Overstreet to be honored by governor


JACKSON – Renown artist and Conehatta native Joe Overstreet, will be among the five honorees at the 30th annual Mississippi Governor’s Arts Awards, which will air on MPB Television and MPB Think Radio at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15.

Overstreet will receive the Excellence in Visual Art Award for his career as a painter, arts promoter and activist that has spanned more than 60 years. Born in rural Conehatta in 1933, Overstreet has spent much of his life and career in New York and California.

He is most recognized for his 1960s protest paintings such as “Strange Fruit” and “The New Aunt Jemima,” a piece which has been referred to as a national icon of the Civil Rights Movement.

Overstreet spent the early part of his life and career in the Bay Area. His family moved several times between 1941 and 1946 before settling in Berkeley. After graduating from Oakland Technical High School in 1951, Overstreet joined the merchant marine, work­ing part time until 1958. During this time he also did work as an animator for Walt Disney Studios in Los Angeles.

Overstreet began studying art in 1951 at Contra Costa College in Richmond, Calif. He established a studio on Grant Avenue in San Francisco and trained at the California School of Fine Arts from 1953 to 1954. 

Overstreet became part of the Beat scene in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood and published a journal titled Beatitudes Magazine from his studio. During the early 1950s he exhibited in galleries, teahouses, and jazz clubs throughout the Bay Area.

Overstreet moved to New York City in 1958 with his friend, the poet Bob Kaufman, and set up a studio, designing displays for store windows to earn a living.

As did many other African American artists in the 1960s, Overstreet participated actively in the civil rights movement. He orga­nized exhibitions and other projects aimed at creating opportunities for black artists and reaching out to new audiences. He worked as art director of the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School, founded by Amiri Baraka, and developed movable stages that became the model for the Jazzmobile, a citywide traveling program that presented public jazz perfor­mances in New York City.

In 1974 Joe Overstreet founded Kenkeleba House on the Lower East Side, an alternative gallery space dedicated to exhibiting work by African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native American artists, which he still runs and where his studio is based today.

Each year the awards are presented to outstanding individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to or achieved excellence in Mississippi arts.

Also receiving awards this year will be Greenville native and musician Steve Azar, ballet dancer David Keary, museum curator V.A. Bookhart Patterson and Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.

An encore television broadcast will be at 2 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18.

Established in 1988, the awards event is presented by the Mississippi Arts Commission in partnership with the Governor’s Office.




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