National Black Arts Foundation's Tracey Lloyd On Preserving Creativity

By Bianca Gracie | October 12, 2023

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Tracey Lloyd, board chair of the National Black Arts Foundation, is helping to provide a bevy of opportunities for thriving talent across all art-based industries. Below, she discusses the mission of the NBAF and details of this year's annual gala (which took place on Oct. 7).


Did you know of the organization prior to joining in 2018?

Yes, because it has a rich history. We’re a nonprofit organization. We have a 36-year history of excellent artistic and educational programming and multidisciplinary rights—so, music, dance, film, theater, visual, literary art and fashion design. And we’ve evolved from having a seasonal festival to annual programming showcasing artists of African descent who create innovative and extraordinary work.

What initially drew you to this job?

I'm known for turning around businesses and have in the past held a yearly festival. We've not had that festival in years. In fact, that festival inspired so many Black artists, Bianca. For instance, we have two major fundraisers every year, so we have our arts plus fashion, and then we have our gala. Well, during our fine arts plus fashion, each year, we give an award to an esteemed someone in the fashion field. So this particular year, we honored Virgil Abloh from Off White. Virgil couldn't attend to accept it. But he did a pre-recorded message. And I remember sitting there listening to it, and I was like, “This sounds like someone who is at the end of their career, not just getting started.” We thought he didn't attend in person, cuz he's getting ready for Fashion Week. But in fact, he was dying. In his speech, he talks about being this little boy growing up in the inner city of Chicago, and how every other summer, parents would pack up the car and drive from Chicago to Atlanta to attend the festival. The festival is a free event and celebrates all facets of art. So it wasn't just music, but it was ballet, it was written, it was theater and it was film. So it was just this mecca of Black excellence, and it inspired him. It gave him the courage to dream big and end up under LVMH. So we want to bring the festival back because we need to continue to inspire. And so we're aiming for 2025-2026 to bring the festival back to Atlanta. So it's going to be a Herculean effort, and we're calling on all very strategic partnerships because it is going to take a village to bring this back.

Circling back to your initial [question of] why came back, it’s because I want to help bring back the festival. God has given me all these gifts, right? So how do I give back? To much is given much is required. We're the center of culture We're like the seasoning salt. I've been to Milan Fashion Week, I've been to Paris Fashion Week. You see so many elements of our culture, but we're not there on the stage to receive and that's a problem. Also, how do we provide those wraparound services to help Black artists understand how to monetize and how to keep their art, which is also an issue in the Black community. So how do I bring my gifts to the board that can help raise the money to fund the mission of NABF, so that we as an organization can to perform our mission?

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You mentioned inspiration earlier, and I want to get back to that, because I feel like there's a bevy of talent, but they don't know where to go, or how to get resources or have mentorships. I would love to know your take on the importance of making sure that this new crop of talent gets support in order to really drive with their talent.

Absolutely. So we have various programs with NBAF. So our mission is to expose, educate, engage and entertain audiences, as we present and support artists of African descent while broadening cultural experiences. How do we execute that mission? So we have several programs, one being youth programs, next-gen artists. So next-gen artists is where we nurture the dreams, creativity and artistic talents of middle school to collegiate level students who are emerging artists of African descent. So the with the multidisciplinary arts program, we provide an immersive art experience, structured artistic curriculum, workshops, residencies, internships, mentoring, business and professional development.

Right now we're in a handful of schools in Atlanta: Drew Carter Jr., Senior Academy, Manor, Jackson High School, Carver High School, Luther J Price Middle School in Solvang Hill Middle Schools. We do everything from TV film residencies right to visual arts residencies. The “Move and Dance” program brings dance-based art education back into local Atlanta middle schools. It focuses on improving the health and wellness of the students through fun dance lessons that support movement and exercise. It helps to address obesity and diabetes that's plaguing our communities. We also are introducing these kids to ballet, African dance, hip hop and all these different variations of dance. [Regarding] your question about emerging artists and what are we doing for them, so we catch them in middle school, and we'll work out all the way through high school and through college.

When it comes to college, we have our fine arts plus fashion, we have our design competition for any students that are focusing in art and fashion design. We opened up a competition to them and they designed garments and we have judges who pick which garments are the best. Typically we select three students and give them a scholarship for winning. Their pieces are featured in the windows of Neiman Marcus. That's amazing exposure. So in addition to the money that we give them for scholarships, there's also the exposure. Then we also bring them to the finance plus fashion event. Last year, we had Ruth Carter. And that was on the heels of her just getting her second Oscar. She was able to love on those students and inspire those students who won the competition.

We saw how so many of our artists were struggling because of the pandemic. Think about what was happening during the pandemic from a Black experience. So I said, shame on us if we can't support our Black artists financially so that they can capture this pivotal American moment. It needed to be told from our perspective, but our artists can't focus because they don't know how to keep a roof over their heads. So we're gonna miss telling the story from our vantage point. So from that, we created an artists' project fund. And we were able to fund over 80 Black artists across the US. We're able to provide them with money to help with just every day, from bills, food, those type of things so that they could focus on and capture those moments.

Some of the artists actually got national recognition for the pieces that they were able to create during that time. We noticed that we were giving the money, but many of the artists lacked business acumen, understanding of how to safeguard their artwork and how to monetize their skill sets. So we started creating workshops where we would talk through various business acumen pieces from blockchain. They’re already strong artists, so how do we [help them] become even stronger businessmen and business women? And so we've evolved that into a cohort. So we now have our artist's project fund cohort. This year, we awarded 20 artists with monetary stipends to help them create this artistic piece. We brought them into a cohort, so that we could expose them to various workshops, networking events, and cultural experiences. And so we're really just really proud of the community that we're creating with artists with Black artists.

10-7-2023-_NBAF_Gala-@kimevansphotos-2931.jpgArtwork displayed inside 2023's Mahogany Gala. Photo by Kim Evans

10-7-2023-_NBAF_Gala-@kimevansphotos-2968.jpgInside 2023's Mahogany Gala. Photo by Kim Evans


What are you most excited about for this year’s gala?

So this year’s gala is one of the hottest tickets in Atlanta. It’s at a Southern Exchange ballroom and [taking place] on Oct. 7. It’s called the Mahogany Gala. The dress code is all shades of brown. We sometimes are painted in a monolithic way, and we’re so different. So that’s almost the visual representation of it. We’re doing a long, extended table, which is very different from your typical galas because it’s typically small rooms. It’s going to see 120 people. And we are literally going to be the art. What do I mean by that? There’s going to be large frames that are going to be flanking the table. And so we’re sitting as the art within the frames. We’re honoring [film producer] Will Packer. For the dinner, we’re having chef Marcus Samuelsson. He just recently opened up a restaurant here in Atlanta. Every piece is intentional in how we’re celebrating Black art.

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