Black art gallery Downtown shows no signs of leaving after vandals strike

Blaqk House Collections getting plenty of support after front windows were shattered

by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer

“We’re going to be here, we’re going to stay here,” Dawson told the New Pittsburgh Courier, Nov. 9, “and we’re going to continue to do for our community.”


Barely a month into its existence, the Blaqk House Collections art gallery, located at 440 First Ave., Downtown, had its front windows and door shattered sometime between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., Nov. 9. While no art pieces inside the shop were stolen, Dawson told the Courier it would cost up to $20,000 to replace the front windows with shatterproof glass.

A PHOTO OF THE GLASS that was shattered at Blaqk House Collections.

Pittsburgh police initially were alerted to the vandalism on Nov. 9. There is no update on the investigation as of Courier press deadline, Nov. 10.

Having a Black business in Downtown Pittsburgh these days takes money, connections and guts. Prior to the pandemic, rent prices had been on the rise for storefront properties, while office-based properties’ prices were fluctuating. With that in mind, there were hundreds of supporters from multiple ethnicities that celebrated the grand opening of Blaqk House Collections on Oct. 9. Local artists like Morgan Overton and Keith Weston, a former boxer from Sheraden, proudly showcased some of their art pieces at the grand opening. Carol Speaks showcased art pieces from those inside Pennsylvania prisons, and the sales from the artwork would be given back to those imprisoned.


BOXER KEITH WESTON, with his art pieces, and in the bottom photo, it’s ANGELA BLANTON of Carnegie Mellon University, next to her portrait by artist Tom Messer.

Artist Tom Mosser showcased his “Big Faces” project, featuring portraits of Black Pittsburghers like Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Emmai Alaquiva, playwright and director Mark Clayton Southers, fashion designer Kiya Tomlin, and Chief Financial Officer for Carnegie Mellon University, Angela Blanton.

Most of the pieces still can be seen at the art gallery.

BLAQK HOUSE COLLECTIONS CO-OWNERS NICKY JO DAWSON AND CYNTHIA KENDERSON are shown in the top photo. ARTIST MORGAN OVERTON is shown in the bottom photo with some of her art pieces. The photos were taken during the art gallery’s grand opening, Oct. 9. (Photos by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)

“Being Black is being art,” Dawson told the Courier in an exclusive interview, Nov. 9. “I feel like art cannot be confined to just paintings or sketches. Our voices are art; open mic, poetry, comedy, everything we do is artistic, and we don’t have the platform for it.”

The idea of an art gallery had been on Dawson’s mind for more than 10 years. With Kenderson, the idea finally came to fruition. Kenderson and Dawson have their own poetry gracing the walls of the art gallery, “amongst legends who do art in the city,” Dawson said.

“Our opening day showed us that there are so many artists who can’t get exposure. We’ve had artists from New York and D.C. contact us, asking if they could bring their art down here.”

The ambience of Black artistry at Blaqk House Collections has jumpstarted many local African Americans to rent the facility for weddings, birthday parties and family photoshoots. Dawson said the hourly rate to rent out the facility has been reduced until 2021.
“The mere fact that people want to get married around Black art” is music to Dawson’s ears, she said.

The facility also has been booked for a future six-month engagement of Black empowerment forums for women. A kids exhibit will also occur next year.

THE CHILDREN OF JENNA CHUNG handed Nicky Jo Dawson an encouraging card. (Photo by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)

When news of the vandalism hit Facebook, Dawson said Black women were racing Downtown to show support to Dawson and Kenderson. Tanisha Long from Black Lives Matter Pittsburgh showed support. So did Terri Minor-Spencer, a celebrated community activist. And there were others from different ethnicities, like Jenna Chung, whose children made a custom card for the art gallery, which was taped to the wooden board outside where the glass was broken.

The card read: “Thank you for being a window into the Black community.”

NICKY JO DAWSON stands in front of Blaqk House Collections, an art gallery, Downtown, which had its windows broken out on Nov. 9. Dawson is co-owner of the art gallery. (Photos by Courier photographer J.L. Martello)

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