by Jessica Carreras
Artist, activist, Detroiter – Charles Alexander wears many hats in Michigan’s LGBT community. At age 74, the lifelong artist regularly attends gay events and is curator of Affirmations’ Pittmann-Puckett Art Gallery.
1) How did you become the curator for the Affirmations gallery?
In 1993, I was the first invited artist to exhibit in Affirmation’s newly dedicated Pittman-Puckett Memorial Art Gallery. The exhibition space was much smaller in the old building location, and it was also used as a room for meetings. Things were rather cramped, but all in all we had some wonderful art exhibits there.
I had been donating my art to LGBT fundraisers since 1987, so my art pieces were rather well known. (I had a reputation for embellishing my art with phallic symbols. For the most part that wasn’t true, but it certainly peaked viewer curiosity.)
Jan Stevenson, who was the executive director then, asked me to be gallery curator, and because I knew many LGBT artists I gladly accepted. When the new $2.5 million center opened – with its marvelous three walls, well-lit for exhibitions – I was again the first artist to exhibit, and I’ve continued on as volunteer curator since then.
2) As a life-long Detroiter, what do you love about your city?
I was born in Detroit’s Harper Hospital (and as an OR Technician – my first job out of high school – I actually got to scrub with the doctor who brought me into the world – maybe his first gay baby?). I attended Detroit Public Schools and majored in commercial art at Cass Tech.
What do I love about the city? Firstly, I love the memories of what it once was. I love the now almost forgotten gay community that the city nurtured for decades. Wherever I walk or bike there’s hardly a corner or a block that doesn’t speak to me of family, friends, places and crowds of people who once thronged the city’s busy streets. All gone outwardly. All remembered inwardly.
I love the city for its support of the arts. At one time, every major ballet company in the world came here. I heard soprano Maria Callas here. Saw Dame Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nurevey dance Swan Lake. Our DSO, DIA, WSU Hilberry Theater, Michigan Opera Theater have international reputations. Culturally, Detroit still has so much to offer. Its Riverfront draws thousands.
3) How do you stay connected to the gay community?
I’ve been a part of this community for over 50 years. I’m a living link to our gay heritage.
I stay active by being actively involved: with Between The Lines, Affirmations, Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit. It’s quite simple, really: If you love who you are as an LGBT person, you give of your time, talent and income to support your community. If you’re not doing so, well, what can I say?
4) What purpose do you think art serves as a means of building bridges or creating change for LGBT people?
Art is a gift we give to others for inspiration, insight and, not infrequently, a call to action and activism. Artists, for the most part, are inclusive in their work, friends and associations. As voluteer curator I’ve yet to encounter any straight artist who refuses to exhibit at Affirmations. As a group they’re wonderful allies, true bridge builders!
5) What LGBT rights issue is most important to you?
I think the training of young LGBT activists is of prime importance. Given the way things are presently going with right-wing politics, T-Bag Palin look-alikes and Fundygelical fuzzheads, we must encourage our youth to take an active role in our struggle. If we don’t learn lessons of the past we’re doomed to repeat them. Take heed! Theocracy can happen here.
Visit http://www.goaffirmations.com to obtain information about the Pittmann-Puckett Art Gallery’s current show, “Fierce! Being Black, Being Gay.”