Inclusion in Art was formed in 2005 by African American visual artists Nathan Lee, Suzanne Thomas and Robert Skip Hill. The initiative began as a collective of visual artists of color doing small exhibitions in the community. Soon the collective grew and in December of 2005, Inclusion in Art was granted its first group show in a prominent gallery. Entitled Defining and Defying, the event resulted in the largest non-fundraising opening that year at IAO Gallery. The opening was attended by local patrons of the Oklahoma arts community and by the African American community. Defining and Defying would lead to greater visibility and an awareness of the creative class of color that was present within the state. Nathan Lee quickly took the helm as Inclusion in Art’s curator and organized follow-up events to the first exhibition.
The collective’s second presentation SKIN focused on the social issues of internalized racism, society’s notion of physical beauty and identity. Inclusion in Art’s sophomore effort drew positive reviews by Oklahoma critics such as John Brandenburg and art patrons alike. It sparked an even greater interest in Oklahoma artists of color. Lee began to recognize the possibilities of bringing attention to minority visual artists. He become an activist for the cause of racial diversity in the arts and began to reach out to other visual artists of color. His own visibility as an artist brought more attention to the collective. Lee himself would eventually be invited to be a part of several panels, think tanks and conferences in Oklahoma, as well as nationally. He promoted Inclusion in Art throughout the state and the initiative was joined by other artists of color looking for a way to connect to the Oklahoma visual arts community.
Many artists found Inclusion in Art to be the best way to discover resources available to them. The partnerships that had been formed with galleries resulted in exhibitions for these artists, some of which were their first showings. Living Arts Tulsa, IAO Gallery, Mainsite Gallery and other galleries in the state turned to Inclusion in Art to connect them to these largely undiscovered artists. The partnerships with those galleries gave birth our most important contribution to cultivating a more racially diverse arts community; The Connect.
The Connect is an ambitious database of visual artists of color, organizations that support multiculturalism in the visual arts and galleries that support diversity in their programming. The Connect simplified the question that had been asked time and time again by various arts organizations; “Where are all of the artists of color in Oklahoma?” It also answered the question from minority visual artists; “How can we be included?” The success of The Connect marked a milestone in the existence of Inclusion in Art. It succeeded in connecting different communities, organizations, patrons and artists in a way not seen previously.
Inclusion in Art has gone on to produce the first film about contemporary African American visual artists in Oklahoma called Transcend which is the first annual film event focusing on filmmakers of color: In Color. Most recently, the organization partnered with Gaylord-Pickens Heritage Museum for Afro-Americana. Not only was the opening the first exhibition at the museum to feature work exclusively from Black visual artist, but it was also the largest art opening in Gaylord-Pickens Museum history. The success of the opening demonstrated the desire for diversity in Oklahoma’s arts community.
Today Inclusion in Art is recognized as the most visible and effective organization bringing awareness to the cause of racial diversity in the visual arts.