On a sunny and breezy afternoon, the intersection of 23rd Avenue and East Union Street had a warmth to it — maybe not in temperature, but in spirit.
Arté Noir, a nonprofit focused on uplifting Black arts and culture, had a grand opening Saturday for its brick and mortar location in the Central District. It’s a new corner property that’s part art gallery, part retail space and, someday soon, part recording studio. Dozens gathered to shop, view art and celebrate an addition to Black culture in the Central District and the woman who started it all, founder Vivian Phillips.
“When people come in and say how beautiful it is and how good it feels, that boosts my energy,” she said.
In line with its goal of being a community space, Arté Noir hosted emerging artists and art museum trustees Saturday, evidence of artists and institutions “coming together in a really interesting way,” Phillips said.
“I really do think that, from a stewardship perspective, we’re shifting the paradigm around how fine art is perceived.”
The new space is airy and bright, designed with an intuitive flow, despite having a lot going on in one big room. The retail portion contains products from about 30 brands, ranging from candles to greeting cards, some of which were created exclusively to sell at Arté Noir.
Jazmyn Scott, Arté Noir’s executive director, curated most of the retail space, choosing which Black-owned brands and products they would sell.
“I got to make connections with the people whose products locally that I love and that I know don’t have brick and mortar spaces,” she said. “I was shocked at how blown away they were that they were getting this invitation … Being approached in that way is something that’s never happened to them.”
The gallery corner, a maze of large white panels that hug you as you wind through them, is full of work from Gallery Onyx. With its primary location at Pacific Place, Onyx showcases artwork by more than 500 Northwest artists of African descent.
“My intention was to really create a space where a Black art gallery could be in one place in the Central Area for as long as they want to,” Phillips said. “For them to feel good, and to feel warm and to feel welcome … I wanted them to have something that was not basic. We deserve more.”
Ashby Reed, the vice president of the nonprofit Onyx Fine Arts Collective and who opened his first bank account at the old Liberty Bank Building across the street from Arté Noir, said he’s glad to be back in his old stomping grounds.
“Vivian has opened a door for us that we dreamed about — ‘Wouldn’t it be nice?’ — and then all of a sudden, that opportunity came,” Reed said, noting that Onyx’s first location was a Belltown hole-in-the-wall. “Vivian is a blessing.”
The collection of art on display Saturday included a canvas piece by Ty Jones, a Seattle-born-and-raised artist and interior designer who said she appreciates that Arté Noir is emphasizing Black culture, especially in a neighborhood where so much Black history has been lost to redevelopment.
“A lot of history used to be here, 20-plus years ago, and I can tell you, growing up here as a kid, this place is completely different,” she said. “It’s important for folks to see a lot of their culture, a lot of their history, in places because identity is so important. I’m just happy there are more and more safe spaces where we can showcase our talents, our arts, our history. It’s very vital.”
For some, Saturday’s event was a “welcome back” to the Central District; for others, it was a return to in-person art after the lockdowns of the pandemic. For Phillips, these two recoveries go hand-in-hand.
“Hearing from artists, when they say to me, ‘This is a reason for me to come back to the Central Area,’ that means a lot to me,” she said. “And when they see themselves reflected, when they are loved, when they know that they have a place, I think that they’re going to flourish.”
This coverage is partially underwritten by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over this and all its coverage.