Why You Should Care About The Legacy of Black Art

There’s a metaphorical graveyard somewhere filled with precious lost black art because of lack of representation, but also basic record keeping.

It’s the equivalence of the digital files of Donald Glover’s “This Is America” music video being sent to a virtual trash can, and being permanently deleted without any other record saved. A great piece of artistry lost for generations to come.


Meet Donna Thompson Ray, the Jamaican-American owner of ATFA Appraisals based out of New Jersey, whose mission is to be of assistance to artists and their archives, and to the institutions who are working with them.

Donna Thompson Ray (Pictured)

Black artists are charged with making sure that steps are taken to protect their work that is being created so it doesn’t just last for the moment but it’s something that lasts forever. That doesn’t change depending on if an artist is well-known or not. Self-omission is another form of disenfranchisement.

“I know a lot of artists and it’s quite often that I hear about an artist’s work being left on the streets by well-meaning family members or friends after they pass away,” Donna says.

“They are overwhelmed with the burden of managing the work. If there isn’t a good record keeping system in place with the kind of information required in the art market, it makes the task of taking over management of the artworks more challenging. In an ideal world, people who work in appraisal services along with curators and art historians should be working with artists proactively.”

There are but a handful of Black art appraisers, and Donna is one of them. A doctoral candidate in American history, making sure that all voices are included is paramount for her. It’s a responsibility she fully embraces.

Donna has been part of the international arts community for thirty years, and is currently the registrar for one of the largest private collections of African art in the greater New York City area, only behind a few of the New York museums.

She is the Project Director for Faculty Development Programs at the American Social History Project (The Graduate Center CUNY), and serves on the Board of Directors for the Museum of Art and Origins in New York City.

“As an appraiser, I can’t be an advocate,” Donna says, “but I can do my part in raising the fact that these artists produce the work and their work is the same level of quality and excellence expected in the industry. I specialize in the art of the African diaspora including contemporary Caribbean/Latino/Latin American art markets — ones that have been previously neglected. When there is a section of the population that is not being heard then all of us are not benefiting.”

On a whole, the representation of people of color and women artists being exhibited regularly in museums and galleries, is discouragingly low. Donna believes that there is strength in numbers and collaborations when the focus is on constructively challenging established structures of who gets represented and who doesn’t.

The conversation must keep going.

If you know black artists, share this article with them.

If you are an established black artist thinking about estate planning or insuring your work, get connected with Donna for a no obligation consult. It’s particularly important for black artists who may not have an understanding of how an appraiser can be useful for collection management or private sales.

Donna’s expertise helps to level the playing field, and it’s just one of the ways that she’s supporting an artist’s legacy.

Ultimately, the legacy of each artist begins with them but we’re still all part of it. Lives built on art expression should not be lost. Not when it can be prevented.

To learn more about Donna and the legacy of art of the African diaspora and its artists, please visit www.atfaappraisals.com.

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