I recently spoke to Alexie Young, the founder of Art West, a West Side arts collaborative designed to support local artists. Art West will be opening a gallery space on the West Side in October.
Young’s family is from Belize, but she was raised in Austin and has significant roots in North Lawndale. Currently, she’s the executive director of the MLK Exhibit Center in North Lawndale. She talked about her early artistic inspirations and being a creative in the community she loves.
On her early artistic inspiration
I grew up in Austin and went to George Leland, which was where I discovered what I would do for the rest of my life. I remember reading a book about Georgia O’Keefe. She’s a classical American artist. A white woman. And I remember reading this elementary level book and it had these beautiful pictures of her paintings, of these huge flowers. I remember telling my teacher at the time, ‘I think I want to be an artist. I want to be Georgia O’Keefe.’ I know we’re not the same kinfolk. My teacher was laughing at the time, but she said you’re going to be your own artist. Hearing that at such a young age meant a lot to me.
On the West Side’s ‘hidden gems’
I have so much passion for the gems that are here, but that people don’t necessarily think about, like the architecture. Look at the Golden Dome [in West Garfield Park] and some of our parks. They’re so beautiful and are often overlooked.
When I invite people from the South Side here, they’re like, ‘I didn’t know the West Side had trees.’ When I invite them here, we always go to Uncle Remus and places like the original Sears campus on Homan and Arthington. They get to not only see this firsthand, but to feel it.
On her first painting and her transition into the business of art
The very first painting I ever did — I wasn’t sure I could paint at all, I just knew I had interest — was a vase, with the plant leaves coming out of it. That was 10 years ago. So, when I look at my work now, I see that I’ve gotten so much further in my technique.
I got my degree in Communications, Media and Theater, but art wasn’t necessarily in the foreground at the time. Now, however, it is. And it’s been great. I started the art business when I was teaching art classes for sip and paints. But I soon discovered, OK we’re going to be doing so much more than that.
On the West Side arts community
The art community on the West Side is robust and the dopest thing about it is the further we get in our own personal creative careers, the more we’re attracting people from all over the city. You’re talking about some of the most amazing videographers, film artists, musicians.
We’re building a network of creative professionals. We want to build an ecosystem with each other. The thing about Art West is, we understand there are a lot of organizations that have been doing great work in the community for a long time and we’re always eager to collaborate, but we understand the edge we have is how we present the West Side to the rest of the world. We try to capture the essence of the West Side that is overlooked. We have some dope places and dope people, but you wouldn’t know that by how the media portrays us.