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King’s Canvas Supports Marginalized Artists and Boosts West Montgomery Economy

If you find yourself on the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in West Montgomery, be sure visit King’s Canvas, a nonprofit arts organization at 1413 Oak St. on the west side of Montgomery in Washington Park. Described as a neighborhood with “a rich history of Black entrepreneurship and excellence that has experienced decades of disinvestment and widespread vacancy.”

Artist and community activist Kevin King founded King’s Canvas to address the lack of resources for minority and marginalized artists in Montgomery. He wanted a place where minority artists could network, have access to supplies, and space to create and display their artwork. Creative placemaking is used to engage a diverse population in designing and planning projects that reflect, celebrate and inspire local culture, heritage and values, and promote economic development and social change. Today, the King’s Canvas site is action-packed with a variety of events, from concerts and block parties to voter registration drives and markets for Black-owned businesses. King’s Canvas also partners with local public schools to bring more art into the classroom.

In 2018, King, who lives in Washington Park with his wife and daughter, converted a vacant commercial property on Oak Street into an art studio. King and other local artists painted a colorful mural on the building to attract visitors. Plans call for creating a new studio and adding an art gallery and retail space. The studio is expected to be completed in March and the rest of the plan will be phased in as funding becomes available.

Raising the necessary funding to keep King’s Canvas going and to complete expansion plans is a struggle, admits King, who says “as a Black nonprofit, we get overlooked.” But King’s Canvas isn’t getting overlooked by sightseers and other visitors. “We’ve created a destination stop,” says King. “A lot of tourists stop and buy original art and prints. People just like to take a piece of Montgomery home with them.”

To generate much-needed capital, King started a fundraising venture called King Canvas’ Get Off the Bus Campaign. The idea is to bring outside dollars into the area by encouraging tourists to pull over, get off the bus, and engage in the arts and patronize local businesses. And, of course, the name also suggests the historic Montgomery Bus Boycott.

King is an artist himself who addresses social issues in his acrylic on canvas artwork. But he hasn’t had much time to paint in recent years while running the organization and applying for grant money. Funding is needed to hire an executive director to take over administrative duties, and construct the proposed gallery and store. Despite the struggles and demands of keeping King’s Canvas afloat, King says he does get satisfaction from his efforts. “Many Montgomery Black artists and others who are marginalized didn’t have opportunities six years ago. That has changed.”

 

 

*Article Written by Jessica Armstrong and Images Courtesy of King’s Canvas

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