African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race

October 27, 2018—March 3, 2019

Chicago Cultural Center • Exhibit Hall, 4th Floor North

Chicago Cultural Center  >  Visual Art Program  >  Exhibitions  >  Past Exhibitions  >  African American Designers in Chicago


African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race(click on image to enlarge, photo credit: James Prinz Photography)

Featuring work from a wide range of practices including cartooning, sign painting, architectural signage, illustration, graphic design, exhibit design and product design, this exhibition is the first to demonstrate how African American designers remade the image of the black consumer and the work of the black artist in this major hub of American advertising/consumer culture.

This exhibition is funded in part by the Terra Foundation for American Art and The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, as part of Art Design Chicago, an exploration of Chicago’s art and design legacy.


Exhibition Guides

Exhibition Guide (PDF)

Student Exhibit Explorer Guide (PDF)


Public Programs

Gallery Talk with Curator Daniel Schulman

Thursdays, November 1, 12:15–1pm


Symposium & Exhibition Opening: The Designs of African American Life

November 2–3

Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 2nd Floor North

Friday, November 2

  • 5–6pm: Curator-led tours
  • 6:30–8:30pm: Exhibition Opening Reception

Saturday, November 3

  • 9:30–10:30am: Print and Power
  • 10:45–11:45am: Commerce and Community
  • 1–2pm: Aesthetics and Being
  • 2:15–3:15pm: Canons and Archives
  • 3:30–4:30pm: Closing Keynote: “Craft/Freedom: Regarding the Value(s) of African American Design” by Adam Green, University of Chicago
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Chicago Humanities Festival: Midcentury Design and Opportunity

Sunday, November 11, 3–4pm

Chicago Cultural Center, Preston Bradley Hall, 3rd Floor South

Art historian Maggie Taft, artist David Hartt, modern architecture and design historian Jonathan Mekinda and the exhibitions co-curator Chris Dingwall explore the social, artistic, entrepreneurial and political opportunities to be found within midcentury design in Chicago.


Gallery Talk with Curator Daniel Schulman

Thursday, November 15, 12:15pm


Gallery Talk with Curator Daniel Schulman

Thursday, December 6, 12:15pm


Gallery Talk with Curator Chris Dingwall

Thursday, January 3, 12:15pm


Panel Discussion: The Archive, the Gallery and the Practices of Public History

Saturday, January 5, 1:30–3pm

Historians and archivists discuss the use of archival documents in an exhibition context. The panel will include Davarian L. Baldwin, Trinity College; Skyla S. Hearn, DuSable Museum of African American History; Chris Dingwall, Oakland University; Ashley Finigan, University of Chicago. Organized in association with the American Historical Association


Gallery Talk with Curator Daniel Schulman

Thursday, January 17, 12:15pm


A Designers Life: Tribute to Charles Harrison

Sunday, January 27, 2-3:30pm

A celebration of the life and accomplishments of industrial designer Charles Harrison (1931-2018), in conjunction with the exhibition African American Designers in Chicago: Art, Commerce and the Politics of Race, which features Harrison's sketches and finished products for Sears Roebuck and other manufacturers.


Gallery Talk with Curator Daniel Schulman

Thursday, February 21, 12:15pm


Lecture: "Common Things Surprise Us: Black Chicago's Artists and Models Balls and the Politics of Middlebrow(n) Taste"

Friday, March 1, 6-7:30pm

Chicago Cultural Center, Claudia Cassidy Theater, 2nd Floor North

Jacqueline Goldsby, Yale University, will discuss the South Side Community Art Center’s legendary Artists and Models Balls as enactments of Black middlebrow taste, as a practice of vernacular and high design and as evidence of Black Chicago’s special symbiosis of commerce and cultural production.


Photo Gallery

(Photo credit: James Prinz Photography)