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South Side Community Art Center Archives

Finding Aid: South Side Community Art Center Archives
Repository: The South Side Community Art Center

South Side Community Art Center ArchivesHoused in a historic brownstone on South Michigan Avenue, the South Side Community Art Center was founded in 1940 under the auspices of the WPA Federal Art Project. It is one of the only surviving community art centers of the 110 founded under the FAP, and it was the first founded in an African American community.

Though the community art centers were subsidized by federal dollars, the South Side Community Art Center only opened as the result of years of rigorous organizing and fundraising by members of the local community, led by businessman Golden B. Darby. The Center's opening exhibit in December 1940 featured local artists who would become the guiding lights of mid-century African American visual art, including Henry Avery, William Carter, Charles White, Archibald Motley, Jr., Joseph Kersey, Margaret Burroughs (then Margaret Goss), Bernard Goss, and William McBride. In May 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended a special dedication ceremony for the Center.

The Archives of the South Side Community Art Center include meeting minutes from the center's founding to the present day, as well as documents, ephemera, and photographs detailing exhibitions and other events, including the famous Artists and Models Balls.

Selected Artifacts

Golden Darby held the first meeting to organize a community art center
on Chicago's South Side on October 25, 1938. The center would not open
for another two years. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the Center's dedication on May
7, 1941. She is pictured here with Patrick Prescott, Daniel Caton Rich, and
Benjamin Johnson. Professor, cultural historian, and New Negro editor Alain Locke can be
seen here standing behind Eleanor Roosevelt and Patrick Prescott at the SSCAC
dedication ceremony in May 1941. Guests throng the main gallery of the SSCAC at its dedication in May
1941. Blues singer Bessie Smith stands in the foreground, fifth from
left. In its early years, the SSCAC's revolving exhibitions featured art
supported by the Federal Art Project and state art projects, as in this
exhibition of art from the New Mexico Art Project. One of the most successful efforts to raise the funds for founding the
SSCAC was the Artists and Models Ball held on October 23, 1939 at the Savoy
Ballroom, which raised enough money to purchase the center's home, a
brownstone on South Michigan Avenue. The ball became an annual event. Golden Darby (third from left), who spearheaded the fundraising effort
to found the SSCAC, discusses a Federal Art Project painting by Charles Davis
with fellow SSCAC members, left to right: Julia Thacker, Carriebel C. Plumber,
Mary R. Morgan, Ann Jackson, Lira Harris. Photographer Gordon Parks, whose documentary photographs of Chicago's
South Side won him a Rosenwald Fellowship and a job with the Farm Security
Administration in 1941, kept a darkroom in the basement of the South Side
Community Art Center throughout the 1940s. Parks would maintain a relationship
with the Center throughout his life. Gordon Parks exhibited his work at the South Side Community Art Center
on multiple occasions. Gordon Parks at a signing of his novel Shannon in 1982. A dance rehearsal at the SSCAC in 1957. (Photo by Clifford J. Burress,
Winbush Associates)

Images and credits.