Courtesy of Sonnet Carter

Earlier this month, the Neo Collective — Yale’s first Black arts collective — had its first welcome event for Yale students and New Haven community members via Zoom.

The arts collective, founded last year by Nyeda Sam ’22, provides Black visual artists, musicians and writers a platform to share their art. The collective also acts as a space for members to support and uplift each other. New Haven community members and Yale students can strengthen connections through a shared interest in art.

“Being part of the collective means being my true artistic self,” Sam said. “I don’t have to explain my voice or my work. I can just be, and be comfortable in that being since I know that people understand where my work is coming from.”

Sam said she created the collective because she felt Yale’s visual arts community was dominated by institutions like the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art. Sam wanted to create a community and give voice to students. Sam added that in her arts classes, she found the environment “largely white” and “frustrating” because her classmates were unable to give constructive feedback on her artwork — which mainly focuses on Black identity.

Enlisting the help of Tobi Makinde ’23 and Sonnet Carter ’23, who are also Black women, Sam began organizing meetings for Black visual artists on campus. Now, the collective has expanded its vision to include all art mediums and members outside the Yale community.

“A big purpose of the Neo Collective is to provide an open space for both Yale and New Haven,” Carter said.

The collective provides its members a safe space to share their thoughts, ask questions and express their art. Carter said it is helpful to hear about the process and mindset of other artists, even if they work with different mediums. For example, listening to someone talk about poetry can inspire ideas for visual art.

Sam is a playwright, poet and visual artist while Carter is a visual artist and graphic designer. But they collaborate to inspire each other across mediums.

“Our discussions about art and movement have inspired many pieces of poetry and writing,” Kadiatou Keita ’22, a member of the collective’s logistics team, said. “I am able to, in these meetings, explore what themes I want to include in my works in the future.”

According to Carter, the collective is taking the time to “heal” this semester. Meetings so far have centered around both decompressing and relaxing and exploring new artistic mediums. Carter said this is necessary, given how much the Black community has endured in the past few months. Carter referenced both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement in response to police brutality as examples.

Despite challenges introduced by the pandemic, the collective is expanding its definitions of community and artistry. Even though members cannot meet in person, Carter said the virtual space compels members to truly “communicate” and “connect.”

“Our meetings are a space to decompress and channel our individual experiences into art and collaboration,” said Cassidy Arrington ’23, a member of the logistics team. “This semester and even over quarantine, we have found ways to make art a community practice.”

Arrington said the collective’s current goal is to expand their reach. She said the group intends to widen membership and collaborate with organizations such as Artspace New Haven and the YUAG.

The collective is currently accepting submissions from Yale students and New Haven community members for its first online art exhibit, “Re;memory: Framing the Imaginary” on Black memory and imagination.

The Neo Collective was founded in 2019. 

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu

Bryan Ventura | bryan.ventura@yale.edu