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Black Lives Matter art exhibit at PSU comes to a close

A special art exhibit is closing on the Portland State University campus. But first came a celebration of the artists and their work, inspired by Black Lives Matter.

PORTLAND, Ore. — A special art exhibit closing on the Portland State University campus ended with a celebration of the artists and their work, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Black Lives Matter Artist Grant Exhibition, which was launched to explore powerful issues, opened at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at Portland State University in mid-January. The celebration of this past week recognized the 20 local artists selected to be a part of it.

Philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer gave $2,500 dollar grants to each artist to produce their works for the art museum he established at PSU. Schnitzer said he did it because he saw value in the Black Lives Matter movement, but wanted to see more constructive dialogue.

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“So I reached out to artists because I think artists are the chroniclers of our time — and they are people that, for me, help explain issues in society,” said Schnitzer.

250 artists applied for the Black Lives Matter artists grant program.

PSU student Amirah Chatman was one of those awarded a grant.

“Oh my gosh, an incredible amazing opportunity that literally changed my life,” said Chatman. “When I found out about it, I applied immediately and was very pleased to be accepted.”

Chatman said her work processes her pain.

Credit: Amirah Chatman, JSMA

“This is a chalk drawing that I did. The subjects in it are two of my closest friends. The title is 'Heaven’s Probably in Phoenix,' where I’m from,” said Chatman.

It is part of a diverse collection that reflects on social justice issues in response to systemic racism. More than 100 community events brought thousands of people in to see for themselves.

“What are all these artists saying that's unique to each of us? They're talking about their legacy, their history, issues that they've confronted. And they speak to us in our own way,” said Schnitzer.

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The exhibit represents artwork from PSU students and others in our community. Baba Wague Diakite has been a Portland artist for 35 years, telling stories with his work to build community.

“So giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a beautiful program — Black Lives Matter exhibition at PSU here — is one of the most gifted things I've received in a long time,” said Diakite.

The longtime artist's hope is that the understanding people gained here will be passed on outside the museum.

"And find a way that we come together and share stories, and live life as we should," Diakite said.

The exhibition ended April 30. It was the third artist grant program Jordan Schnitzer has sponsored. The two before PSU were at Washington State University and the University of Oregon.