"The African aesthetic is grounded in purpose; the African term for art is not separated from function. Within the Black Arts Movement the image-makers functioned for cultural nationalism. Our art should help us define ourselves, identify our customs and values and direct us to higher consciousness."
Arlene was a child of the 60’s who was turned on by the Black Arts Movement. Art connects life in Arlene’s world. Its early connections were through her Nana, Norine Elizabeth, mother of her first inspiration and mom, Ruth.
"My Nana was good friends with my art teacher at Sexton Elementary, Mae Banks. Ms. Banks felt I had promise and arranged a meeting for me with her good friend, Dr. Margaret Burroughs. I remember Dr. Burroughs was warm and engaging, she encouraged me to visualize myself as an artist."
"Murry DePillars was an extremely apt instructor, who engaged our class with technical and aesthetic information, ideas about the Black Arts Movement and Black artists within American art history. My classroom experience with him challenged and excited me and his own art images were fascinating to me."
"The image-maker was born at Northern Illinois University. In the cornfields of DeKalb County, the Civil Rights movement assisted a significant number of first generation college bound Black students to arrive on the scene. Once there, many of those students took up the call for unity and organized demonstrations to bring Black faculty to the University. NIU’s School of Art hired Nelson Stevens for its studio and art history departments and Dr. Grace Hampton-Porter for Art Education. These connections again inspired Arlene’s creative intentions. Both Grace and Nelson mentored the only two Black students majoring in Art at that time."
Through Nelson Stevens, Arlene met many of the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCobra) members, including Jeff Donaldson.
"As an assignment for Nelson’s Black Art History course, students were required to interview a practicing Black Artist. Nelson arranged for me to interview Jeff Donaldson, one of the architects of the Wall of Respect and a founder of the Organization of Black America Culture (OBAC). That interview was the most dynamic experience of my life up to that point."
By end of a four-hour exchange, Arlene had a confirmed passion to become a part of the Black Artists vanguard. Dr. Donaldson invited her to participate in CONFABA, the Conference on the Functional Aspects of Black Art. In 1970, Arlene Turner was a member of Task Force 1: Education; along with Theresa Christopher, David Driskell, Eugenia Dunn, Carolyn Lawrence, Malkia Roberts, Frank Smith, Dorothy Carter and Carole Ward. From this conference Arlene developed a relationship with African American artists, which thrives to this day.
Both Nelson and Grace encouraged Arlene to join the National Conference of Artists, Inc. (NCA). NCA founded in 1959 by Margaret Burroughs, is the oldest national organization of African American visual artists, educators, historians, museum personnel, students and supporters of the arts. At the annual conferences Arlene had many opportunities to participate in workshops, symposiums, exchange slides, exhibit, and fellowship with peers discussing aesthetic agendas.
"I Am because We Are was a hue and cry seen in several works by AfriCobra artists. This message conveys to me a role and purpose for my creativity. The African aesthetic is grounded in purpose; the African term for art is not separated from function. Within the Black Arts Movement the image-makers functioned for cultural nationalism. Our art should help us define ourselves, identify our customs and values and direct us to higher consciousness."
Arlene was the 1st African American to be confirmed with a MS.Ed. in Art Education from Indiana University’s Herron School of Art. While living in Indianapolis, her visual statements were seen on the 1st Indianapolis Black Expo Booklet and Urban Walls,” a mural project co-sponsored by the Indianapolis, Title III - Tech 300 Project, Hoosier Capital Girl Scout Council and Arsenal Tech High School. In 1982, as 2nd Vice President of the Chicago Chapter of NCA, Arlene chaired the planning committee for the 25th Anniversary Conference held in Chicago in 1983.
Since Arlene has matured as a practicing visual artist she maintains her commitment to community and activism. She is an Executive Board member of the African American Arts Alliance, founding member of the Sutherland Community Arts Initiative and Sapphire & Crystals, a collective of African American women artists.