Averlyn Archer: The Prophetic Bullhorn

(Photo: Keston Duke Photography) Averlyn Archer, program director at the Harlem Arts Alliance, founded Canvas Paper and Stone Gallery in 2006.
(Photo: Keston Duke Photography) Averlyn Archer, program director at the Harlem Arts Alliance, founded Canvas Paper and Stone Gallery in 2006.

An old religious maxim says prophecy and imagination go hand-in-hand. So while society’s collective conscience can be limited, prophets operate on an elevated understanding of the world around them.

These individuals were community historians and storytellers of their generation. Ask Averlyn Archer, founder and director of the Canvas Paper and Stone Gallery in Harlem, who the modern prophets are. And the Trinidadian-born, Brooklyn-raised 46-year-old will simply say, “The artists.”

Archer plays a special role in developing these artists. She’s a resource they use to get additional venues for their performances and art exhibitions. She also helps them apply for grants and preps them to successfully go before review boards. She’s a woman of many hats – a seasoned art collector, gallery owner and program director for a prestigious arts alliance.

Add those to her more than 10 years’ experience in Internet advertising, e-commerce and her work as a corporate attorney on multimedia and interactive technology, and Archer’s somewhat of a megaphone amplifying the messages of Harlem’s prophets to the global community. To hear her tell it, the intent is out of her love for the arts. “It’s meditative,” she said. “It’s inspiring and healing.”

It’s a discovery Archer made in 1981, while a student studying English and Sociology at The City College of the City University of New York (CCNY). That same year, the Genesis II Museum of International Black Culture was founded as CCNY’s museum-in-residence.

(Photo: http://www.georgeranalli.com) The City College of New York.
(Photo: http://www.georgeranalli.com) The City College of New York

There, Archer had access to the museum’s several galleries and exhibits including the African Sculpture Court, the Egyptian and Haitian Galleries. “That’s when I discovered art – Black art, in particular – that was geared towards our history and culture,” she said, adding that she couldn’t imagine her life now without art.

That curiosity sent her packing and traveling internationally to art galleries and museums in Cuba, Thailand and, most recently, Scotland, where she explored the ruins of 500-year-old castles. She said, “I realized this was something I was excited and passionate about.”

But that passion was not without a setback. In 1997, Archer launched the Genesis Art Line. The online African-American gallery was successful enough for her to open American Visions 145, a Harlem-based retail gallery, in 2001. After a two-year run, the gallery was closed. She tried again in 2006 with Canvas Paper and Stone, a gallery and retail store that started online. A year later, Archer opened the fine art gallery on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem.

(Photo: africanastudies.as.nyu.edu) Deborah Willis, who's pursued a dual professional career as an art photographer and as one of the nation's leading historians of African American photography and curator of African American culture, is on the list of artists who exhibited her work at Canvas Paper and Stone.
(Photo: africanastudies.as.nyu.edu) Deborah Willis, an art photographer and one of the nation's leading historians of African American photography and curator of African American culture, is on the list of artists who exhibited her work at Canvas Paper and Stone.

Canvas Paper and Stone has been going strong ever since. The list of artists who’ve exhibited works there include Otto Neals, TAFA, Francks Deceus, Charly Palmer, Deborah Willis, Diane Waller, Dianne Smith, Mary Heller and Aleathia Brown. Keeping with its original objective, the gallery educates its clientele about contemporary visual art. At the same time, it works to make its artists business savvy.

In December 2007, the gallery teamed up with marketing guru Andrew Morrison to launch the artist strategic marketing workshops.  “While our artists are amazingly talented, like most of us, they are not able to give the business end of their art much attention,” Archer told BlackStarNews.com.

During that workshop, artists learned various strategies to immediately improve their marketing skills. These strategies included repackaging their business brand, according to Morrison, founder of Small Business Camp – an entrepreneurial training, coaching and marketing firm. This way, he told BlackStarNews.com, “You allow your clients to get to know you, and also buy from you which in turn leads to you becoming more successful.”

That success for emerging artists is also due, in part, to Archer becoming program director at the Harlem Arts Alliance last year. The service organization nurtures the growth and development of its more than 400 individual members and arts organizations in Harlem and its surrounding communities. Archer ended up there after co-creating ArtCrawl Harlem, a bus guided tour designed to increase audiences for Harlem’s art galleries and artists.

The roughly four-hour tour consists of seven gallery sites, a light snack and a trolley tour through Harlem while the guide points out various pieces of public art. “Heath Gallery, the meeting spot for the tour, is set inside a gorgeous brownstone across from Marcus Garvey Park,” writes Shane Ferro in her arts and entertainment blog.  The tour concludes with dinner, wine and live music. The annual event, which started in 2008, is produced in collaboration with Canvas Paper and Stone, Taste of Harlem Food and Cultural Tours and the Harlem Arts Alliance. “This is our second year,” says Jacqueline Orange, with Taste of Harlem. She met Archer after moving from Chicago to Harlem in 2002. Describing their working relationship as “great,” she says, “We compliment each other.” Of Archer’s resourcefulness, Orange adds, “She will find an art show on the dark side of the moon.”

Averlyn Archer 2
(Photo: Keston Duke Photography)

Along the tour route, participants stop at the Essie Green Gallery, Hamilton Landmark Galleries, Gallery M, Tribal Spears Gallery and The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. On a recent press tour that stopped at Canvas Paper and Stone, Archer noted that 70 percent of the art in her gallery are created by artist in the community, and 80 percent of it comes from artists of color.

In an April 13, 2008 article, the Harlem News Group reported that the tour also included the mosaic mural on the Capital One Bank Building at 125th Street, the Harriet Tubman sculpture at Frederick Douglass Boulevard and West 122nd Street, and the Adam Clayton Powell sculpture at the Harlem State Office Building. The point Archer was hoping to drive home with the tour was this : “We’re surrounded by art.”

What she also hoped to get across to the tour group was for them not to take the art lightly, and to recognize what she calls the “intuitive” and “spiritual” nature of artists. “Artists are storytellers and prophets,” Archer said. “They’re imparting to us some information that possibly we wouldn’t get elsewhere.”

For more information on Canvas Paper and Stone, visit the gallery online at http://www.canvaspaperandstone.com.

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5 thoughts on “Averlyn Archer: The Prophetic Bullhorn

  1. Great essay, Alan. The prophetic voices are surely needed today– in the arts, politics, everyday human interaction. It seems they call us to deeper change and that is what we need.

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