Opinion | In defense of the Southern artist: Honoring the cultural heritage of Tuscaloosa

Nelle Rainer, Contributing Columnist

At the mention of Tuscaloosa, two things come to mind: The University of Alabama and football. The Crimson Tide football team is renowned in its own right, but one only needs to take the time to uncover the hidden gem that is Tucaloosa’s cultural heritage. 

Our city was named in memory of the Choctaw chief, Tuskaloosa, who fought Spanish colonist Hernando De Soto. Culturally speaking, the name “Black Warrior” pays homage to Tuscaloosa’s Native American beginnings. Another name, “Druid City,” is inspired by Celtic folklore.  

In addition, the University serves as a buzzing cultural hub for art and social engagement. 

Understanding the city in which we live and the people who inhabited it should influence the way we live in the present day. Yes, football is amazing, but what if we had a greater understanding of the creative minds that have impacted our city?

Indeed, some of the city’s art galleries and cultural centers were named in honor of artists connected to Tuscaloosa.

Dinah Washington, affectionately nicknamed “Queen of the Blues,” began her life in the abundant southern landscape of Tuscaloosa. A trailblazer and Grammy award winner, Washington is a beacon of inspiration for southern singers. 

Paul Raymond Jones saw the potential in the South. A lover of art and a civil rights advocate, he spent the latter part of his life collecting art. 

Both Washington and Jones were active throughout the mid-19th century, but their impacts span far beyond. 

Jones revolutionized what it meant to be an art collector, as his goal in collecting stemmed far beyond personal gain. He worked to fill the void of African-American artists in galleries and auctions, and eventually, donated part of his collection to the University.

Washington, Jones, and other artists like Big Mama Thorton, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, and William Eggleston, have all drawn from their experiences as southerners in order to create their art.

Supporting local, Southern artists is a way to honor the cultural heritage of the South. In particular, the University’s diverse, complex history gives a particularly distinctive perspective when pursuing art or creative passions. The opportunities provided by the University and the abundance of motivated, creative minds blooming in the city create a unique environment. 

For however long you are here, take the time to get to know Tuscaloosa. Find out all that it has to offer. 

One great way to get to know your city is by supporting the arts communities here in Tuscaloosa. 

There are many ways to support your local southern artists. Frequent the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art on campus or check out the Paul R. Jones collection in downtown Tuscaloosa.

Take opportunities to go to shows hosted by the University’s theater department. Support student-run organizations, indulge in monthly Kentuck Art Nights, attend the annual Druid City Arts Festival, support local vendors at the Tuscaloosa River Market, and attend author talks at local bookstores like Ernest and Hadley Booksellers. Additionally, the Kentuck Festival of the Arts is a nationally-renowned festival featuring over 200 artists in Northport every October.

Investing in the artists in our city is vital in honoring the complexities of Tuscaloosa, and the South at large. Art is a vehicle for self-expression and truth, and it reveals the history and culture that our wonderful city holds.