New KC gallery shining a light on Black art. First up: A famous actress’s collection

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Kansas City seems to love actress CCH Pounder. She’s not from here — Pounder was born in British Guiana — but she has shown up for this city more than once to help it open some prominent spaces that mark important cultural moments in the city’s history. She’s doing it again.

Pounder, a four-time Emmy Award winner, has captivated audiences for decades with her remarkable performances on movie and TV screens. Though mostly known for her acting career — as Mo’at in the “Avatar” franchise and Dr. Loretta Wade, the coroner on CBS’ “NCIS: New Orleans,” and more — Pounder has long been a collector of Black art and will bring her collection to Kansas City this summer. She strategically chose art connected to Kansas City by artists who are from here.

Pounder’s collection will be the inaugural exhibition to kick off the grand opening of the Zhou B Art Center, located at 1801 E. 18th St. on June 1. The Pounder showing will be the first of the new art center’s mission to bring national artists and collections to KC’s Historic Jazz District. For the past few months, Pounder has visited the city putting together this showcase of her collection while meeting the KC artists who occupy the studios of Zhou B Art Center.

In addition to owning and operating her own gallery in Los Angeles for 14 years, Pounder founded the first privately owned museum in Dakar, Senegal. The museum, called Musee Boribana, was established in 1993 with her late husband, Boubacar Koné. In 2014, the couple gifted the museum to the nation of Senegal.

Pounder took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions about her lifelong love of art, her passion for showcasing art, and her upcoming show at the Zhou B Art Center.

Q: Tell me about your childhood and what led you into acting and the arts?

A: My childhood in a small town of 13 houses that required a taxi, the ferry across the river, and a bus to school, gave my mind plenty of time to imagine all sorts of things. I can honestly say it was good fodder for the artistically inclined. It may not have come in the form of visual art, but the scenery around me exotic and dusty pastoral and noisy bustling and steely silence all may have propelled me toward a life in the arts.

Do you remember your first art purchase and why did that piece make you want to buy it?

I wish I could remember my very first art purchase it must have happened as an exchange and at the time I’m sure I placed no value on its future other than I liked it.

Do you have a favorite style of art?

I was introduced to contemporary diasporic art in the ’70s and ’80s. This was heavily message-oriented scenes of the human condition and so on. As I became an apartment dweller I found paintings that were current to my surroundings, so dancers, classical theatrical posters were what I started with along with childhood memories of tropical places and English farm lands all reflecting the places were I lived.

How many pieces do you currently have in your collection and how many will be on display at the exhibition?

This very first exhibit is truly to introduce the Zhou Brothers Art Center to the Kansas City audience. I’m really honored that they chose me to curate this exhibit and to do so in a way that it may herald what they might like to do and show in the future. As I was present for both the inaugural exhibits of the Jazz Museum and the Baseball Museum, having me there for a contemporary art space I feel, I may just have landed on my home turf. I chose artists familiar with Kansas City and some artists who live and work there. The idea of the title of the show, “A Benediction from the Rubble,” relates in great part to revitalizing an area, adding more art to the Kansas City landscape, and bringing typically disparate communities together through the Zhou Brothers’ latest art activation.

How many showings have you done with your art collection to date?

I have promised that I will come back with an exhibit featuring pieces from the CCH Pounder-Koné Collection once all the necessary navigations of new spaces are up and running. I’m looking forward to that. In terms of showings, we have enjoyed ever expanding requests to show the collection around the nation and abroad.

Museums from Santa Barbara to Miami have experienced paintings from the collection. At present the DuSable Museum (DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center), in Chicago, The National Portrait Gallery in London, the Wright Museum in Detroit, and the African American Museum In Philadelphia will all experience works from the collection this year.

Do you have a favorite piece in your collection?

No. It’s like children, even if you have a favorite it’s only temporary and another takes over. I love them all.

Is there a theme for your show in Kansas City?

A theme may not be easily discernible initially but there is a definite color splash that runs through not only the paintings but in the photographs of Robert Hale. Expressing an emotionality of person and place.

What made you want to bring this art show to Kansas City?

One of my great joys is sharing the works with the public who may not have had the opportunity to see works by African heritage artists from all over the world. I enjoy sitting off to the side and looking at the enjoyment folks have seeing these visual ideas for the first time. Sometimes, because of what I’m showing, it is that visitor’s very first time coming into a venue such as a museum or art center.

How did you get involved with the Zhou B Art Center?

Simple. I was asked to show my collection … but as the Center is also opening its doors as a brand new space with art studios, exhibition spaces, events spaces and a sculpture garden, how lovely to start with a Kansas City-centric exhibition which includes artists Harold Smith and Michael Brantley.

CCH Pounder, left, seen in photo at the Zhou B Art Center with local Kansas City artist Harold Smith who be participating in her art exhibition June 1.
CCH Pounder, left, seen in photo at the Zhou B Art Center with local Kansas City artist Harold Smith who be participating in her art exhibition June 1.

How do you feel about being one of the first to exhibits in this new location?

It’s always exciting to be part of something new and part of a successful launch with all the stress and excitement that comes with it. It’s a challenge for all of us to create new spaces that can be part of the Kansas City landscape and I’m humbled by Kansas City’s generosity to open its arms to more venues that will honor the artistic works of local and international artists.

What are you most excited for in regards to your show here?

Diverse greetings, conversations, inquires, and a general curiosity.

Why is it important for people to go out, buy art, and support local artists?

We have many choices in what to buy. I’m more in love with the idea that museums and art centers are not places of intimidation but places to garner ideas, be inspired, fall in love with art and having an opportunity to put in your house a piece one has the feeling that it has to come home with them. That’s always thrilling for me. There are so many moments that can be inspirational ones instead of intimidating ones.

You have previously opened art galleries both domestically and internationally, do you see yourself opening another in the future?

Well when folks come to my house I’m told it’s like a gallery or museum so in a way I guess I’ve done that.

Many Kansas City galleries have said their lack of Black artists being shown is because of a lack of a market for Black art. How do you think local Black artists can change that perception?

When artists hear that, they usually try to get to a city where that is not the case. The home left behind suffers greatly from lack of institutions, lack of resources and in the end a lack of artists because they will go where they can be fed. Kansas City is a big enough city to create their own magnificent inclusive art community. And many who have toiled alone will have to band together be make a stronger art community of lovers and buyers and it has to start young. If there is no art around you, no art education, no trips to art centers, museums, and a welcoming attitude, it becomes difficult to develop a love for art and its various forms, long story short. Art begins at home.

How can Kansas City strengthen the local Black arts movement that still struggles to find outlets and platforms to show their art?

It’s still a commodity. How do you sell eggs or cows, or tractors, or insurance? You have to bring it to market or make some concessions if the market won’t include you. But you can’t just do nothing at all. Develop your “take it where folks you know gather.” Sometimes by doing your own thing others take notice, get curious, and want to join in.

The Pounder exhibit will also feature works from local artists Harold Smith, Michael Brantley, Robert Hale and Tony Ramos. Tickets for the the Zhou B Art Center grand opening are available at Proceeds from the grand opening reception will contribute to developing subsidized programs for art studios, exhibitions, educational workshops and programs for the community.