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Rochester's Black artists call 9th Floor home 

click to enlarge Najay Quick, Rashaad Parker, and Ya'qub Shabazz founded 9th Floor Artists Collective in February 2022. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Najay Quick, Rashaad Parker, and Ya'qub Shabazz founded 9th Floor Artists Collective in February 2022.
When artists Ya’qub Shabazz, Rashaad Parker, and Najay Quick first laid eyes on the ninth floor of the Wilder Building on East Main Street that they had dreams of making into a space for artists of color, the place was in rough shape.

Leaves were strewn about the floor. Heavy file cabinets cluttered the rooms. The white walls had yellowed.

“It was trashed in here,” said Shabazz, speaking from his busy studio space, now bursting with original art.

After many 12-hour days of what Shabazz calls “sweat equity,” the trio opened the 9th Floor Artists Collective early this year, and in the ensuing months expanded it from a studio space for themselves to a sprawling, multi-purpose hub hosting exhibitions, art classes, and meetings, such as “Art and Mindfulness for Black Men.” The collective also opens to visitors for gallery shows on Last Fridays.
click to enlarge The 9th Floor Artists Collective functions as a community space in addition to its multiple studios. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • The 9th Floor Artists Collective functions as a community space in addition to its multiple studios.
At its core, the 9th Floor Artists Collective is a space managed by Black artists for artists of color to hone their crafts and find inspiration and empowerment in other artists in the community.

“What we’re doing here is breaking down some barriers in regards to how Black art is presented,” Shabazz said.

Throughout December, 9th Floor is scheduled to showcase the works of Nigerian-born, local portrait artist Princewill Robinson. Early in the month, on Dec. 9, the collective is scheduled to host a workshop for artists working in a variety of mediums, including paints, watercolors, and pastels.
click to enlarge Najay Quick. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Najay Quick.
Additional exhibitions are scheduled for the beginning of 2023.

“We'd like to uplift some of these younger Black artists and inspire some of the older Black artists to get back into the world of creativity, to get involved with the creative economy that's happening here in Rochester right now, and also just to fall in love with our cultural presentation,” Shabazz said. “And when we fall in love with it, it’s much easier for the rest of the world to fall in love with it.”
click to enlarge Rashaad Parker. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Rashaad Parker.
Parker said he believes that without 9th Floor, opportunities for Black artists to be represented would be limited.

“When you have teachers that look like you, then there is representation there and there is identity, kind of reflected in the people that you're learning from,” Parker said.

The collective’s studio and gallery spaces not only serve as places where Black artists can feel comfortable, but where they feel welcome to create and display their art.
click to enlarge Ya'qub Shabazz in his studio at 9th Floor Artists Collective. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Ya'qub Shabazz in his studio at 9th Floor Artists Collective.
Shabazz recalled his time as a student, cutting classes at Chicago Vocational High School to head over to the Art Institute of Chicago. He remembered having the realization that the museum’s space wasn’t for him. It wasn’t a place where the work of Black artists, particularly those from cities and underprivileged areas, was shown.

“So what we do is we provide an opportunity to that child in me, who would walk into a space and say, ‘I've never been able to do that,’” Shabazz said. “But I can come in here and say, ‘Wow, there's people just like me doing this.’”

For more information on the 9th Floor Artists Collective, go to instagram.com/9th_fac.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY's arts editor. He can be reached at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.
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