Collecting Art While Black: An Interview with Rachel Crouch

Written by: Laurel Newnham

Photography: Rachel Crouch

Interviewer: Alexander Babatunde

June 8th, 2020

Captured Nouns had the opportunity to interview with Rachel Crouch, a Maryland based educator, artist, and art collector. Being a Black artist herself, Rachel shares how Black art has influenced her life and speaks to her identity. This interview shares Rachel’s journey as Black woman art collector, how she built her own gallery within her four-story home, and what it was like to search for fine art made from Black artists.

Alex: Hi Rachel, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. I’d like to spend our time talking about your journey as an art collector, and how black art speaks to your identity as a black woman. Could you tell me where it all started?

Rachel: My mother was an artist and as a child, I was always surrounded by art. So, then of course now that I collect art, I am going to primarily collect black art. I believe in black people and I love black people. I am black power to the end all be all, so naturally I am going to want my home to reflect myself. Just like white people get art from IKEA because it reflects them. I want my art to look like me, and I want to tell a story when people come in my house. For example, I have a Thurgood Marshall wall in my house with all of these newspapers. When people come to my house, they start asking about [this wall] and I am able to tell them about Brown vs. Board of Education, and what role Thurgood Marshall played. So, it’s not just art on the wall right, I found myself to like telling people the story. So, it’s not just art on the wall; I found myself to want for my walls to talk and tell the story more than anything.

Alex:  When did you begin collecting art?

Rachel: In 2015, and I started collecting slowly. I would get one piece, then frame it. Because, once you get a piece you have to frame it, so it’s a two-part process you have to plan for. And I’m being completely transparent [about the slowness of this process] because in 2015, I didn’t have any money.

Alex: I feel that and expenses are the biggest challenges in collecting art.

Rachel:  I was slowly buying prints or buying originals from shows we were going to, getting them framed and setting them to the side because I didn’t even have a house. In 2015, I was actually living with my sister for about 6 months, then apartments after apartments until I bought my house. So, I wasn’t even hanging this stuff: I would buy it, get it framed, keep it wrapped up and just put it in the guest bedroom. When I bought my house and moved from my apartment, the apartment literally had stacks and stacks of art on the wall. I thought, “this art is for a house and when I get my house, this is where it’s going to go.”

Alex: What was the first piece you bought in 2015?

Rachel: I can’t even remember, but let me tell you about the first piece that I remember buying. I would say it’s a Leroy Campbell picture. It’s a mom and a son holding each other. That’s one of the first pieces I bought because it was beautiful. It has actual gold on it. One, I’m into family, and here you have a black and purple mom holding her son and outlined in gold.

 I was in an art gallery and was flipping through one of those booklets for prints. I saw it and I knew immediately, Oh, this is mine. One, because of the way the mom had her arms wrapped around the child. I’m a school principal, right, so safety is my number one thing. Making sure my kids are cared for and they’re safe. So, when I saw the picture of the woman with her arms wrapped around the child, I was thinking about how I care for my students and how my mom cared for me, and how important [that care] is. That makes it one of my favorite pieces. I threw a big gold frame on it. That was one of my first pieces I bought. 

Alex: Awesome, tell me more about what drove the decision to make that purchase.

Rachel: Before, [my collecting] was focused on up and coming artists, which I still do, and I was buying random prints. They were prints that were not going to be worth anything in the future. I was buying a lot of that because I thought I wanted to fill my walls. And then I realized I actually want to fill my walls with money. So initially, I was [collecting random prints]. And then I slowly stopped buying those prints altogether. Now I’m buying more quality things once every six months instead of before I was buying all this stuff, once a month. My taste changed, and when my money changed, my taste changed [even more].

Alex: So, as someone who’s collecting black art, what makes that important to you? Why does it matter to you? Are you doing that as a way to support the artists, to push the movement, or more so just strictly as a part of your identity?

Rachel: I would say both. Your original question was why should we? Why do we collect black art? Or why should we support? I can’t say that loud enough like art is healing. Art is everything, art speaks. If I want to change the house around, I could take all the paintings down and then put new ones up, new ones that were somewhere else in the house. It feels like a whole new house, a whole new thing to look at. 

Art appreciation is so necessary because I think it builds character. Art is beautiful. And then if you want to buy art, you need to buy black art because we’re black art period point there’s no extra nothing else needs to be said about that. Right? And so, of course I’m supporting black artists because ultimately that’s what I want to do. But also, their art is feeding into me and I’m taking their art and enjoying it. But definitely it’s about supporting black artists.

Alex: Would you say there are online places to buy black art?

Rachel: There’s no online shops where you would go and find our art, other than Instagram. Or, that’s the number one place for fine art. It’s not classic art but you’re going to find old school black artists who are still very popular because we know their names. But Instagram is where you go to get the art from pop artists and contemporary artists. Other than that, I don’t know where to get art.

Alex: Cool, especially as you said that your tastes have changed. You’re probably working with more established artists that have been making and selling for a while. There have been a couple studies on this, but the majority of the art industry is made up pretty much the same as we see in any other industry or workplace. Where we’re about 8% or less so it makes it much harder for us as black people to find that art. 

Do you feel there is a lack of black and minority artists in the industry? Where can people find a large amount of work by black artists and representing black people in the personal ways you have?

Rachel: It’s hard because now you’ve got to find art on Instagram or by word of mouth. It’s hard for Black people to get out there. But it’s also if you don’t get put on. And when I say put on, it’s not how well you can paint. Look at Nina Chanel: she put squares and circles on the back of canvas and it’s like $50,000. It’s not how well can you paint but who do you know who could put you on? I think that is what people are struggling to do is to get put on. I’m thinking about black artists who are put on and I know people who can paint circles around them. And it’s not because they’re so talented, but they are so talented. They have a style and a skill and you know, something that makes them talented. I was like, come on.

Alex: You brought up a point earlier about back in the day, when you didn’t have a house. You know, you were balling on a budget. A majority of our patrons are balling on the budget. What tips would you give on starting your art collection? 

Rachel: I would say to start by buying what you like at first. Because hot stuff will drop and I’m like, “I don’t even like that.” And then save till you can buy [both] what you need and what you want. If you’re going to have art, there’s something you just need, right? I have a friend circle and when new prints drop, it’s something we just know everyone has to get. So, I would say buy what you like first. Keep in mind [what you want and] save money, then start saving money to buy nicer things.

As a Chicago native, Rachel Crouch was immediately immersed into the world of art as a child and had no choice but to develop that natural born aptitude. She produces work in varied media using color, texture, movement, and flow. Her pieces are about the impossible and the discovery of promise.

Graduating with a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction, Rachel is also an experienced Principal with a demonstrated history of working in the education industry. Skilled in School Leadership, School Culture, STEM, Lesson Planning, and Visual Arts. Under Rachel’s leadership, her school (Perry Street Prep Public Charter School) received a Tier 1 rating from the Public Charter School Board (2018/2019).