A Champion of Artivism

by Jake-ann Jones
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Dr. Dallas Cooper Jackson’s
“Bệte Noire: The Migrant and The Mendicant”

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Through March 31
The Studio@620, St. Pete
Details here
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NEA/Pinellas Recovers Grant Update

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Artist, educator, and researcher Dr. Dallas Jackson is currently holding his MFA Thesis exhibit, Bệte Noire: The Migrant and The Mendicant, at The Studio@620 in downtown St. Petersburg, running through March 31.

The St. Pete native, who is finishing up his studies at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), has a decades-long career as a public servant that has always run alongside his life-journey as an artist.

“I have worked all of my professional life. I was a commission officer and did my service school (infantry) and a tour in Southwest Asia – Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – post Desert Storm ground war,” he shares, adding his time working as a juvenile probation officer.

Dr. Dallas Jackson with Bob Devin Jones, executive director and co-founder of The Studio@620

Along the way he learned to write grants – which, along with work sold at art exhibitions, supported his passion for visual art.

“I became an artist years before becoming an educator. As an educator, I have advocated for the arts throughout my career,” shares Jackson. In the past, during decades of work with Pinellas County Schools, his advocacy resulted in the expansion of music, theater and dance classes for students.

Jackson explains three themes he’s exploring in his current show at The Studio@620, which he states is situated within the 90-year period from post-emancipation through the pre-civil rights period. The themes grew out of a series of artist talks that occurred during his 2021 exhibition at the Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg.

Hillary Van Dyke of Green Book of Tampa Bay with a Jackson acquisition

Of his first theme, he explains, “Bete noire – literal French translation is ‘black beast.’ Used in colloquial expression to punctuate an ‘inconvenience,’ its overarching meaning points to the racial strife in America since its inception.”

Jackson’s second topic is the “migrant” – examining the work of Jacob Lawrence, who documented the great migration and the woes of the newly freed Blacks in adjusting to life during Jim Crow. Most of the works “focus on the migrant couple, acculturation, and symbology of the time based on superstition and chance,” he relays.

The third theme is “the mendicant” – a largely religious term for a beggar – which addresses “the abject poverty of the 90 years and connects it to the current time,” says Jackson. The paintings include pointed observations of the effects of gentrification, including his Massacre at the crossroads and Cloudy with a 100% Chance of Gentrification.

Errol and Elaine Davis acquired one of Jackson’s paintings for the collection at the African American Heritage House in Chautauqua NY

Jackson believes the most important work for artists today is documenting the history of our current times and wants to see more opportunities offered to early career artists locally, even as more global art houses are attempting to increase participation by BIPOC artists.

“When I saw Christie’s Say It Loud exhibition I was elated. Blue chip auction houses are creating pathways. The Royal Academy embraced several BIPOC artists. It remains to see how that will trickle down to emerging artists.”

Jackson curated the Intentional Tension exhibition at the Warehouse Arts District last August, which he says was specifically designed to include emerging, early career and professional artists.

Recalling the impact of having his own work exhibited along with renowned artists such as Kara Walker and Sedrick Huckabee in the 2021 Reverberations exhibit at the James and Woodson museums, Jackson would like to see more of this happening for Black artists.

“Those artists have global notoriety, and showing with them increased traffic in the show and [brought] other opportunities for me. We should do this for emerging artists and support them early in their career,” he adds – noting another benefit is in allowing art enthusiasts to see the work of early career artists while it’s more affordable.

The artist and Katie Deits, director of Florida Craft Art

Recently, thanks to a Creative Pinellas NEA grant, Jackson has been teaching art at Light House of Pinellas, working with vision impaired students.

“Visual impairment does not hinder creativity at all. In instances, technologies or specific creative adaptations have to happen. The group of VI teens came to the art program with so many interests and skills that the program was mostly experimental,” Jackson shares.

Jackson relayed how a color-blind student used hex codes to create color images, while low-visibility students used traditional methods, and blind students created textured paintings and sculptures based on the theme of the month.

The artist and educator is passing his artivist DNA on to his children. “Those who have seen me in ‘the art world’ seldom have seen me there without my children,” he says, noting that his children have spent weekends with him at his art studio, as well as traveling to exhibitions with him from the Louvre in Paris to the High Museum in Atlanta, among many.

“I want them to develop a sense of connoisseurship, where they can [view] artists, movements, artistic periods, and have an overall mature understanding of art and its function.”
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Originally published in The Weekly Challenger

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The Studio@620 and Dr. Dallas Jackson
are recipients of the Pinellas Recovers Grant,
provided by Creative Pinellas through a grant from the
National Endowment of the Arts American Rescue Plan.
Artwork in the current Studio@620 exhibit of Dallas Jackson’s work

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