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Ekua Holmes

An artist returns to her ‘beautiful community’

Ekua Holmes
Ekua HolmesJonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe

Ekua Holmes grew up in the Washington Park area of Roxbury. And after stints in a couple of other parts of the city, she’s back. Back to the place where she learned to ride a bike and jump rope.

“I had a wonderful childhood,” she says. “Roxbury was a beautiful community.”

That childhood — that beauty — is at the center of Holmes’s art: colorful, affecting paintings of Black families dancing and reading and holding each other.

“Everybody comes from a neighborhood,” she says. “So these things resonate.”

In a Boston arts community squeezed by a white-hot real estate market — Holmes is one of several artists who lost space in the old Piano Factory building in the South End in recent years — she has been a mainstay.


Decades ago, Holmes ran a small business called “The Great Black Art Collection” that turned homes into weekend art galleries for underappreciated Black artists — the original “pop-ups,” she says.

These days, she illustrates children’s books and runs the Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s sparc! the Artmobile program, which takes MassArt students and supplies all over Boston for intergenerational workshops in painting, printmaking, and other disciplines.

Much of the time, Holmes is working with kids in Dorchester or Roxbury, trying to nurture something like the beautiful childhood she remembers.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe.