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'We have to tell these stories and we have to own a piece of it' | Black-owned gallery educates community about collecting art

The gallery has now become the largest African American Fine Arts Gallery in the southeastern United States.
Credit: ZuCot Art Gallery


Investing in the artwork is something most don't feel they have access to. And for historically excluded communities, the reach can feel twice as impossible, which is the passion behind a Black-owned art gallery in Atlanta.

ZuCot Gallery started with one man’s love of traveling and collecting art but has now become a part of Atlanta’s continuous story and legacy of fostering Black culture. Located downtown near Centennial Olympic Park, in the historic Castleberry Hill, partners Troy Taylor, Onaje Henderson and Omari J. Henderson invites the city to see, purchase and learn more about collecting art.  

Through their Art Tasting events, the partners teach organizations, individuals, and anyone who asks about the importance of owning an original art piece.  

“We have a responsibility to own a piece of our culture while we're here," Omari said. “We have to tell these stories, and we have to own a piece of it, because if we don't, then there are other people that are going to come in and purchase this work and own it, and there will be a pain to go and see our own culture."  

Credit: ZuCot Art Gallery

The two Henderson brothers started their art journey almost from birth here in Atlanta. Their father was a full-time engineer, and when he was home, Omari said his father was “painting every day.” It wasn’t until the two brothers landed college scholarships that their father could pursue his dream. That’s when the three formed their company that would later merge with ZuCot.  

ZuCot was founded in 2009 as an art collection of Troy Taylor, showcasing the pieces he found traveling the world. The gallery at that point only existed when rented, with the brick-and-mortar space not bought yet. 

When Taylor partnered with the Henderson brothers’ they rebranded and began primarily focusing on works of living African American artists. The gallery has now become the largest African American Fine Arts Gallery in the southeastern United States.

Teaching the importance of collecting 

The partners said that the largest struggle they have faced as African American gallery owners is educating the community, which is why their Art Tasting events are crucial to the ZuCot team.

“We'll have these conversations with people at an Art Tasting,” Omari said. “They may come back, you know, two years later and say; I got it. Now I'm ready to start collecting.” 

Along the same line, the trio also said there is too much reliance on those outside to validate the work of Black artists before the community trusts that it’s safe to jump on board.  

“There are artists out there, that are doing great work,” Taylor said. “And only when that artist starts being collected by folks outside of our community or outside of our diaspora, does it create a certain amount of validation within our culture.”

When it comes to buying art, all three men said that people should first buy something they like. Don’t worry if the piece will be worth selling in the future but look at the piece like any other piece of furniture – something you just had to have.  

“It doesn't have to be of a certain value,” Omari said. “It just has to be something that you -- that really resonates with you. And once you get to that point, it is almost freeing for you to become a collector and naturally see happening with people all the time.”

Credit: ZuCot Art Gallery

Aside from educating, Onaje said he felt that ZuCot was always challenging the art world's status quo to create an environment where Black people would feel comfortable participating.  

Community outreach at ZuCot 

Education around collecting art is at the center of the gallery's mission -- and that doesn't start with the adults. The partners work with the City of Atlanta Cultural Affairs to bring in children from around the city to learn about the business. 

"And so some people will say, 'Well, I can't believe you have all these young people in your gallery with this work up and everything else,'" Onaje said. "We can begin to expose children to (art)work at a young age and normalize it. But also what it does for a child to see themselves on walls, images of themselves and people who look like them."

Onaje said that children might do crafts, and older students in high school they may learn more about the math and science behind the art. 

ZuCot also worked with Microsoft for their STEAM Day at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, providing displays of art. They also invite businesses to set up an Art Tasting with them to keep educating people in Atlanta about collecting Black art. 

"The African-American culture is worth billions of dollars every single year and in the U.S. global economy," Omari said. "And so if that's the case, we're trying to figure out how to go about empowering, exposing young African-Americans."

There are plenty of other events hosted at the art gallery for those young, seasoned, new and experienced in the art world.


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