Arts & Entertainment

‘The Current’ exhibit at TAM celebrates local Black artistry

Museum visitors are invited to stay awhile in this inviting gallery that doubles as a community space.

Photo by Marijke Pieters-Kwiers| Darrell McKinney, Born Angeles City, Philippines, 1990, One Way Mirror, 2023. Wood, window sashes, coated glass, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist

Last August, the Tacoma Art Museum announced that a committee had begun the process for selecting a winner for a brand new award called The Current. This unrestricted, $15,000 award was designed to honor and uplift Black artists local to Tacoma. In November, the very first winner of The Current was announced to be Darrell McKinney, an interdisciplinary artist who explores history and politics through design and architecture. 

Now, museum patrons can visit a new exhibition that commemorates the inaugural year of this award. “The Current: Saying the Quiet Parts Out Loud” was curated by Artist Award Manager Victoria Miles to be both a celebration of local Black artistry and an immersive space for the community to gather. 

“With this exhibition, I am inviting people in to learn more about The Current and encouraging them to be more thoughtful and curious of the landscape of Black artists in Tacoma,” said Miles.

“The title ‘Saying the Quiet Parts Out Loud’ references the quiet and slowness around the intentionality of the work, expressing things that are intrinsic to us by nature, values that ground this work,” Miles stated in a press release for the exhibit. 

Upon first entering the space, the intention of comfort and support is immediately apparent through the color scheme. Warm pinks, purples and oranges–bright colors not usually associated with museum walls–invite guests to take a deep breath and engage emotionally with the works on display.

The gallery features multiple installations by McKinney. The centerpiece is a column of mirrored windows of various sizes, hanging from the ceiling in a column shape. The mirrored surface on many of these windows is scratched off to varying degrees, around the edges on many and in the middle on a few. This has a disorienting effect when determining whether one is looking through the glass, at a reflection of the gallery or of oneself. 

There are also works by McKinney in his current favorite medium: concrete. These include planters sculpted with intricate designs and a piece titled “Breakwater,” featuring miniature recreations of the concrete tetrapod structures used to construct breakwaters, which serve to decrease the force of incoming waves. 

“Concrete is a material that’s literally everywhere,” McKinney said, “It’s fallen to the background of our minds in a lot of ways. So for that to be brought to the forefront and to be the main feature, I think there’s ways you can manipulate that property to where it is interesting again.”

Photo by Peter Berkley | Darrell McKinney, Born Angeles City, Philippines, 1990, Breakwater, 2022. Pigment-dyed concrete, Dimensions variable, Courtesy of the artist

One corner of the space is particularly inviting, with a cushioned bench sporting multicolored pillows along the wall. In front of this, a couple of egg-shaped wingback chairs, a coffee table and a purple shag rug help complete the living room feel of the space. A collection of books which relate to the themes of the exhibit are also on display.

These elements come together to create a perfect space for discussions, gatherings and other community activities. The first of these took place on May 4, when Miles hosted a conversation between McKinney and Cristina Martinez, visual artist and The Current’s final juror (as such, Martinez was responsible for selecting the winner of the award from the finalists chosen by The Current’s committee). Over the course of this conversation, the three spoke about their artistic influences, the importance of providing Black artists with institutional support and the hardships of balancing art with other life commitments. 

McKinney offered insight about the award process, from applying and attending workshops at the museum, to the final studio visit with Martinez. He also spoke about the importance of incorporating and acknowledging his influences while still infusing his art with his sense of self. 

“I’m bad at time management,” McKinney said when asked for advice about juggling art with other responsibilities, “But you have to just block out that two hours every day. It doesn’t have to lead to anything. The small bits of time eventually add up to something.”

The 2023 award year cycle for The Current has yet to be announced, but with the success of its inaugural year, it is sure to be on the way. Black visual artists in Tacoma should keep an eye out for upcoming events related to this award.Anyone who is passionate about supporting marginalized voices in the art world should be sure to visit “The Current: Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud.” The exhibition will be open through October 15, 2023. The museum’s Neighborhood Nights are the perfect opportunity to do so; every Thursday evening, admission is free for all visitors 5-8 p.m. For more information visit