By Kathleen Quinn, board treasurer for All People Arts
April Sunami is the board co-chair of All People Arts and a professional visual artist primarily focused on mixed-media painting and installation. Without April Sunami, All People Arts would not be here today. We chatted with her about her experiences and her work with the organization.
Kathleen: Share with us a bit about your professional work as an artist and how it led to your involvement with All People Arts.
April: I am a mixed media painter, installation artist, muralist, exhibition curator and arts educator. In 2017, John Edgar reached out to me when he had the idea of opening an art gallery on the South Side. I had been a member at the Church for All People for years, where he then-served as pastor, as well as previously involved in their social-services sister organization, Community Development for All People. Several of us gathered in a room to brainstorm our visions for the space — and several years later, it has become a reality. I’m grateful John Edgar had the foresight to appreciate art as an important part of community building.
Kathleen: What inspires you and your work?
April: I am inspired by uplifting the image of Black women, telling histories and mythologies that are too often marginalized. What motivates me is connection. I believe that the job of the artist is to build connections between viewers and the work of art. I strive to create art where viewers feel a visceral connection with the piece.
Kathleen: You are dedicated to making art accessible to all people on the South Side. How has the South Side community inspired you along your journey as an artist?
April: There is a plethora of creatives here eager for spaces to cultivate and express their talents. So many people have come by the gallery to share pictures of their art — their excitement over what they’ve created is infectious. When you’ve spent a long time making art for a living, it’s easy to lose sight of that initial place of joy and zeal that you first started with. Art is my life’s work, but the people that I connect with constantly remind me that love has to be at the heart of what I do.
Kathleen: What is your favorite piece of work you produced and why?
April: One of my favorite pieces was a mural I did in collaboration with artist Queen Brooks and the students at Indianola Informal K-8. It was a very special project because my two children attend Indianola and I got to work with my longtime mentor and friend, Queen. We spent months brainstorming with the kids about what should go in the mural and all the students had an opportunity to paint it. The mural was a part of an effort to honor the school’s history and to affirm its identity as non-traditional learning institution. Now, every student who walks through the front entrance starts their day with a colorful and uplifting mural that also proclaims the character of the community.
Kathleen: How has this past year impacted your work? How has this past year impacted All People Arts and its mission?
April: If anything, I think 2020 helped people realize how critical arts are to our overall well-being individually and collectively. It certainly was a monumental year for All People Arts. We were lucky to be able to recruit an experienced art administrator as my co-chair, Adam Brouillette, who runs the Blockfort arts space and is founder-director of the Independents’ Day festival. We were also blessed to have our amazing Executive Director, Shelbi Roseboro Harris. With their help and the hard work of many others, All People Arts opened our 1300 square foot gallery space, hosted three exhibitions, distributed hundreds of art kits to homebound children and seniors, hired two part-time staff, launched the Walt Neil Mural League (in honor of the late muralist Walt Neil) and even continued online programming in the midst of the pandemic.
Kathleen: In your opinion, what is the best thing about the Columbus art scene right now?
April: There is a lot of enthusiasm for public art projects, and I’m glad that our Walt Neil Mural League will be a part of that. We also have organizations, such as the Greater Columbus Arts Council, that are working to make this a city where professional artists can make a living and opportunities abound for all artists. The best thing overall is that there are so many incredibly talented working artists throughout the city.
All People Arts will celebrate the one year opening of their gallery at 1865 Parsons Ave., Columbus, OH 43207 on Saturday, Sept. 11. Learn more at allpeoplearts.org, and please follow All People Arts on Instagram and Facebook for further information.