On the first Friday of each month, galleries in Lincoln, NE open their doors for an evening of freshly curated exhibits and projects, as hundreds of culture fans fill their spaces to explore the state capital's buzzing art scene. Katharen Hedges, a 21-year-old artist from Lincoln, has been going for years. "When you go around to a lot of the galleries, you don't really see many artists of color," Hedges tells Creators. "Artists of color are more of a side note."
Studying art at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, Hedges praises the city's creative community—one that's inspired by its numerous universities, contemporary institutions and cultural programs. But as a black woman in a city with a predominantly white population, Hedges has often felt isolated, lacking a shared cultural experience that she's seen translated into the art that's being put on display. She decided to reverse that.
Hedges is now art director of Parallel Visions, a space in Lincoln's downtown core that focuses on artists and communities of color. Having started it last year with videographer Vernée Norman, Hedges hopes to give artists of diverse backgrounds a voice, as well as expose Lincoln's white majority audience to new types of work.
"The works that we're putting into the space are kind of challenging and not always easy to look at but that's kind of the point of it," says Hedges. "When you're in such a predominately white space, how do you challenge that space to grow? So even though we wanted to create a safe space for artists of color, it functions for everybody in creating that opportunity for white audiences to see a perspective that they may have never seen before. We aren't trying to exclude anyone. We want to establish some understanding."
Since its first show in September, Parallel Visions has put on numerous events, including artist talks, fashion shows, and a screening of Beyoncé's Lemonade, and has included works from a variety of young artists from the minority Black, Hispanic, and Native American communities in and around Lincoln.
During this past February's Black History month, local artists Nathan Murray and Zora J. Murff explored race relations in the US today, creating sculptures of people that they had interviewed about color and identity.
"Not all of the work that we show is about race directly," Hedges clarifies. "The work is whatever anyone wants to display, as shutting doors would eliminate the value of the space. Race is a subject matter but representation is so much more important when you come into populations that are predominately white."
Hedges' sense of growing up as one of the only Black girls in her elementary school, equally unreflected in the media or popular culture, is a similar upbringing to many of the artists and curators working out of Parallel Visions. It's an experience she thinks everyone, no matter what their skin color, should share through art.
"The importance of having a space like Parallel Visions, where I can see myself and my experience in the work that is there, tells me that I'm important," says Hedges. "It tells me that I'm cared about. I want young people to know that we're thinking of them."