A Conversation with Glenn Granderson | Local Vocal | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Conversation with Glenn Granderson

Glenn Granderson, 33, of the Mexican War Streets, opened the Spirits Embodied Gallery of Fine Art this past December on E. Ohio Street in the North Side. The gallery exhibits African art, screens black movies, hosts community assemblies and sells books...

Why'd you open an art gallery?

Actually I started collecting art years ago. I was just trying to collect one or two pieces for the crib. But once I started buying it, it became really intriguing learning about the pieces and about African culture, especially with the African masks. Once I started learning about the culture, I wanted a piece of art from every part of the continent. Plus, most of the places I went to, it was white people selling African art, and I just believe that if black people are buying African art, it should be from African people.


You seem to have a lot going on for it to just be called a gallery. Do you plan to expand it to something else?

The gallery is two rooms. The front room is all African art and also handmade dolls and books. Then there's a traditional gallery in the back room with just paintings. I'll have a mask up on the wall, then a full description written under it that describes its history and where it comes from. You don't even have to buy anything -- you can just walk in there, look around and learn something about African art. It's really like a mini-museum maybe. The art was the draw to get people in there. But then I started selling books, and we have a book club that meets there every week. The art was the focal point, but I wanted a place where we can come together and learn.


Are you an artist yourself?

I used to paint and stuff but somehow I just stopped. I'm more into books. I want to devote half of the gallery at some point to being a bookstore. I also sell videos and DVDs because a lot of the authors of the books have lecture series. I try to bring in a lot of tapes so people can bring in information any way they can. A cultural center is what I'm really trying to build for us, because we don't have one.


You do know about the cultural center being built Downtown, right?

I hope it comes to pass, but until that point, I'm here now. There's no politics to anything I do. I'm just about doing it. I know there will be a lot of politics involved in the Downtown cultural center because it's being built with the public's money. I'm just trying to stay grassroots with the everyday brother and sister.


Pittsburgh isn't the best at recognizing black artists. As a fairly young black guy, how are you received by the people in your gallery?

Most people think I just work there until I start talking to them. And then there's a lot of people who think I can't be from here. They say, "You must be from Africa or New York or Philly," because they are not used to black brothers here in Pittsburgh doing something positive. They think we're all in the streets or locked up. So when they find out it is my store, they assume I moved into this area from somewhere else.


There's a despicable saying: "If you want to hide something from black people, put it in a book." How do you feel about that statement?

Actually what I will say from having a bookstore is there's a lot of positive brothers I've met in Pittsburgh, and the reason I kept that gallery there was [to be] a place where these brothers can get together. I walk through Pittsburgh and see a lot of brothers out here doing really productive things, but you don't know who's who because we have no place to meet. That's why we started a men's book club at the gallery. We got a place now where we can build together. You never know what another brother's doing because as black men we don't talk to each other.


What would you absolutely not allow to take place at your gallery?

I wouldn't allow a gangsta rap concert. I mean, it all depends. Beyond any kind of sexist, racist or over-the-top foolishness, I will let people pretty much do anything that will help uplift our race.