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The process of creating art, much like the Black experience in America, relies on an innate ability to see beyond the limits of circumstance and a belief that something beautiful will come through faith and commitment. When art and book collectors Bernard and Shirley Kinsey — founders of the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection — first met a then-emerging artist by the name of Samuel Dunson in 1999, they commissioned an oil painting from him, simply because they delighted in his style. What would emerge the following year is a piece called The Cultivators, depicting a family confidently navigating a field of books.
“We use it as our lead image, or logo, because this young brother saw that in us, that we were about sharing and cultivating knowledge,” says the couple’s son, Khalil Kinsey, GM and chief curator of the collection. Now, following an international tour underway since 2006, the Kinsey Collection is the first art show to be displayed at Inglewood’s SoFi Stadium that doubly marks its first presence in a sports and entertainment venue.
The exhibition — which opened at SoFi in February and is currently extended through June — features more than 70 works of art by prominent Black artists (including Charles Ethan Porter, May Howard Jackson, Elizabeth Catlett, Sam Gilliam, Ernie Barnes, and Romare Bearden), sculptures, photos, rare books and letters (from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X) and was curated in collaboration with historian Larry Earl. According to Kinsey, “It really does chronicle, in a chronological way, the evolution of African-American life in the United States through the lens of artistic contribution.”
Located on SoFi’s second floor, the objects, which reach as far back as the 16th century, hang in proximity to a suite shared by the likes of Jay-Z, Rich Paul and LeBron James. The show has been visited by Cedric the Entertainer, musician Terrace Martin and L.A. Rams players.
The Kinsey Collection, which began to take shape more than 50 years ago, has been seen by 15 million-plus visitors across more than 30 cities worldwide. What began as a passion-driven endeavor — Bernard is a onetime Xerox exec, Shirley a former schoolteacher — has bloomed into a bona fide archive of authentic articles of African-American fine art and primary source ephemera in an effort to crystallize the contributions of Black artists, writers, thought leaders, military personnel and beyond to American society. We endeavored to “illuminate these stories of humanity and heighten the true significance of Black life and contribution in the lens of America,” Kinsey says.
Jason Witt, senior director of community affairs and engagement at SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park, said Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke envisioned the 300-acre development as a place for the community to gather year-round. “One of the central components of the Kinsey Collection is to implement a dynamic community engagement initiative, working with Inglewood and Los Angeles area schools, as well as local nonprofit organizations, to facilitate various educational programs, including field trips, school visits, arts education, teacher workshops, guest lectures and more,” he says. “Since launching in February, we have hosted over 11,000 guests and nearly 4,000 students have toured the Kinsey Collection at SoFi Stadium.”
Next month, in celebration of the Juneteenth holiday, additional works highlighting contemporary Black artists will be unveiled at SoFi in partnership with Inglewood’s Residency Art Gallery. “It’s really a past, present and informing-the-future type of experience,” Kinsey says. (The SoFi exhibit is open Thursday to Sunday, with tickets costing $15.) “I would venture to say this is a blueprint for what sports and entertainment venues can do as far as providing museum-level experiences in their halls and corridors.” More info at sofistadium.com/kinsey.
A version of this story first appeared in the May 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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