dr.-catherine-lowe_mary-ann-carroll_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

WEST PALM BEACH — The only group featuring artists of color in the Palm Beaches is facing a crisis and is seeking the community’s help.

Artists Showcase of Palm Beach County Inc., founded in 1989 by Dr. Catherine Lowe, one of Palm Beach County’s noted black physicians, must raise $13,000 by June 21 to keep its lease in a historic home in inner-city West Palm Beach. 

The city granted the group use of the Jenkins House, named for a pioneering black doctor, in a 10-year lease that ended in March. The city is now considering turning the building into a halfway house because the artists group has not been able to pay for its upkeep following hurricane damage over five years ago.

The group wants to remain in the home to preserve the legacy of the pioneering Jenkins family through art and culture.

Asked for a comment, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio issued a statement through her press secretary confirming the group had been given the property rent free, with a provision that it maintain the Jenkins House.

“Since the property has not been fully maintained by the Artists Showcase as specified in the lease and they are requesting a renewal, the City Commission granted a 90 day extension so the lease obligation could be fulfilled and the property maintenance issues addressed,” the statement said.

Lowe, who is Florida’s first black female ophthalmologist and an avid lover of the arts, created Artists Showcase, along with others, in 1989 after recognizing a need to support, promote and provide a venue for ethnic artists and to provide educational enrichment through multicultural awareness for young people and adults.

 The Showcase provides an after-school program for at-risk youth at three locations in Riviera Beach – down from about six sites covering a broader area – due to lack of funds. The youth program, called Two Centuries of Ethnic Art – Our Personal Heritage Program, offers art classes, culture quizzes, hands-on creative work and field trips to museums. The program was previously based at the Jenkins House and the group would like it to resume there. 

Artists and instructors Guadalupe Lawrence and Mark Manning strongly agree the youth need the program.

“The kids love it,” said Manning. “Art helps in all of their other subjects. There’s math, perception, analytical problems can be solved through art. It helps all around.”

Lowe added, “Keeping the legacy and the inspirational dreams of Dr. and Mrs. Joseph and Roberta Jenkins are extremely important to our children and the early history of West Palm Beach.”

Joseph and Roberta Jenkins were prominent community activists whose home was a meeting place for black society.  He was a pioneering pharmacist and she a teacher and they also owned a drug store and other properties.  Along with their daughter, they lived in the two-story home that was built in 1946.  The property was sold to the city in 1966, paving the way for it to be deemed a historical site.

Artists Showcase is doing all it can to come up with the money, said Lowe, including holding fundraisers around town. The group hosted an elegant Tea fundraiser on May 28 at the Bear Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach. Guest of honor was Mary Ann Carroll, the only female member of the Florida Highwaymen, a group of 26 distinguished black artists, all of them members of the Florida Arts Hall of Fame.

Carroll, who lives in Fort Pierce, recently returned from Washington, D.C., where she presented Michelle Obama with one of her art renderings. She was an invited guest at an event honoring the First Lady.

Other artists who are members of Artist Showcase also presented their art at the event which also featured a silent auction, hors d’oeuvres and tea, a ladies’ hat contest and a men’s tie contest that drew much laughter amidst a serious cause.

Geansli Joseph, 26, a prolific artist who is originally from Haiti, was the youngest of the artists to offer his works. 

Distinguished guests who attended to support the effort included the honorary chairwomen of the event, Alice Moore, a pioneering educator for whom a dormitory is named at Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach, and Ineria Hudnell, the area’s foremost black historian.

Other noted professionals who have lent their support include attorney Elizabeth McBride, former general counsel for Florida A & M University, and Billie Brooks, chairwoman pro tem of the  Riviera Beach City Council.

“We have been in existence for 22 years, therefore we are implementing a ‘22’ plan which fits every budget,” Lowe said.

“If you’re a child and can give 22 cents, that’s great or perhaps you can give $22 or if you’re able to give $220 that is great or if you’re a company that can give $2,220 or even a corporation that can donate $22,000.”
Daphne Taylor may be reached at daphnetaylor_49@hotmail.com.