Four percent. It’s a number that was stunning to Janet McCall, executive director of the Society for Contemporary Craft (SCC), the Strip District-based arts organization. When The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation studied diversity in American art museums they discovered that only four percent of museum curators, conservators, and educators identified themselves as African-American.
As a result, SCC wanted to do their part to address the lack of diversity. They created the Emerging Black Arts Leaders Apprenticeship and the first recipient, writer and visual artist Corey Carrington, recently began his 2016/17 stint at the center.
“What struck me about Corey is that he’s worked very hard building an impressive resume in the arts in a lot of different media,” McCall says. “It was clear to us that he was on the verge, at the perfect place where if he stepped into this year-long opportunity of working within our organization, and learned all the different aspects of running an arts center, then this could move him up to the next level in his career.”
A 2011 graduate of Slippery Rock University who grew up and now lives on the North Side, Carrington goes by the name “Grits Capone” as an artist and performer. “Grits Capone has been a vessel for me to express the things I didn’t really want to say as myself,” he says. “The themes of my work are things that I’ve gone through, like coming from a family with a background of drug abuse, being in love, just my experiences of being a young African-American man living in Pittsburgh.”
Outreach is important to him. “I use a common language for people who don’t necessarily see themselves as liking poetry or art, who may not think it’s cool, so I turn it on its ear.”
Carrington will follow a rotation schedule at Contemporary Craft, spending time in several sections of the organization, including the education studio and group program area, exhibition staff, development area, finance, and store. “The assignments and projects will be a little different in each area, but the goal is to show him how all the pieces come together,” McCall said.
Carrington, who currently mentors and teaches young people in the arts, said he is especially excited about learning the educational aspects of the Society for Contemporary Craft, the exhibit portion, and learning the financial elements. He added that he’s extremely grateful to be selected for the Emerging Black Arts Leaders Apprenticeship, a paid apprenticeship funded by the Opportunity Fund, which awards grants to organizations and initiatives that advance the arts, and social and economic justice.
The final applicant pool was “small but mighty,” according to McCall, with a high caliber of candidates. “The interviews we did confirm there is tremendous talent among young Black arts leaders in Pittsburgh,” McCall said, adding that as there is more diversity in opportunities, the diversity in talent will be allowed to flourish.