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What Financially Minded Blacks Should Know About Art

On Saturday, December 7th, at the Queen Memorial Church of God in Christ, in Oakland, California, grassroot activists, and others, will join forces in a joint fundraiser for two premier newspapers who are reporting from behind the prison wall, the California Prison Focus, and San Francisco Bay View. Proceeds for the fundraiser will be raised through a silent Prisoner Art auction.

Why should this matter to the Black middle class, or anybody who is aspiring to be middle or upper middle class, or have young children, and are looking for plausible means to fund their college education? Because art is apart of a class of instruments known as assets. This class consist of real-estate, stocks, bonds, rare coins, stamps, and others. The whole theory of the case, is to buy low and sell high. The buy and flip phenomenon of the past 30 years in real estate and day-trading, which created such online firms as ETrade, is not classical investment strategy. Classic investment strategy is to buy and hold. Any professional stockbroker will argue during a stock downturn, it is far better then a savings account, or putting your money under a mattress; that in the long-term, stocks increase in value. While historical averages do bear this out, we have come now to learn that managed stock picking accounts by Wall Street firms do not out perform indexed accounts. This fact is especially a bright spot for middle class Americans. It means a more democratized cache of stocks, being an index, can be bought into without the fees associated with a managed account. And whether one wants to accept it or not, the cultural phenomenon known as Hip Hop, is on the cusp of providing phenomenal investment returns.

What Is Hip Hop?

For the uninitiated, Hip Hop has been determined to have five elements. These elements are, MCing (oral), turntablism or DJing (aural), b-boying (physical), graffiti (visual), and knowledge. The founder of the Graffiti movement in America was a Black youth by the name of Daryl “Cornbread” McCray. Cornbread learned about Graffiti, honed his Graffiti skills, and acquired his Graffiti name, while serving time in a Pennsylvania juvenile prison. The best selling artist in the Contemporary Art Market is an African American who comes from the Graffiti Art world, Jean-Michel Basquiat. A Basquiat’s painting bought in 1984 for $20,900, sold in 2017 for 110.5-million. It increased in value by a multiple of over 5,000%. In the past 20 years, his drawings have a return index of +2,000%. In 2017, 81-year-old Agnes Gund, an American philanthropist, and arts patron, sold her 1962 Roy Lichtenstein’s, Masterpiece, for $150 million. The sale placed it among the top 15 works ever sold. $100,000,000 of the proceeds went to start the Art for Justice Fund, a five-year initiative to reform the criminal justice system through art. The fund is being further funded by other wealthy art patrons inspired by Gund’s request to follow in her footsteps. I have watched this fund go from nothing, to having a full panoply of influential Black support, like Ava DuVernay, and Michelle Alexander, just to name a few. In 2019, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers owner, Michael Rubin; NFL, New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft; Hip-Hop Royalty, Jay-Z; and South Philadelphia Rapper, Meek Mills, created the $50,000,000 fund, Reform Alliance, another private sector fund to influence criminal justice. In February of 2016, Scott Budnick, the Executive Producer of The Hangover film franchise, and founder of The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), which includes on its Board, film actor, and former prisoner, Robert Downey Jr., wrote in an ARC newsletter that was distributed to prisoners, the following:

Part II Raising Awareness Through ART

Additionally, our team at ARC has been looking for ways to bring new supporters into this movement, to help us find re-entry programs, housing, mentoring, job training and support for people coming home. Having seen the absolutely incredible artist Behind the Walls, we are proposing doing a huge and high-profile art auction this fall to raise funds and awareness for this movement. This will not be your traditional art auction, this would be at a major museum, with celebrity art auctioneers, and the ability to raise tremendous awareness, bring in massive press, and a considerable amount of funding, all to benefit a nonprofit organization and also the artist inside (50/50). We have many board members with powerful connections in the art world, and believe art from inside could sell for 5x or 10x what it traditionally would get.

Eventually, this would only turn out to be aspirational; however, he did plan for it to be big. Including, representing a skewing of the Prisoner Art Market as a result of him and his friends bidding on these works. This was before Kim Kardashian-West’s public involvement in criminal justice reform. What most middle class Black Americans are clueless about, are the influential Blacks who made their fortune in Hip Hop, or grew up on Hip Hop, are right there in some capacity, with the Titans of the Tech industry, and other influential, wealthy Whites, who want to be involved in the reformation of the criminal justice system. It is not a far stretch to say, we are witnessing the abolition of the slavery movement, 2.0. Especially, when you consider, more African Americans are in prison or jails than ever were in slavery.

I wrote this piece, because I am one of those incarcerated African Americans who happens to be both an activist and artist, and who has been demanding from those who believe in the power of art to effect both internal and cultural change to pay us. Prison art is a primary method of raising funds for legislative reform, prison reentry programs, and to support families with a loved one behind bars. Yet the prisoner is on their own when it comes to acquiring supplies for these endeavors. They receive no monies and very little recognition for their yeoman’s work. Rewarding this type of behavior incentivize other prisoners to model this behavior. From my experience, when asking prisoners to participate in art, or to contribute works for fundraisers, they aren’t interested. With the recent release of Min. King William, aka Pyeface, The George Jackson of Rap, this story is going to get told. Since his release, from doing six years in the Feds, and 18 years in California, Pyeface has been quite active in dealing with the issues for those he just left behind in prison, and the issues facing the world he has been welcomed back into. He has been the brainchild of several fundraisers since his release that include gentrification and the prisoner press. For years, he watched the “Prisoner’s Voice” be exploited. Incarcerated men and women who lend their drawings and writings for the cause to end mass incarceration, or some other cause, without compensation. The fundraiser, Artivists In Action & Solidarity, will be raising money through a silent Prisoner Art auction, whereby 40% of sales will return back to the prisoner. Pyeface’s return to society, brings a very powerful voice to the table, not paralleled in years. When President Obama ran for presidency in 2008, he was not initially the candidate of the Black democratic establishment or Black democratic rank and file. It wasn’t until he won the Iowa Caucus that Blacks felt they had the luxury to vote for him. It was seen as a signal from White America that they could pin their hopes on him. I write this article because I want Black America to understand, I am pulling your coattails to an opportunity to invest in you and yours. It is without a doubt, that mass incarceration affects Blacks more than any other racial classification. Blacks may have been totally clueless, as a people, that their people started one of the largest art movements in the history of the world, and that one of their own, dominates the current Contemporary Art Market. I’ve laid out a strong foundation, or rather made a case, that wealthy white Americans will soon transfer their money away from institutionalizing Prison Art, to making direct contribution to the artist themselves. If my fellow, financially minded African Americans were to purchase art from one of these Prisoner Artists, prior to celebrities getting into the Prisoner Art market, you will see a return on your money. It is only a matter of time, before celebrities and other influential non-people of color get involved in the Prison Art Market. African Americans, and all Americans, who come from where I come from, lower, middle, and upper-class, this is an opportunity for you to do what the big boys do, having artwork as a part of an investment portfolio.

For more reads:
Agnes Gund, Prison Art’s $100,000,000 Patron | darealprisonart https://darealprisonart.wordpress.com/2019/11/11/a…
Jay-Z, Meek Mill Launch Prison Reform Alliance, Pledge $50M https://www.vulture.com/amp/2019/01/jay-z-meek-mill-launch-prison-reform-alliance-pledge-usd50m.html

ARTIVISTS IN ACTION & SOLIDARITY
(Prison Art Auction for the National Prisoner Press)

Saturday, December 9th, 4-7 p.m.
Queen Memorial Church of God in Christ
1324 E. 24th St.
Oakland, CA 94606
(510) 532-2752
Or donate online:
California Prison Focus http://newest.prisons.org/donate
San Francisco Bay View https://sfbayview.com/donate/

[Donald “C-Note” Hooker is a native angeleno. He is a poet, playwright, performing artist, award winning visual artist, and the King of Prison Hip Hop. His works have either been exhibited, recited, performed, or sold, from Alcatraz to Berlin. In 2017, Google Search listed him first in their search results, as both America’s, and the world’s most prolific Prisoner-Artist.]

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