Sharon and Karen Mackey, the owners of the Mackey Twins Art Gallery in Mount Vernon, N.Y., understand that the purchasing of Black art by Black buyers—owning pieces of our own history—is an important cultural goal, and they are focused on driving the number of Black art collectors up.
The identical twin sisters started out as collectors themselves, finding a way to purchase art by people of color on meager teacher salaries. As their collection grew, they decided to get organized and present Black fine art to their community, both i to motivate and expand the awareness of the large numbers and talent of Black artists, and to maintain a space where they can encourage others to invest in their own people’s work, culture and influence in the fine art world.
The sisters spoke about their vision and the success of their gallery, which usually displays at least 50 pieces of art on their walls at any given time.
Sharon Mackey: We’re identical twins and we feel very similarly about our goals. Getting into the art industry was very much the same as how we are with everything. We are the perfect partnership. We know each other so well.
AmNews: What was the process of deciding where you wanted to be located, finding the space and choosing the theme of the gallery?
Karen Mackey: When we first started out, we were English teachers and we visited all the time. We had a commitment to the arts and want to buy [works of art], and years ago a teacher’s salary was pretty paltry. So, we certainly didn’t have the money to buy. But we still realized that in literature, the arts and culture, Blacks and people of color as a whole were not represented. We said, “We’ve got to do something about this, but how can we do something when we don’t have the money to start collecting art?”
And after a few years of visiting galleries and going to a lot of art shows, feeling it, wanting to purchase and wanting to be in it, we met a Black man who owned his own gallery, who would talk to us a lot, and he [finally] said, “Why don’t you go on a payment plan?” We started collecting that way. We went on a payment plan, and once we finished one, we’d buy another piece of art. He had such great art we ended up being on five and six payment plans at one time [laughs]. That resulted in us starting to [put on] art shows and they did well. As we continued we said, “We have to make this real.” We incorporated, got the name together, Mackey Twins Art Gallery Inc., and started to knuckle down and really do a solid job at representing artists and presenting fine art in a solid environment.
AmNews: Within the realm of Black art, there are diverse mediums. Did you decide you were only going to present contemporary artists, or activist-based works or illustrators, etc.? Or were you open to showing a lot of different kinds of art?
Sharon Mackey: A lot of different mediums. We just knew we wanted any medium in the visual arts. AmNews: Have you been successful? Have things been going well?
Karen Mackey: I think things have been going well in terms of some of our goals. Our goals are for people to meet the artists, to hear the artists [speak] in their own words and to develop communities of collectors. We’ve certainly done that. But I think there is a lot more to do. The gallery is a home gallery. We decided to do it that way because it was during a time when brick and mortar just wasn’t the way to go. It was too costly. We had enough wall space to do it. We always keep a minimum of 50 pieces on display of different artists. People come at any time to see, to purchase and to learn.
AmNews: Where do you think the root of the disparity and lack of Black artist representation and collectors comes from?
Sharon Mackey: Well, I’m going to refer to an article in The New York Times about the lack of Black dealers, and they summed it up by saying, “Some feel it’s a labor of love.” What they meant by that was, the time you put in has to be a tremendous commitment because you don’t always get back, in terms of money. And I think it’s because of the racist world we live in. Although, price points are increasing for Black artists, but that’s just a [very] small group. There is still a host of Black artists who are not getting recognized and are barely surviving.
My sister and I are both very happy to see [Black] artists sell at record-breaking numbers at auction. We’re happy to see positioning at museums, but there is still a lot to be done.
AmNews: If your goals could be achieved, whether it just be in your gallery or the industry in general, what would your realized dreams look like?
Karen Mackey: I think Black people and people of color have to become more aware [that] collecting Black art is intellectual property. It is marking our history, our culture. It marks times in history. Look at the current administration of our country. It doesn’t respect any people of color. So, it’s crucial for us to have images of us and to support that. The goal is to get larger numbers to understand that and to start purchasing. A lot of people with smaller salaries say, “I just can’t afford it.” But I use my sister Sharon’s analogy, “How many flat screen TVs do you have? How many smartphones and laptops do you have?” That means you can own artwork by people of color. That means we as a people can sustain and maintain our culture.