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Monday, July 15, 2024

Artist’s LLC Leads Absolute Equality Juneteenth Mural Project

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“I’m the little boy who loved to draw, who never grew up,” Reginald Adams, professional artist and founder of Houston-based public art and design firm Reginald C. Adams LLC, tells Entrepreneur. “And thanks to an incredibly supportive family, I’ve always been encouraged to do what I loved.”

As Adams entered his teenage years and added other mediums to his creative repertoire, his circle of family supporters expanded to include paying customers. Thirty years later, he’s traveled the world to create artwork with a social impact — including the Absolute Equality Juneteenth Mural Project.

“From 2014 to 2020, a lot of my work [was] rooted around cultural icons [and] historical figures, primarily in the African American community, that some organization or individual or entity wanted to recognize or pay homage to,” Adams says. “So I found myself painting portraits or creating sculptures honoring historical figures.” Adams’ extensive portfolio caught the attention of the Juneteenth Legacy Project, which commissioned his work to honor the holiday.

Before Adams went into business himself, he was the executive director of the Museum of Cultural Arts, Houston (MOCAH) for more than a decade. There, he focused on community-based public art; Adams built his skill set around community engagement and facilitating groups involving youth in creating public art. However, because Adams worked at a nonprofit organization, the pieces he made during those years were in the public domain.

Related: The 6 Do’s and Don’ts for Engaging in Juneteenth Conversations

“I think it’s wonderful how you serve the community, but what legacy will you leave for your children?”

One day, a “very wise businessman” sat down with Adams and asked him a “powerful” question. “He said, ‘Reginald, this is great what you’re doing, and I think it’s wonderful how you serve the community, but what legacy will you leave for your children?'” Adams recalls. That businessman encouraged Adams to start a private company and commissioned a large piece of art to provide a year’s salary.

So Adams established his LLC and continued to create community-based work — now with full ownership and control of all his projects and designs.

When Adams went into business for himself, one of the biggest challenges he faced was his own mindset. “Coming from the nonprofit world where a lot is expected for nothing or for free, I had to establish value for what I was doing,” Adams explains. “And I realized my work was valuable because it was tangible. I’ve always dreamed big, so all of my projects are very large-scale. But with many artists, it’s a challenge if you’re not trained to know how much your work is worth and then be confident to speak it.”

The shift took some getting used to, but thanks to his supportive community, Adams gained the confidence to speak up about and stand behind the value of his work, he says. Now, he has six professional artists, who are independent contractors, working with his firm, and he hires additional artists as needed.

Image Credit: Courtesy of ©2024 Reginald C. Adams LLC. Absolute Equality Juneteenth Mural Project in Washington DC. Artist: Reginald C. Adams and Creatives 2024.

Related: How Inclusive Leaders Can Understand and Harness the Power in Juneteenth

“I would encourage other artists to really look around [at whom you] are standing next to.”

It’s important to surround yourself with people who believe in you, Adams says — and that may not necessarily be family or friends. Early in his career, the artist joined various business groups, like The American Leadership Forum and The Center for Houston’s Future, to be “in the midst of decision-makers.” “I would encourage other artists to look around [at whom you] are standing next to because your network really becomes your net worth,” he adds.

In January 2020, Adams completed a series of mosaic monuments in Emancipation Park, the oldest municipal park in Houston and Texas, which was founded by formerly enslaved people Rev. John “Henry” Jack Yates, Richard Brock, Richard Allen and Rev. David Elias Dibble. Then, the Galveston-based Juneteenth Legacy Project approached him about creating a piece. The project’s founder, Sheridan Lorenz, wished to honor Juneteenth with a mural in Galveston; her family owns the Old Galveston Square Building, which sits next to where headquarters for the Union Army stood back in 1865 — the Osterman Building.

“The Osterman Building no longer exists,” Adams says. “It’s currently a parking lot, but that parking lot is directly adjacent to the wall that is now host to the Juneteenth mural in Galveston. And so essentially, the mural is at ground zero of this historic moment in American history.”

The piece was a “little intimidating,” Adams admits — the 5,000-square-foot wall, which is 44 feet high and 125 feet long, would hold the biggest mural he’d ever tackled. But Adams was up for the challenge, “especially given the nature of the project.” So, with his team of six artists and about 320 gallons of paint, Adams created the piece over 27 days and 1,300 man-hours. It was dedicated three days after President Biden announced Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

Related: Formerly Enslaved Black Man Nearest Green Taught Jack Daniel Everything He Knew About Whiskey. Today, the Founder of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey Celebrates His Legacy.

“[Juneteenth] means something different in every part of the country. So I’m learning.”

“If you’re in Texas, you know about Galveston, but a lot of folks, [are like], ‘Galveston where?’ So it was great for the cultural tourism of Galveston,” Adams says. “Because of the scale of the mural [and] the visual content, the mural in many ways became the poster child for Juneteenth in that virtually every media network that focused on a story around Juneteenth or Galveston showcased the mural.”

Adams’ pieces had never received so much media attention, and the realization hit him: This is a lane for you, Reginald. Now a national holiday, Juneteenth wasn’t just a trend, he says, and Adams wanted to “take this story beyond the shores of Galveston, across the country.” So, with Capital One‘s support, that’s exactly what he did. Since 2021, the Absolute Equality Project has expanded to 13 murals across cities, including Los Angeles, Shreveport, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Image Credit: Courtesy of ©2024 Reginald C. Adams LLC. Absolute Equality Juneteenth Mural Project in Shreveport, Louisiana. Artist: KaDavien Baylor 2022.

Before the Galveston mural, Adams says he “really didn’t think a whole lot about Juneteenth” or attend celebrations around the holiday. But “that has changed because of my awareness of what Juneteenth means,” Adams adds, noting that his work on the Absolute Equality Project has taken him across the country and deepened his appreciation for what the holiday means to people — “And it means something different in every part of the country. So I’m learning.”

Related: To Be a Real Ally, You Need to Support Black Employees Beyond Juneteenth. Here’s How.

“My journey has only unfolded because I’m working on things that are important to me.”

On Juneteenth this year, Adams says he plans to attend the Los Angeles dedication of the Absolute Equality piece created by Samson Bimbo Adenugba, an artist from Nigeria who now resides in Los Angeles. Adenugba’s mural is located inside one of the Capital One cafes, “a very different environment for all of the murals in the collection,” Adams says, and one he’s excited to see in person.

For any artist or entrepreneur who wants to create work with a social impact, Adams has some words of wisdom: “Focus on what’s important to you. My journey has only unfolded because I’m working on things that are important to me. And I think when we focus on what is important to us, our attention around it increases. We’re being more authentic to who we are as creatives. The messaging becomes more authentic.”



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