Saleen Martin The Virginian-Pilot
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Diane Wesh is focused on creating a space where Black business owners and artists can thrive and promote their work.
Virginia Beach native Diane Wesh was in New Zealand working with Black artists when George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. When Wesh’s father saw all that she’d done and heard about Floyd’s death, he sent her a text.
“It’s time to come home,” he said. “There is work to be done.” She moved back to Hampton Roads in November, and now helps Black business owners and artists thrive and promote their work.
Her latest collaboration, “Black Art Reframed: A Celebration of Black Excellence in art, food and music,” is a fundraiser set for Friday at Norfolk State University’s James Wise Gallery. Ticket sales end Thursday, and a portion of sales will go to the university.
Artists of the evening include Lakaye Mbah, Ray Johnson, Naomi Hall and Chris Green, who Wesh represents. He’ll be painting live as the music plays. The show starts at 6 p.m., and will include live entertainment every hour, Wesh said, including classical music, jazz and funk, as well as complimentary vegan appetizers from chef Kaylen Brown of Real Food Meal Prep.
In the lineup are solo violinist, Maricia Atkinson McCleese, Fusion Groove Band, who will be playing a rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” jazz saxophonist Michael Giamille, Norfolk State alumni and soprano Denise Nicole Battle and grand pianist Torrin Purkett.
Calling the 21+ event a “one-of-a-kind immersive, Black cultural experience,” Wesh said there’s a semi-formal dress code, so no shorts and sneakers. Masks are required unless guests are eating or drinking.
Wesh was inspired to host events like this and uplift Black creatives after suffering racial discrimination at the Victim Witness Program at the Virginia Beach Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
She interned there in 2016, and out of 90 workers there, she was one of nine Black employees, some of whom said they suffered discrimination. Their pleas for help were initially ignored, but eventually her demand for an internal investigation was granted, she said.
She took time off in May 2017 to travel and heal in Europe, and two months later, her claims at the office were corroborated.
Wesh moved to New Zealand in 2019 on a working holiday visa, where she volunteered and worked closely with the Black community, including journalist Dione Joseph and Black Creatives Aotearoa, a group that encourages Black creatives to work together.
After moving back to Hampton Roads in November, she started to curate her own events, transforming studios and businesses into pop-up galleries, finding artists and entertainers and giving overlooked artists a chance. She started planning “Black Art Reframed” this summer, and pitched the idea to Norfolk State since it’s an HBCU — historically Black college or university — and the school’s vision matches her own.
Wesh wants to use art, music and vegan food to strengthen community outreach and engagement, encourage healthier lifestyles and raise money so the university can give local artists more opportunities.
Working with artists like Chris Green inspired her to host events like the upcoming fundraiser at NSU.
“I realized how difficult it was to find gallery space for Black artists,” Wesh said. “I wanted Chris to be able to showcase and sell his work to art collectors that truly appreciate Black art without him having to dilute or diminish his work.”
Through her business, Got Blacklisted, she does just that, and makes sure she can get the word out about local artists.
She named the business after her own experience.
“When I went to file federal charges against the City of Virginia Beach regarding the founded evidence of racial harassment a Norfolk EEOC rep told me if I went through with the case that I would get blacklisted,” Wesh wrote.
The company is Black-owned, led by women and helps Black artists, entrepreneurs and entertainers get exposure.
“It is a safe space for creatives who — for far too long — have been oppressed, marginalized, tokenized and exploited for profit,” Wesh said.
Ticket sales for Friday’s fundraiser end Thursday. To buy them, visit nsuspartanstickets.com or use the QR code on the event flyer. Saleen Martin, 757-446-2027, [email protected] ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.