The Art of Collecting: Spreading the Love of Black Art

Jessica Stafford Davis

To say Jessica Stafford Davis loves art and sharing art would be an understatement. The Virginia-based curator, collector, and philanthropist started collecting years ago and decided she wanted others to share her joy of art.

She founded The Agora Culture, a web-based national platform to help introduce people to collecting and give access to artists.

The online platform and its affiliated events offer a way to get closer to art through art fairs, exhibitions, roundtables, receptions, and workshops. Its annual exhibition series Art on the Vine, presented by The Agora Culture and that showcases the works of artists of color on Martha’s Vineyard, continues to grow. So far, participants have included Deborah Roberts, Elia Alba, Sheldon Scott, Edgar Arceneaux, Rico Gatson, Nakeya Brown, Sadie Barnette, Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and Zoë Charlton, among others. It is held every Aug. 10-14.

Davis explains her mission to African-American artists to What led you to launch The Agora Culture and Art on the Vine?

Jessica Stafford Davis: I was frustrated and felt like an outsider when I first began collecting art. I remember one specific moment when I was in New York at an art fair and was asking about a notable artist, Kara Walker’s work. The gallerist who seemed indifferent when I was inquiring about her work quoted me the same high amount for very three different pieces of artwork. While I had done my homework, I knew the general amounts and found that I was given an amount that it looked like I might not afford. I hated that feeling and I didn’t want others to feel the same so that was one of the main reasons why I started these two initiatives to educate those interested in art and give them a safe space to acquire significant work. What first drew you to the art world?

Jessica Stafford Davis: I initially was interested in the opportunity to increase wealth by investing in art.  Over time I learned it was important to be a custodian of our stories. How has Art on the Vine evolved over the years?

Jessica Stafford Davis: Art on the Vine has had amazing growth through the years, what began as a small reception at a home in Edgartown, Massachusetts and grown to a four-day fair with art activations throughout the island.  While we always focus on education, I am happy to say that this year we will have historians, scholars, and artists sharing their expertise for a full day on our inaugural day-long convening. In the ’80s, there seemed to be a lot of focus on Black art. Do you think that has shifted?

Jessica Stafford Davis: I think Black art has always had a following, I think like in the ‘80s, now more people are aware of the work Black artists are making, but they have always been making powerful, critical work. Why is it a good idea to invest in Black art?

Jessica Stafford Davis: Overall it is a great idea to invest in art in general because art is an alternative asset.  It is a great way to build wealth. Specifically, Black art is important from a financial standpoint because I believe in all aspects it is undervalued in the marketplace. My personal standpoint is Black art is important because it highlights stories and issues that are important for my community, our community. These stories must be remembered. What’s next for The Agora Culture?

Jessica Stafford Davis: We are excited to have some amazing new programming that we will be announcing soon. One of which will be Agora Trips, we are putting together a trip to Art Basel Miami. This contemporary art fair is the largest art fair in North America, which represents billions in art each year. We will give our attendees an insider view of the fair, art, and artists.