Editor’s note: During Black History month, PennLive is paying tribute to the people who are helping shape what will some day be the history of the Black community in Central Pennsylvania.
These are people who are examples of excellence, who inspire those around them for the work they do, the art they create, or the causes for which they fight.
This is one in an ongoing series of profiles that will be featured in the coming days on PennLive and in The Patriot-News.
Fourteen diverse artists from the region will showcase their work Friday night at the Civic Club in Harrisburg, an event that wouldn’t have happened without Reina Wooden.
Wooden, an artist known as “R76” for her first initial and year of birth, has been creating events like this in recent years to boost inclusivity and expand the art scene in Harrisburg.
She approached Civic Club leaders to propose the shared event, with pandemic precautions, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. that will feature live music, food and BYOB as one of 23 venues for this month’s Third in the Burg series.
Wooden didn’t start out as one of the loudest voices for art inclusivity in Harrisburg, but grew into that role after living here nearly 19 years. While born in Harrisburg, she moved with her family to Philadelphia, where she was immersed in art and music classes, and later to rural Northeast Pennsylvania, where her family was among few minorities.
“I was one of three people of color in my high school,” said Wooden, who has Afro-Venezuelan roots. She went on to study hotel management at Howard University in Washington D.C., and stayed about 10 years working various business jobs.
She returned to Harrisburg in 2002, quickly rediscovering her love for art after mingling with local artists. Wooden worked at a local grocery chain to pay the bills, but spent her free time seeking different artwork and shows.
Wooden was further inspired by the Susquehanna Art Museum and the nationally-recognized work it brought to the city. But she also noticed a lack of diversity in the local art community, particularly galleries. And she set off to do something about it.
“I’ve always had a love for the underground art scene,” she said. “I had no idea that one day I’d be knocking on gallery doors to say, ‘We belong here.’”
She has pushed to help art institutions grasp the pulse of a new generation of artists.
“Opportunities for new artists, styles, and concepts need to be addressed,” she said. “We have to allow people around us to see art as a vision for their life too. That is my goal here.”
Wooden now has space at the Millworks gallery in midtown. She’s using her business background, social skills and experience in rural areas and cities to advocate for other artists to obtain grants and better understand marketing angles that can help sustain their craft.
Her event Friday is intentionally focused on showcasing artists from different backgrounds, she said.
She eventually wants to develop younger artists who can take up the cause. She wants to see art galleries, museums and outdoor art events in all parts of the city, not just downtown or midtown.
“We need places to inspire future artists,” she said. “We have to keep that strong.”
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