Herbert Nipson’s Contributions to the South Side Community Art Center

Jose Williams, Ghetto, South Side Community Art Center, Chicago.

The painting “Ghetto,” by Jose Williams, was donated to the South Side Community Art Center’s permanent collection by Herbert Nipson. The painting still bares a hand-written inscription, “Property of Herbert Nipson,” on its stretcher.  The work is but one of many legacies of Nipson’s time at the Center. Nipson, an influential editor at Ebony Magazine and well-respected leader in Chicago, served as Chairman of the Board at the South Side Community Art Center for many years. Nipson’s commitment to the Center and its mission ensured its continued prominence in Chicago despite difficult economic times.[1] It was Nipson’s vision and know-how that reinvigorated the Center and its programs beginning in the 1960s.

Nipson earned degrees in journalism and creative writing at a time when most universities in the United States refused to matriculate students of color. He joined Johnson Publishing as associate editor of Ebony magazine in 1949. “He was a guiding force in shaping Ebony. His vision was essential to making the magazine what it is today,” said Linda Johnson Rice, Chairman of Johnson Publishing.[2] Nipson was an avid photographer and knowledgeable about fine art. He helped to build the Johnson Publishing Company’s art collection, as well as his own collection, both focusing on art works by black artists in Chicago.[3]

Oscar Brown, Jr. (left) assisting Herb Nipson (right) at the first Annual Art Auction at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1966. Jet Magazine, March 17, 1966.

Nipson organized the Center’s first Annual Art Auction held at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1966.[4] In addition to benefiting the Center, the auctions served to support local artists through the sale of their work, and exposed Chicago collectors to works by local, black artists. “[Mr. Nipson] wanted to make sure local artists were exposed to the collectors. He was the one who really got Chicagoans to start collecting art by African Americans. That auction was his baby, that was his heart and joy,” said Diane Dinkins-Carr, who in 2011 stepped down as the Center’s Board President.[5] The auctions were another way the Center created an audience for black art.

Successful fundraising to pay off the Center’s mortgage and make repairs to the building paved the way for important programming. In 1968, Nipson helped curate “Black Heritage: An Exhibition of African Sculpture and Artifacts,” a joint project with the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Art Council.[6] On display at the Center were works of art by artists from West Africa from the collections of the Art Institute, the Museum of African American History, and private collections.[7] The exhibition was part of an ambitious program of activities that summer and fall, including art and photography workshops, poetry readings, and talks on African art by artist Jeff Donaldson and on collecting by artist and collector William McBride.[8] Upon the opening of the exhibition, Nipson declared, “The Art Center, long an important part of the cultural life of the South Side of Chicago, is again serving the community as it was designated to do.”[9]

Nipson’s contributions to the Center is ever present in the building, the collection, and the Center’s legacy in Chicago as a prominent cultural institution.

[1] Herbert Nipson, Letter to “Artist Friend of the Center,” April 1966, SSCAC, Part I, Box 4 (1957-1971) Folder 14, SSCAC, Chicago, Illinois.

[2] Joan Giangrasse Kates, “Herbert Nipson, 1916-2011,” Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2011.

[3] Adeshina Emmanuel, Chicago Sun-Times, “Former Ebony Magazine Executive Director,” December 24, 2011.

[4] Herbet Nipson, Letter to “Art Patrons,” n.d., SSCAC, Part I, Box 4 (1957-1971) Folder 12 (Events 1966), SSCAC, Chicago, Illinois.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “African Sculpture, Art Exhibit Opens Thursday,” Chicago Daily Defender, August 5, 1968.

[7] “Black Heritage Exhibit at Southside Art Center, Chicago Daily Defender, August 10, 1968.

[8] Frank Shepherd, News Release, n. d., SSCAC, Part I, Box 4 (1957-1971) Folder 13a, SSCAC, Chicago, Illinois.

[9] “African Sculpture,” 1968.


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