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International Black Women in the Arts Week: MSU artists on what their art means to them

February 7, 2023

Tuesday, Feb. 7 through Wednesday, Feb. 15 marks International Week of Black Women in the Arts, a time used to celebrate and acknowledge the work and art Black women create.

The week serves to promote issues that can plague Black women different artistic spaces, like getting underpaid or being one of few women in the industry. The Michigan State University students sat down with The State News to discuss being a Black woman in the arts today. 

Nia Coleman, Visual Art

Marketing senior Nia Coleman describes how she started drawing as a very simple: she just picked up a piece of paper and a pencil.

“I feel like that's pretty much how all of us start,” Coleman said. “When we're kids and we're in kindergarten, they just give you simple things and then you just realize, 'Okay, well, this is what I'm good at and this is what I'm not good at,' and then if you decide to continue, it's not too bad.”

Drawing has always been something Coleman enjoys. She started off with art classes in elementary and middle school and liked being able to learn a variety of styles. She said that these classes had a big impact on her in more ways than most people realize.

While she doesn't not take any art classes at MSU, Coleman said she thinks it’s still important to find time for art in her day-to-day life. She's been able to use her artistic skills in her future career, through the design elements of brand creation and product development.

Coleman tries to find time everyday for her art because as a college student, life can get busy, making it difficult to find time for herself.

Coleman grew up in Detroit, where she was able visit the Detroit Institute of Art and see different styles and tastes of artwork. This had made her appreciate being involved in arts more, she said. Something that impresses her may not impress someone else, but she said she has been able to realize that everyone takes something different away from a piece. 

"What will feel simple to me can be something completely different to other people,” Coleman said.

It's important to appreciate the work of Black female artists because they don’t just capture the lives of Black people, Coleman said. 

“I feel like there are tons of Black female artists that capture what it's like to be a woman. It doesn't necessarily have to be a Black woman, but what it is like to be a woman and that's important, too," Coleman said. "Being a woman is difficult, especially in the business world ... Men have a lot of power, and it should not be that way but it's a thing where we're constantly fighting for our spot, no matter what, especially Black history. African Americans we are always fighting and just to be able to depict that through a picture, that really means a lot.”

Alaina Whitehead, Dance

Art is a part of advertising management senior Alaina Whitehead’s life in many ways. Whitehead said she has always been an artistic person, from sewing to graphic design to what she mainly does: dance.

“(Art) has always been there,” Whitehead said. “As a kid I used to do doll hair and I was a cheerleader growing up.”

Whitehead has taken dance classes since she was young and has been a part of Urban Dreams, a hip hop dance team at MSU, for two years. This is something she is very proud of, because while she has auditioned for teams before, Urban Dreams is the first she's earned a spot on.  

“(Dance) helped shape me just through trial and error,” Whitehead said. “Learning dances isn't the easiest and it's not a very quick thing, you don't get everything. I would say that helped shape me just to keep going through things and keep learning even though I might not get everything, but I just have to keep going, keep pushing through it.”

Whitehead's favorite thing about dancing is getting to express herself through movement, different songs and different styles, as well as the dance community as a whole.

“Anybody can start dancing at any age, at any different level, and you will still find people that are like you and find people that are willing to help you grow as a dancer,” Whitehead said. “That's why I like the community so much, it's very diverse and broad.”

Everybody in the dance industry can relate to each other on some level with topics outside of dance, Whitehead said. This can be mental health, school, and other lines of work.

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Whitehead would like to see more opportunities at MSU for the Black community to share their talents and their art, and she would like to see a greater appreciate for Black women in general.

“We should appreciate Black female artists more because a lot of the times a lot of the trends that we see in the media and just around the world come from Black women, and a lot of the times we don't get the recognition for it,” Whitehead said. “That's why it's really important for us to be ... in the spotlight because a lot of people take credit for the things that Black women do in our own community."

Krista Bennett, Musician and Vocal Performance

Vocal performance freshman Krista Bennett said singing has always been in heart.

“Whenever I sing, I feel like I connect with it,” Bennett said. “Being able to vocalize how I feel with a song and giving that to other people, I just love that feeling. It just warms my heart.”

Bennett said she started playing the piano when she was four years old and took voice lessons when she was eight years old. However, she said that her love of music has always been there.

“I don't do anything without listening to music,” Bennett said. "I'm doing homework with my music, I walk with music, I sleep with music. It's like me and music are tight, we're like one. I've always been around it, so I feel like I wouldn't be the same person that I am right now if I didn't have music.”

Bennett wasn’t always comfortable performing in front of people. She said she would get bad stage fright, which stopped her from sharing her music. However, she gradually started overcoming this during her freshman year of high school.

Bennett said once she become more comfortable on stage, she started to realize that she wants to continue with music as a career.

“I made that decision myself because my family was always like, 'You should be a doctor, or you should do something that like pays well,’” Bennett said. “It just didn't fit with me.”

Bennett wants to become a professional musician so that she can write her own music and help people with her messages.

“I want to help people that feel the same way that I do, feel like they have some somebody and that they're not alone,” Bennett said. “I feel like that's just the whole point of why I want to study vocal performance.”

Bennett said Black women do not get the love they deserve, and it’s important to appreciate the work of Black female artists because of the messages they send.

“The fact that they're pouring their heart out, with the lyrics that they're giving you and the words that you're receiving, I feel like that's a big step, that's a big move,” Bennett said. “Because that's a story and they're giving that to you. So, the fact that they're telling you that, it should be appreciated, whether you like it or not.”

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