The desire to make and possess art is as innately human as the urge to gather in groups or imagine what may lie beyond the stars. Far from those humble cavern drawings, our more modern art can generate some serious coins. Much has been discussed of late, especially, around investing in art and whether it’s a sound way to grow capital. This may be a conversation that Black folks want to get in on, because if there are two things that are bound to come up when we get together, it’s protecting our culture and building generational wealth. Investing in Black art may be just the way to leapfrog two hurdles at once.
Do your research, take your time, learn all that you can about the market and, here’s the fun part: Immerse yourself in your local art culture. If you’re going to make it worth your while, it’ll require some strategizing and a bit of savvy. Lean on local curators and asset managers who specialize in alternative investments and, perhaps this is obvious, but you should have an appreciation for the art itself.
Planning a Portfolio
Sherida and Taft Parsons of Birmingham have a spreadsheet to keep track of their most valuable works of art; they’ve got 80 or so. Sherida started collecting in college. “Now the price point was quite different,” she says with a smile.
Still, she started with prints, Black calendars and photos of her family, using software to convert those into art.
“And then in medical school there was a Black art gallery that was having a going-out-of-business sale, and I was able to get what I felt was my first real art,” she says. “It was a Charles Bibbs piece, and they had some African art. Everything that I could afford at that time, I grabbed it. It spiraled from there.” She and husband Taft are both doctors; they met in school in Milwaukee.
“Our income has changed, increased, and that has changed what we’ve been able to purchase,” she says. “We’ve been able to accumulate more blue-chip art, so art that has value right from the start rather than like an emerging artist or an up-and-coming artist. You know, those pieces may have value much later on, sometimes not until the artist passes away.”
Like the stock market, how stable and well-established a brand is matters to the risk. Purchasing shares of Apple is going to be a safer bet than investing in an unknown startup, for example. The same applies to artists. One thing you’ll want to consider when thinking about investing is whether to lean toward or away from contemporary or budding artists. Yeah, it’ll feel good to have artwork from the latest buzzed-about artist hanging on your wall, so, if it moves you and you want to support the artist, grab it.
As to whether that piece will appreciate, though, there’s no way to be certain.
On average, contemporary art returns 7.6 percent to investors each year, according to Artprice, compared to an average annual return of 10 percent from the S&P 500. That said, the art market is less susceptible to the political and economic factors that influence traditional markets, making it potentially more stable.
Do What You Love
“So many people are getting into art,” says George N’Namdi, art dealer and founder of the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit. “I want you to invest in art, but I want you to understand why. The monetary reason is the least amount of why you do it.”
N’Namdi started procuring art in the ‘70s, and he’s since amassed a personal collection of about 150 pieces. He says a desire to preserve Black culture was why he got started, and the rest followed.
Art is different from most traditional investments in that there’s an emotional element involved. Sure, you’ve got an attachment to the home you raised your children in, but your shares of Adidas stock? Probably not. As N’Namdi notes, you’re not likely to sell off a cherished work that elbowed you in the spirit when you first saw it to make a few extra, or even a few thousand extra, bucks. He says people get rid of art because of what he calls “the three Ds”: debt, divorce and death.
“Buy it because you like it, buy it because you have a mission of preserving our culture, and sit back and enjoy it. And it will come. You will have an asset that you’re looking at every day,” N’Namdi says.
Or, if you do plan to eventually part with it and pass it on, who better to receive it than your children? For the Parsons, their three kids – ages 16, 12 and 5 – are a part of the strategy.