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Black Valley artist featured in Scottsdale exhibit celebrating artists of color

Joe Willie Smith is one of 16 local artists to have their work displayed at the West--Arizona Artists of Color exhibition at the Scottsdale Civic Center.


Joe Willie Smith has been a professional artist for more than 40 years and in that time, he faced many challenges getting his work on display as a Black artist, but he never stopped creating. 

Smith joined more than a dozen artists of color with work displayed in Scottsdale during the month of February. 

He said his love for art started with a little help from his mother.  

She worked in a kitchen at the University of Wisconsin, where she would bring home chipped white plates for Smith to create art with. 

“I would paint animals and all kinds of things on these white plates, and she would take them back to the university and sell them for a few dollars,” Smith said. 

That is when Smith knew art was going to be a part of his life forever but getting his work noticed was not always easy. 

“A lot of times artists of color have a difficult time getting into artists institutions like galleries and museums and it still happens today, it's much better,” Smith said. 

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Smith is one of 16 local artists to have their work displayed at Scottsdale Public Art's West--Arizona Artists of Color exhibition at the civic center public gallery. 

The art displays are meant to spark conversations.

“I think it's important that this show is up. It shows that artists of color think about more than just race and politics. We think about the same things. We think about conceptual work, we do abstract work and we do political work," Smith explained.  

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Smith has a piece on display called Little Boy Blue, which was inspired by a memory from his childhood of when he used to sit by Lake Michigan staring out to the horizon

Credit: 12 News
"Little Boy Blue" by artist Joe Willie Smith

So, this piece is me kind of focusing and maybe even becoming an artist and that big gold thing is like a big wish,” Smith said.  

And that wish has become reality for Smith.  

The West—Arizona Artists of Color exhibition runs through March 2 at the Scottsdale Civic Center or online. 

Find more stories like this on the 12 News Black History Month Youtube Playlist.

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