“When it comes to keeping records of the thousands of narratives within the African Diaspora, Art has a special way of capturing the many stories, insights, dreams and social development of Black people. That’s why we share and collect art,” explains twin sisters Karen Mackey Witherspoon and Sharon Mackey McGee.
Well known for empowering art events at the Mackey Twins Art Gallery in Mount Vernon, NY, Karen and Sharon, art enthusiasts, began collecting Art while working as public school teachers. “We used to go to galleries where we looked in awe at original artworks. At that time we were public high school teachers who couldn’t afford to purchase original works, so we’d purchase poster prints and had them framed. We wanted to support artists, but at some point we realized that paying $20 for a poster print was not supporting artists—we kept trying to figure out how we could.”
Karen and Sharon discovered a gallery that allowed them to make installment payments toward original art ownership. On modest teachers’ salaries, they realized that they too could be part of a seemingly elite group of art collectors. After completing payment for one piece, the sisters would begin, anew, installment payments on another. To date, The Mackey Twins’ collection exceeds 350 pieces. But they’re not hoarders of sacred pieces of Black history. Instead, they share their art in order to empower others to revel in the inspiration of African diaspora stories. The twins believe “The Mackey Collection is about preserving bits of our culture. It is our responsibility to share African diaspora art, otherwise, it could be lost forever.”
Through gallery showcases and events, the Mackey twins have created a platform for artists of color to share their experiences through visual and now literary expression. Participants not only get the chance to speak with the creators, but they also learn how they, too, can own a piece of art. Karen stressed, “In the 15 years we’ve been in business, our mission has not changed. We still let people know we have a responsibility to support our artists—to sustain their gift and to understand that, as my sister Sharon always says, ‘If you can own several flat screen TVs, then you can own art work.’ And she’s right.”
During gallery showcases, the sisters often initiate “virgin” art collectors by creating a setting that is welcoming. Sharon says, “The Art World can be a little intimidating when you look at price points—people often feel uncomfortable and feel like they lack the knowledge of how to go about purchasing Art. My sister and I like to create an environment in which the novice feels comfortable. We like to make them feel like they can buy with their heart.”
Recently, the sisters added literary works to their collection and showcases. They believe that written works are just as much a part of African diaspora narratives as the visual arts. This past June, the sisters hosted Dr. Mary Louise Patterson, co-editor of Letters from Langston: From the Harlem Renaissance to the Red Scare and Beyond. The book is a compilation of personal letters written by world renowned Poet and Playwright Langston Hughes to the Patterson family. Each letter provides a glimpse into the secret life of Langston, unveiling the evolution of his thoughts, fears, love and more. The discussion about the Patterson family’s relationship with Hughes is one example of how important the Mackey Twins Gallery is to resurrecting stories of people of color across the African diaspora. The Mackey Twins’ gallery supporters have proclaimed it “a cultural salon.” Sharon explains, “It means we are commissioned to provide more information whether that is visual arts or literary arts and to get it out to all people. Our commitment is to artists of color. Art by people of color doesn’t mean that it has to be relegated to people of color supporting it. It crosses racial lines and divides. That’s what Art does—it makes it comfortable to discuss more challenging topics.”
On November 11, the twins will be hosting a showcase at the Interchurch Center Gallery in New York City. The ocassion will include discussions with artists, live jazz and refreshments. Stay updated, visit www.mackeytwinsart.com.