EuGene V. Byrd III has been curating art shows for decades. Back in the 90’s he recalls his first curated show, “Step into the Byrd Nest,” and since then, he’s curated more than 20 shows throughout his career as an artist. The Wichita, Kansas, native graduated from SCAD in 2002 and went on to work as a creative director for Fortune 500 companies. It wasn’t until 2016 when he stepped out on faith and decided to fully pursue his art career.
This year, Byrd has opened his own fine art exhibition in honor of Juneteenth—which was signed into law as a federal holiday just this week. The Self Liberated Fine Art Exhibition is on display this Saturday (June 19) and next (June 26) from 3-7 p.m. at the TCP Footlocker Gallery at 1420 Moreland Avenue Southeast, and features artwork from Byrd, Fabian Williams, Marryam Moma, George F. Baker III, Tracy Murrell, and many more. We chatted with Byrd to learn more about the exhibition and his vision. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How does your exhibition tie into Juneteenth?
The exhibit is in the spirit of Juneteenth, with Juneteenth also being called Freedom Day and Liberation Day. I focused on the liberation part. I wanted to celebrate the pressure that enslaved Blacks put on the country to free ourselves. That’s what I wanted to kind of focus on—our contributions to us being free, and the exhibit speaks to the artists and the show. The artists that are like that are set up, liberated within their careers, within their lives, and kind of on their own terms—operating outside the traditional kind of gallery system and just kind of self-liberated people.
Why did you decide to curate this particular show?
Well, I definitely wanted just to have an art show, period, because when the world went on pause in 2020, the art world went on pause [with it]. I was just ready to have viewers in front of the art, because I felt like I was painting a lot in 2020, but the paintings come alive when the viewers are in front of it. I know a lot of artists in the show kind of felt the same way. Also with 2020, there was just so much racial injustice going on. This is really my first time doing an all-Black exclusive artist show. I really wanted to show what we can do on our own within our own community.
You’ve been in Atlanta for a while; what changes have you seen in the art scene over the years?
The arts in general is just starting to get a little more appreciated by developers, corporations, and city municipalities. They’re starting to see the value in art. So that’s a good thing—there are a lot more opportunities for public art projects and things of that nature than when I first came to the A in ’96. I think that’s going on in Atlanta, but I also think that’s just kind of going around nationwide a little bit. People are starting to see how arts and culture can actually increase property values, and art also allows you to have healthy, uncomfortable conversations and healthy dialogue, and I think people are starting to recognize that.
What are some of the struggles you faced as a Black artist in your career?
It’s a struggle as artists in general, and I think, overall, some of the same struggles we have, white artists have as well because a lot of times, people don’t fully appreciate [art]. But, when you’re a Black artist, it’s double-fold, because our establishments that are Black-operated don’t get the proper funding. It’s almost impossible to get funding as a Black gallery owner or a Black art organization without having a separatist philosophy. Usually only Black organizations get funding when they take that exclusively Black approach, which I’d never took, so I never really got funding. I didn’t want to be a separatist because I always believed that in the art community, we shouldn’t do that. The art community should be more open-minded and more open-arms to anyone.
What’s some advice that you can give to aspiring artists and curators?
I believe in studying your craft. Don’t worry about monetizing your skills, until, you know, your skills have reached a certain point in mastery. You definitely need to network. Atlanta is an open-arms city, but it’s small enough that Atlanta knows the people who actually support other people’s shows. So, if you want to get into the Atlanta art scene, you have to show up, you have to let people know who you are. Sure artists say it out loud. A lot of Atlanta organizations, especially when it comes to Black organizations, are grassroots, so, volunteer opportunities are plentiful.
What’s next for you?
Well, for years I’ve been focusing on our collective internet artists, which I will continue to do, but I’m starting to switch gears a little bit. I had to close my gallery in 2020, [so I’m] switching things around to focus on Eugene Byrd Productions and starting to be more visible myself and put my name at the forefront. Eugene Byrd Productions will be doing art advocacy, art leasing, and art consulting. I have a sponsored partnership with Maker’s Mark coming up. And just continue to push the needle, continue to give opportunities, and continue to bring arts and culture to underserved areas.
Kiah Armstrong also wrote about this exhibition for Visionary Artistry Magazine—read it here.