Personality: P. Muzi Branch
Spotlight on president of the Black American Artists Alliance of Richmond
10/15/2020, 6 p.m.
While COVID-19 has led to theaters and performance ven- ues closing around the world, those in the arts have worked to adapt to this new paradigm. That includes members of the Black American Artists Alliance of Richmond.
The organization, led by artist, musician and arts administrator P. Muzi Branch, launched a group show that opened Oct. 9 at Browne Studio on Hull Street in South Side with virtual showings and in-person appointments.
This kind of activity is only the tip of the iceberg for “an arts movement with a specific, common philosophy and goal,” Mr. Branch explains.
Elected to lead the collective in 2019 after serving as a founder and member for years, Mr. Branch was driven to accept the position because of his belief in BAAAR’s mission to promote the city’s African-American art- ists community, to codify Black American art and to establish and advance the research of the “aesthetic principles and sociocultural themes that define African-American visual art.”
“We are a resource for aspiring African-American artists, consultants for collectors of Black American art and a political force advocating the inclusion of more Black artists and art in the public sphere,” Mr. Branch says.
BAAAR was founded in 2011, the result of African-American artists in Richmond meeting to discuss their frustration with the lack of African-American imagery in the places where the Black community often spent time and money and a desire for the city’s youths “to see imagery that looks like them.”
The group show is only the latest effort the 12-member collective has put together since the pandemic began. BAAAR also held a virtual art auction and raised more than $2,000 that was donated to the Culture Works’ Artists COVID-19 Relief Fund. BAAAR members also are contributing to the Mending Walls RVA mural project and were part of the 2nd Street Festival in early October.
In addition to these efforts, Mr. Branch has been working to “get artists to be in the business of art” through building their portfolios. He says some may not have the academic training or credentials to aid their careers, and he recognizes the need for financial stability to support creative endeavors.
“We would like to be a reservoir of information for young artists and help artists get into the business of selling their art,” Mr. Branch says.
Mr. Branch is more than familiar with the many shapes art—and artists—can take in the community. The Richmond resident works as a painter, a bassist in multiple bands and serves as the director of Arts in Healthcare for the VCU Health System. It’s through these many roles that Mr. Branch has seen the many positive effects art can have, and it’s that positive effect he’s looking to expand.
The top goal Mr. Branch has set for his two-year term as BAAAR’s president is to hold a conference that would address the financial and aesthetic concerns of the city’s Black arts community, and to advocate for more art created by African- American artists in Richmond’s galleries and collections.
To reach this goal, Mr. Branch is working to build a coalition of artists and to educate various interests groups on “the value of including Black art in their environments to promote inclusion and diversity.”
“It is a mission of this group of artists to educate people that the African-American image is not something to be afraid of,” Mr. Branch says.
Despite COVID-19 and the Enhanced COVID-19 Health & Safety Protocols In Place! requirements for social distancing for health and safety, BAAAR persists in its mission.
“We’re just, really, carrying on a tradition that was developed in this journey, from the music to the expression to the language to the fashion,” Mr. Branch says.
Meet artist, art advocate, art administrator and this week’s Personality, P. Muzi Branch:
No. 1 volunteer position: President, Black American Artists Alliance of Richmond.
Date and place of birth: Feb. 19 in Richmond.
Current residence: Richmond’s East End. Occupation: Artist (painter); musician (bassist with Plunky and Oneness); and arts administrator (director of Arts in Healthcare, VCU Health System).
Education: Master’s of arts, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1984.
Family: Wife, Jean Graves Branch; daughter, Michelle; sons, Ashiki, Michael and Jamal; siblings, James Plunky Branch and Gregory Khari Branch.
Black American Artists Alliance of Richmond, or BAAAR, is: Not a club, we are an arts movement with a specific common philosophy and goal.
BAAAR mission: The Black American Artists Alliance of Richmond is an artist collective committed to the promotion of Richmond’s African American artists community and the codification of Black American art. The artist members are dedicated to establishing aesthetic principles and sociocultural themes that define African-American visual art, as well as the advancement of scholarly research concerning the same.
When and why BAAAR was founded: In 2011, a group of like-minded artists met to discuss the lack of imagery that undergirds the Black community in places where we spend our money and time and the need for our youths to see imagery that looks like them.
When elected board president: 2019 for a two-year term.
Why I accepted position: I believe in the mission.
Number one goal or project as board president of BAAAR: To sponsor a conference to address the economic and aesthetic concerns important to Richmond’s Black arts community and to advocate for more art by Black artists in galleries and corporate collections.
Strategy for achieving goals: To build a coalition of artists and to educate institutions, corporations and businesses regarding the value of including Black art in their environments to promote inclusion and diversity.
BAAAR’s founding members: Sir James Thornhill, William E. Johnson, Danita Roundtree Green, Unicia Buster, S. Ross Browne and me.
BAAAR is important in our community: We are a resource for aspiring African-American artists, consultants for collectors of Black American art and a political force advocating the inclusion of more Black artists and art in the public sphere.
How BAAAR is managing during COVID-19: We have been holding our monthly meetings virtually and every member is still creating art. Members S. Ross Browne, Jowarnise Caston, Sir James Thornhill and David Marion are participating in the Mending Walls RVA mural project. BAAAR held a virtual art auction and donated more than $2,000 to support the Culture Works’ Artists COVID-19 Relief Fund.
How art contributes to healing: Images are immensely powerful. Studies show that the arts can play an important role in social change and in something as personal as a patient’s healing process. In my capacity as director of Arts in Healthcare at VCU Health, I see firsthand how our $1.9 million fine art collection impacts the patient and visitor experience.
What art is to me: Art is everything — language, science, math, history, culture, music and aesthetics. The word alludes to raising any human endeavor to its highest level of execution.
What is Black American art? I make a distinction between African-American art and African-American artists. I also make a distinction between Black American art and Black memorabilia. Every visual created by a Black American artist is not Black American visual art. I do not define visual art by the race of the artist; the art stands on its own and is culturally categorized by the imagery, concepts, icons and statements it makes. African-American visual art is analogous to African-American music, literature and theater. They are means of expression borne out of the culture created by our ancestors. It speaks to, for and about Africans’journey in North America. Black memorabilia was created to stereotype and belittle Black Americans.
BAAAR’s upcoming events: We are having a group show at Browne Studio, 1100 Hull St., Oct. 9 through Nov. 30. You can see the show on our website or social media, virtually and in-person by appointment.
Artist who inspires me and why: The late Dr. Murry N. DePillars, who was a member of AFRICOBRA, and dean of the VCU School of the Arts. He proved to me that you can be a producing artist while being an arts administrator.
How I start the day: Thankful for another opportunity to get it right.
A perfect day for me is: A day pregnant with possibilities. Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Gardening.
A quote that I am inspired by: “Success waits patiently for anyone who has the determina- tion and strength to seize it.” — Booker T. Washington
My friends describe me as: Busy.
At the top of my “to-do” list: Finish the painting that I am working on.
Best late-night snack: Trail mix.
The best thing my parents ever taught me: To believe and have faith in God and myself. Person who influenced me the most: My older brother, J. Plunky Branch. He gave me my first bass guitar.
Book that influenced me the most: “Creating Black Americans” by Nell Irvin Painter.
What I’m reading now: “PowerNomics: The National Plan to Empower Black America” by Dr. Claud Anderson.
Next goal: Work with the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Facilities to revitalize the art programs at Pine Camp Arts and Community Center.