Arts Grant

"Ain't we lucky we got 'em?"

The theme song from Good Times is more powerful than you might think. Did you know that one of the foremost collections of African-American art began, more or less, with the intro to this '70s series? Yep, the colorful images seen during the credits made a big impression on future NBA superstar Grant Hill.

"Those paintings were not done by JJ," jokes Hill. "I want to clear up that myth right off the bat." They were actually by Ernie Barnes, who also did the cover of Marvin Gaye's classic I Want You album. Barnes's work eventually became a cornerstone of the oft-injured all-star's expansive collection.

His parents' enthusiasm for the visual arts had an effect on the young Hill, whose own collection started humbly with some Barnes and LeRoy Neiman prints and then expanded in exponential fashion. Houston will get a peek at this collection when "Something All Our Own: The Grant Hill Collection of African-American Art" stops at Texas Southern University this week.

"At first I objected," says Hill, referring to opening his collection to public view. "I spend a lot of time in the spotlight, and this art represents part of my private life, my everyday home environment. When I was first approached, my instinct was to keep it private."

Eventually, though, the much-idolized Orlando Magic starter realized that he was in a unique position to open up a whole new perspective to young African-Americans, many of whom might not know much about African-American fine art. His basketball celebrity might be what gets people out to the show, but Hill believes that exposure to the work of Barnes, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Joe Coleman, Hughie Lee-Smith and others could increase interest in the visual arts.

"Young people of color might look up to certain athletes and musicians," he says, "but there's a real lack of role-modeling in other areas. I hope that seeing this work will give these kids something else positive to reach for."

"Keepin' your head above water, makin' a wave when you can," indeed. The exhibition opens Sunday, June 27. Through August 31. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays; noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. University Museum at Texas Southern University, 3100 Cleburne, 713-313-7120. Free.

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Scott Faingold