
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