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…four blocks south and one block west.

Rhonda Gray is an arts educator at DuSable Museum who is getting her Masters in History.  Kudzai has a successful history with the marketing, branding and advertising world.  Dana Todd-Pope is a super-stylish former model, now mother of three beautiful children–her oldest, who I call Lady Em, is so cute and vibrant that she could have her own TV show.  While they are all independently successful in several different career paths, it is art that serves as a uniting factor for them.  Each one has taken the steps and come together after making the life-changing decision to dedicate themselves to their artistic practices and careers, full time.

Last night I took a quick bike ride, four blocks south and one block west, to the studio of Rhonda Gray (who previously had a space at the Zhou B. Art Center) to talk with her, Dana Todd-Pope and Kudzai B. Mutasa, who have recently come together to create an artists collaborative.  When I asked why they came together, Rhonda Gray said, “…we kept finding ourselves in the same vicinity and same activities…and we just clicked.  One day I said we need to collaborate more, and take this energy and strength that we have and move forward and see what happens.  So far it’s been amazing.”

I’ve known these ladies for over three years now and they’ve become dear friends.  I was lucky enough to sit down with the trio, then later just Kudzai & Rhonda, for a few hours having great conversation about what they’ve been up to and what I’ve been up to, also exchanging useful information.  With a show coming up on September 25th, they are working hard to develop this collaborative effort and bring in other significant leaders in the arts community–Dan Parker and Patric McCoy will be speaking at the event on September 25th.  More of the conversation that I had with them will be included on the archive.  Until then, the following is their response to my question of what their assessment of the Chicago arts community is at this moment:

Rhonda: “I think we are at a place right now where it’s a tight-knit group.  I know on the south side that the masses are not informed, they are not educated, or exposed enough to the fine arts–nowhere near as much as they should be.  Arts programs are being cut from the Chicago schools.  And it’s hurtful because a lot of the students need to be presented with different options–artistic options.  For creative expression, so they can express themselves in positive ways instead of being out on the streets doing God knows what.  I think we need a lot of outreach and education.”

Kudzai: I would say with the art community, when I first entered it I thought, ‘Wow, there are so many African American artists in Chicago!’ But now that I’m actually in the midst there aren’t that many, so the door is wide open.  I’m also finding, as Rhonda said, across the board the arts are being taken away.  It’s crucial.  I see so much talent with the students that I work with.  Because they’re not able to show it on a canvas they are showing it through their clothing, drawing on their pants and shoes–they have so much style and flavor.  So, definitely, Chicago needs some kind of help and I think that’s one of the goals of our collaboration–to show people that you can make a career out of art and it’s actually something you can do full time.”

For more information on the event on September 25th, contact Kudzai B. Mutasa at

In the studio with Rhonda Gray from Tempestt Hazel on Vimeo.

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