The Craig family legacy of philanthropy is based on acts of discovering, collecting, and exhibiting African-American fine art. Simone Craig, 42, and Lauren Craig, 37, are the daughters of art enthusiasts Charles Craig, Esq. and his wife Mrs.Victoria Craig, a retired school teacher-turned-curator. Lauren acknowledges, “We were able to grow up meeting these amazing artists. Our home looked like a fine art gallery. Being a part of that atmosphere shapes you as a person. It’s a blessing, something we don’t take for granted.”
Working in Morristown, New Jersey where Charles Craig has a private practice, he spent most of his time at the Morris County courthouse. As an art lover, year after year, the attorney grew more sensitive to the fact that in the five floors of art housed in the administration building, there was not one piece of African-American artwork, ever. Taking action over issue, Charles and Victoria formed Art in the Atrium—a family-owned, non-profit organization designed to distribute beauty, truth and history through the education and the exhibition of African-American fine art.
Art in the Atrium celebrates 25 years on January 12, 2017. The anniversary exhibit at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey opens on Thursday with a Silver Soiree Gala. Master of Ceremonies for the event is TV personality AJ Calloway of NBC’s Extra. The featured artist is Barbara Bullock, famed for her abstract works with paper and collage.
“It’s an exquisite experience,” Simone remarks. “I’ve come to learn that when you put on an event like Art in the Atrium, you fall in love with being of service in that way. Educating people on this world of African-American fine art, which many have no idea about, becomes a passion. You want to keep doing it.”
The family teaches that buying art is a venture of investment. “One of the goals of Art in the Atrium has been to allow people to see the value of, not just art, but black art. Black people are magic, yes? Well, that extends to the art world, too.” Lauren continues, “So if the art is speaking to me in a way where I look at this piece on my wall and I’m inspired everyday, then that piece of work is priceless to me. Fine art appreciates. Its going to be worth more later, so it’s a sound investment.”
Simone adds, “Something, I’ll never forget. “David C. Driskell”—considered the world’s premier African-American art expert, “said at one of our openings, ‘People tend to think artists are playing’.” Passionately she concurs, “Artists aren’t playing. They are serious. This is craftsmanship, spirit, genius that’s going into this work. A piece of this person is on paper bearing their soul for you to see or judge as you will. That’s extremely valuable.”
The Craig sisters were taught to interpret art this way: How does the piece make you feel? “Our father always says that art is personal,” Simone says, “That gave us permission to interpret art how we please. There is no such thing as this is a good piece or a bad piece because it’s personal. Something that’s brilliant, touches me deeply and I have to have it on my wall; that’s good art. And, it is ok to interpret art in that very personal way.”
Asserting that both their parents are artists at heart, Simone and Lauren believe that the generation their parents grew up in didn’t make them feel that being an artist as a profession was a stable option for them. Simone says, “My mom’s art is quiltmaking,” the tradition magnified by artists such as Faith Ringgold and the women of Gee’s Bend. As far as her dad goes, “I have a theory that lawyers are repressed actors. My dad and my sister have this desire to present and perform in a powerful way; it’s an art.” Lauren, a young retired attorney chimes in, “I agree, even crafting an argument is artistry.”
Lauren left the legal field to pursue her own artistic passion, which is writing. Starting as a professional blogger, the spirited Ms. Craig now works for Newark Arts, she is writing a book called 100 Things to Do in Newark Before You Die and she’s a social media expert. “I think people of my generation and younger are finding ways to weave artistry into their everyday lives.” Lauren continues, “Art is informing the next generation too because my sister has a daughter, that’s growing up in the same house. I can’t wait to see what she does with that kind of inspiration.”
Charleigh, age 4, is Simone’s daughter, serendipitously born on Mr. Craig’s birthday, “So she’s named after my dad.” Already showing signs of the family trait, “She’s very creative. I allow her to create art and whatever it is, I celebrate it. There are certain pieces in our home she’s drawn to, for instance, there is a mother and child piece. Charleigh says ‘that’s me and that’s you.’ ”
The consummate little sister, Lauren recollects, “I think for the first part of my childhood, Simone was not liking me so much.” Simone chuckles and quietly begs to differ. Lauren continues, “She was the big sister doing cool things. She introduced me to hip hop music! I was still playing with Barbies and she was listening to Bahamadia. Then at some point, I got old enough and she was like, ok, you’re pretty cool you can come to the Barbecue.”
Simone, a money mindset mentor and abundance coach for women entrepreneurs, has not only informed Lauren’s ‘cool’ but her enlightenment. “Simone has taught me so much about remaining centered, spirituality, meditation. So many times I would call her in a tizzy and she would send me a personalized guided meditation.” Lauren observes, “Our relationship has gotten closer as we get older.”
Simone assures, “I’ve always adored my sister. I never took on the weight of being the ‘big sister’. I feel like I had five years to myself so I wasn’t too angry about it when she came along. Lauren has always been this bright light of bubbly joy. For me, I always thought we were on one accord. But as we got older, I realize we had very different childhoods. My interpretation of my childhood is very different than hers.”
Simone’s most valuable lesson learned from her parents is the importance of giving back. “It sounds cliche, but they live for service. My mom and dad don’t forget where they came from, personally, but also culturally. Because we’ve been so blessed and we are so privileged, it’s our duty to give back.” The essence of entrepreneurship, ideally is service.” Insightfully she states, “Service should not be about self-sacrifice to your detriment but, in fact, a vehicle to enhance your own life. It’s actually a privilege to be of service.”
Working in honor of the works of Black artists for 25 years, is a milestone for Art in Atrium and the Craig Family. Lauren interprets a successful family, in the way they were taught to interpret art, in essence, ‘how does the family make you feel?’ Lauren concludes, “If you want to be around each other more than you don’t, you’re successful. I love my family. Being around them nourishes me.”
To purchase tickets for Art in the Atrium’s 25th Anniversary Silver Soiree Gala on Thursday, January 12 at the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey go to eventbrite.
Joicelyn Dingle travels to find the Coolest Black Family in America exclusively for EBONY.com. She splits her time between Savannah and Brooklyn. She is currently completing a documentary on the making of Honey magazine and the 1990s urban publishing era. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter @editorialgenius.