A million New York City commuters will find their footsteps colliding with a shock of color thanks to art world entrepreneur Mashonda Tifrere this month. The ArtLeadHER founder mounted Small Wonders + Be of Good Courage at the NYC Culture Club, a space located in the dovelike Oculus transportation hub structure.
“I wanted to go against the norm and create something that was accessible to the community; people that have never been into an art gallery,” she told ESSENCE after posing for a photo with a teenage attendee at the show’s opening event. On Wednesday, December 15 Tifrere will speak about her experience as a business owner during the 2021 ESSENCE + GU Entrepreneur Summit.
“Children are just walking by and all they see through these windows are just huge pieces of art and that’s not something that you can get in a normal situation.”
Small Wonders features work from Derrick Adams, Hugo McCloud, Patrick Alston, Ferrari Sheppard, Amani Lewis, Nate Lewis, and Tariku Shiferaw. Be of Good Courage includes work from Ronald Jackson, Lauren Pearce, Alanis Forde, Akilah Watts, Robert Peterson, Jacqueline Souwari, Jewel Ham, and Ikeorah Chisom Chi-FADA.
Later in the evening, Pearce posed with her godson before he took off to explore the work of Adams more closely. “I wanted to do it somewhere that would be easy for everyone all over the world because we get so many tourists here, so many families,” said Tifrere.
According to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, The Oculus is home to “12 subway lines, the World Trade Center PATH station, and dozens of retailers, serving over a million people every week.” The centralized location is prime real estate for the championing of public art.
“I didn’t want it to feel like a traditional gallery show. It’s a New York moment. I wanted to create a real life, New York moment, and this was the perfect place to do it,” Tifrere continued.
Previous public art displays housed in the Oculus have included a playful series of inquisitive statements from Shantell Martin, and an inclusive workshop from Jonathan Horowitz. ArtLeadHER “focuses on providing equitable and equal opportunities to women in visual arts,” a cause Tifrere has championed for years, using her platform to shine a light on emerging talent.
Brothers Parker and Clayton Calvert formed a partnership with Westfield World Trade Center to offer the space to their fellow artists and curators without charge. The program removes one of the greatest barriers to entry for creators.
They were proud to partner with Tifrere and ArtLeadHER.
“She picked this incredible roster of artists,” said Calvert.
Her goal was to give artists opportunities to “show all their emotions and show what it looks like to be a Black person, not only in America, but in the motherland.”
“We have artists that have shipped work from Africa. We have artists that have shipped work from Barbados, the Caribbean,” she said. “I wanted that theme to be very well rounded.”
Those who stop by the show will have the chance to learn about these artists through QR codes that present the artists’ names and links to additional information. There’s no need for a co-sign or a textbook, anyone who wants to feel and learn is welcome.
“Anybody from anywhere can come into our shows,” said Parker Calvert. “We had statistics from the first show and something like over a hundred countries had registered their QR code when they scanned.”
As they rush to work and play, throngs of those people will be introduced to “vibrant” work from a diverse group of emerging and established artists including Pearce and Ham. The egalitarian nature of ArtLeadHER’s exhibition extends beyond the work on the walls. The artists themselves will have access to the information acquired from the show allowing them information that could be crucial to their future projects including NFTs, corporate partnerships, or other solo or group exhibitions. This is a huge asset at a time when questions have arisen about access and equity in the arts.
Ham gushed over how the show introduces the average mall goer to the gallery experience without intimidation.
“I love that I’m in a mall space that anybody from any background, any bracket can come and see and really enjoy the work,” she said, smiling widely mere feet away from her work sitting in the space’s window. “That means a lot to me,” said Ham.
“My entrepreneurship journey has saved my life in so many ways, creatively, emotionally. I mean, just waking up and knowing that people are counting on me to get something done and that it’s up to me to get it done because I don’t have someone above me forcing me to get it done. It’s really very personal,” said Tifrere.
Her contributions have aided other art world professionals including Cierra Britton who hopes to become one of few Black women gallery owners in the nation. “Mashonda’s spirit and her energy is very warm and welcoming and very intentional,” said Britton. “She’s building her community and she’s open to conversations, she’s into dialogue and you see it, you see the conversations that are taking place within the gallery around the work and it’s just a beautiful and inspirational practice to see.”
“It’s definitely a huge part of my life. I can’t imagine working for anybody else,” said Tifrere. She wishes the sense of satisfaction she gets from her works on other enterprising women.
“I encourage all the young Black women to go out there and pursue what it is they wanna do and build an empire.”
Small Wonders and Be Of Good Courage are on display at the NY Culture Club until January 14.