If You’re Reading This in 2116, I’m Glad You Made It. 

I was invited by Sue Kerr, author of Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blog found at http://www.pghlesbian.org to present with her and archivist & librarian, Megan Massanelli at Pittsburgh Pod Camp and we did our thing this morning. The subject was “How (and why) Your Blog is History”. The central idea was archiving your blog and thinking about preserving Pgh voices for the future. The archiving process is still a little over my head technically, but the idea of preserving my voice and conversations about the Hill District and other tropics for an audience in the year 2116 is kinda cool (hello there). She has formed a fb group to talk about the issue, which you can join, so look for it as “Your Blog Is History”. 

Sue hipped me to the fact that my posts could be 1 sentence long, so we’re done here. 

me, Megan Massarell & Sue Kerr

 

ROOTS in Culture. ROOTS in Justice.

Sunday morning, thinking of a master plan, and perusing the amazing body of work of Alternate ROOTS, the southern based, artist membership organization with a mission to

Roots2013_MC_HR-0531

From the ROOTS blog post “Honoring each other through our work” by Rasha Abdulhadi

support the creation and presentation of original art, in all its forms, which is rooted in a particular community of place, tradition or spirit. As a coalition of cultural workers we strive to be allies in the elimination of all forms of oppression. ROOTS is committed to social and economic justice and the protection of the natural world and addresses these concerns through its programs and services. In wanting to learn more about their work, I found  The Resource for Social Change, ROOTS’ training publication describing how they bring their 40 years of experience working at the intersection of arts, justice, community & place to  developing  responses to range of problems & challenges of arts, culture and community. The model is built on five principles of POWER, PARTNERSHIP, DIALOGUE, AESTHETICS & TRANSFORMATION & the publication includes case studies of their work in different communities, a comprehensive  bibliography and set of internet resources at the end. It is soooo challenging to do the work and document the work. HATS. OFF.

And, Alternate Roots, put me in the mind of #ArtsinHD, the planning and implementation process to increase the visibility & quantity of artists and arts activities in the Hill District. For this work that I sit on the steering committee with my wife Bonnie Young Laing, Co-Director of the Hill District Consensus Group, Kendra Ross, who is the consultant helping us keep our train moving, Diamonte Walker, Program Associate of the Hill District CDC, and newly joined Samantha Kellie-Black, our next steps will include a Hill District artist meet up, collaborating with Sembene Film Festival for a film showing, quarterly story telling events and an arts festival next summer. How dope it would be to have an annual gathering of Hill District artists and culture workers like Alternate ROOTS?!  Maybe the artist meet up we are planning for September will be the first of 40…

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At the end of the strategic planning weekend, pie charts of the grantmaking budget Heinz staff developed with the TAP Advisory Board. #participatorybudgeting Photo credit: Germaine Williams

On another note, I feel similarly about the value of this document for the work we are doing at The Heinz Endowments with, The Transformative Arts Process. This program, an experiment in participatory grantmaking, is building the field of those teaching artists, arts organizations, youth and grantmakers who work at the intersection of arts, justice, youth and African American neighborhoods. Just the way ROOTS has codified their work is an incredible accomplishment and I hope to see us do some of this with TAP. It has been an awesome learning experience to work with TAP Advisory Board and they have done some amazing work. If you are connected to an arts organization, program or artist with three years of experience working in a particular African American or “distressed” neighborhood, you may be interested in checking out the current Request for Proposals. The informational being held on September 6th has plenty of openings. Please email Siovhan Christensen at Schristensen@heinz.org to register.

Shouts out to Alternate ROOTS and all working to make a #justculture, a #justpgh.

 

 

I’m With Jill

So, the core Clinton campaign message has devolved to “We can’t have Trump and not voting for me is a vote for Trump, so, you must vote for me”. But, I don’t. On the contrary, trump clintonI don’t think I want electing Hillary Clinton and her version of white supremacy on my head.  In the 2008 campaign, she co-signed a subtle but clear racism in her attempt to win the nomination, the most memorable examples being her surrogate, Bob Johnson, commenting that Bill Clinton was more of Black man than Barack Obama because he had slept with more Black women and her pressuring Obama to denounce both Louis Farrakhan and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. She has argued Dr. King’s dream was realized with the passage of the Civil Rights Act,  made no attempt to apologize for her depiction of young black men as “super predators” and was an integral part of the team that has intensified The New Jim Crow.  As if this was not enough, Hillary Clinton has solidified American imperialism in Haiti by preventing an increase in minimum wage to .61 and her private server emails show she pressured Haitian officials to change results from the first round presidential elections in 2010. As Marian Wright Edelman stated in July of 2007, “You know, Hillary Clinton is an old friend, but they are not friends in politics.”

Following the 2000 election in which Nader received 2.75% of the popular vote, the Democratic Party blamed Al Gore’s inability to win an election on the 2.75% of Americans who chose to vote for the candidate they felt was most qualified and not their party’s platform or the Florida Supreme Court. Since that election, the Green Party has not received more than 1% of the popular vote (This year, Presidential candidates must receive an average of 15% across 5 polling bodies selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates is needed to gain entrance into national televised debates) which leads me to believe the Democratic Party’s argument that a third party is responsible for the Bush years has been successful.

My interests in this election are quite simple – it is about being a part of the long game to establish a legitimate third party that is a threat to win an election. I have conceded this election – Trump or Clinton – to me the difference is not enough that I in good faith would vote for either. I survived Bush, I survived Obama, I hope to survive Clinton or Trump – neither represents the radical change we need from the current status quo. Stein, like most “progressively left” candidates has shown limitations in her able to critique white supremacy, but she is in support of reparations, tuition-free public colleges, and the demilitarization of the police. This is a vision I will support. If we acknowledge a vote for Clinton or Trump is a vote for evil, why not invest in a third party? the evil is coming regardless.

 

#BlackLivesMatters To #ChangingSystems

Sunday I was trying to think thru something and so went back to this piece I really appreciate,  “Leverage Points: Places To Intervene In A System” by Donella

#BLM7.12

Photo credit: Gail Manker. Silent Protest 7.12.16 organized by Ayodeji Young

Meadows and it hit me, again, how a lot of us are sleeping  the demonstrations strategy  of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Meadows ranks the  ways to move a system from the weakest, changing out specific people (e.g. elections) or the numbers of a system (e.g. tax rates), to the most powerful lever, the mindset that sits behind the overall culture. The murders of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile by police followed by the murders of five Dallas police officers, again put the need for a new system front and center. In explaining mind shift as the most powerful of all system change levers, the actions of #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations become not just clearly courageous… but strategic and it’s that last piece, strategy, that’s not getting  enough love. We should support and join the demonstrations as the highest level of  system change i.e. mindset change because the demonstrations go right at the core idea of white supremacy: Black lives do not matter as much as white lives, ideas and comfort and Black lives really only matter when they contribute to white lives (this is also, a core idea of Critical Race Theory, the framer of which, Prof Derrick Bell, came right from this Hill District. Love and Light to him.) The demonstrations insist our lives cannot go on undisturbed while Black people are murdered by police. These reverberations are felt society wide, including in the halls of institutional power.

At the most recent Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference, Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter Network, gave a short talk and I had the honor of moderating the Q & A. To help stimulate conversation about Ms. Garza’s talk, I wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt to the opening reception and as a result, a couple of colleagues shared what I hear as a lingering and often held doubt: “#BlackLivesMatter is great, but I am curious to see what it accomplishes.” In addition to the speaker positioning themselves as a spectator, I also think it misses what the #BlackLivesMatter movement has already accomplished just in that moment: we are discussing police violence and killings of Black people right there and then and what has been known for decades upon decades in Black communities is now one of the most talked about subjects all across the country. But what it really misses is how by marching, stopping traffic, calling for us to #shutitdown, #BlackLivesMatter and its leadership, so many of whom are young & female & Queer, have correctly identified the key lever of change: the mindset that Black lives could never warrant this kind of attention, particularly not in ways that inconvenience and make uncomfortable the lives of white people, and the mindset of too many of us Black people that our murder and unjust treatment by police is part and parcel of what it is to be Black and living in America. These shifts in mindset simultaneously shift the world. Meadows point is that the mindset lever then lets the other weaker levers like policy change do their work, including the set of policies that Campaign Zero released yesterday. Amen to that.

 

 

Did The Clinton Campaign Appropriate The Good Words of Jesse Williams?

Jesse WilliamsSo, I want to add my reaction to the many out there re: Jesse Williams’ fiyah spoken word piece at the BET awards, and actually not his words, those I appreciate and recognize from social media, but to the backdrop of his speech, to the people I feel like benefited as much as us at home watching and that is the Democratic Party and presumptive Democratic Party Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton. To my eye, clearly the folks at BET have returned to the side of Hillary Clinton for the 2016 election (you’ll remember the former owner, Bob Johnson, endorsed Clinton over Obama). In most years, the musical performances dominate the discourse of the BET Awards, but this year the noteworthy performance was not the performance featuring both Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce, but from an actor – Jesse Williams – giving a speech reflecting his continued commitment to speak out against police violence. In the past days, the New York Times, LA Times, Time Magazine, and countless other media outlets (not to mention Twitter and Facebook) have spotlighted Williams’s speech, and of course I agree with all of Williams’s words, how could I not??, but I have been thinking a lot about the frame within which I saw his words and of course frames affect pictures.

For me, the core message of the evening didn’t come into view w/ Williams’ really well crafted combination of speech, spoken word and informal chat, but rather started with Terence J, who prior to introducing the hosts Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, told the audience “Your vote is your voice.” Shortly thereafter, Tracee Ellis Ross shared that the most important demographic in this fall’s presidential election was single women and that her vote (because she is a single woman) would decide the election and concluded by stating “Welcome to the White House, Hillary Clinton.” Throughout the show BET would include more messages on the importance of voting (and due to Ross’s quote – it was clear these messages are pro-Clinton) all of which set the stage for Williams to really put it down for the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

To reiterate, everything Williams said was true and was quite poetic, “Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” However, it is impossible for me to not see his words inside the context of the Clinton advertisement that was running throughout the 2016 BET Awards. So, the current Democratic political climate has ostensibly embraced the rejection of bigotry – in fact, the rejection of bigotry has become profitable (Apple was sure to announce they would not sponsor the RNC due to Trump). Clinton, despite her own history of bigoted politics (which were on display in her last attempt to secure the Democratic nomination and the mass incarceration policies of the 90s), has somewhat successfully turned herself into the candidate whose bigotry is acceptable while running a campaign that argues Trump’s bigotry is not. BET’s endorsement of Clinton from Black Girls Rock to this BET Award show assists in that cause. Still, without Williams, the night’s endorsement is incomplete.

Ashley Williams demonstrating at 2016 S.C. Fundraiser

Ashley Williams demonstrating at 2016 S.C. Fundraiser

Williams’s poetry legitimized the BET Awards as a “woke” platform as he bravely denounced whiteness and police brutality, gave deserved props to black women, and spoke against the appropriation of black culture. However, following Williams’s performance, Samuel L. Jackson, stated “That brother is right and he’s true.” He then added an interpretation Williams’ had not even remotely implied and said, “Make sure you vote and take eight more people with you. We gotta fix this. Don’t get tricked like they did in London.” So, who is the benefactor of the call to vote? What Jackson ignores (or doesn’t see) is that the whole Award show is part of the trick because by placing Williams’s spoken word in the context of this larger call to vote, Clinton benefits from Williams’ words without taking any of the risk or committing to any of what he offered. Williams made the BET Awards “woke,” and since BET is down with Clinton she is thus also “woke” or maybe more accurately “woke enough” or “not a Trump nightmare”. In case we had somehow missed the message, the show concluded with Usher dancing with an anti-Trump message on the back of his vest (i.e. a pro-Clinton one and since when is Usher making explicit political criticisms?) as social media pounced on Justin Timberlake’s cultural appropriation, I was also seeing the Clinton campaign’s appropriation of the evening, the kind of appropriation that Williams had just rebuked.

I Feel Like Zora. Black art & Black (in)visibility.

TLOP2A few days ago I was on TIDAL, the struggling music streaming company owned by Jay Z, listening to Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” (TLOP) and I came across this piece,“Kanye Unfinished: The Evolving Life of Pablo”, about how Kanye’s ongoing changing of “The Life Of Pablo” shows him to be of a quality and insight that puts him among artists of the (White and mainly male) Western Canon, particularly those who’ve seen art as an always unfinished product.  I was all excited about my art insight & set to post it to my facebook page when I reflected on the fact that I had come to the article clicking “Kanye” on TIDAL, which was originally the only way to listen to TLOP, unless you pirated it (which a 1/2  million people did). What gave me pause after pressing “share” and starting to write a little context for the post was that the comparison of Kanye to the artists of this Canon felt eerily familiar to Kanye’s ongoing positioning of himself as Shakespeare and Warhol . So, was this a thought piece or the secret marketing where the poster exclaims to us something that the company has told them to tell us (real buttery taste!)? And if it’s a placed message (I just doubt TIDAL is posting blogs that could set Kanye off because the only incentive to get TIDAL right now is Yeezy) why aren’t any of artists that Kanye  is being compared to of African descent?  By comparing himself just to  white male artists and reminding us of “The Canon”, Kanye adds to the arts industry’s marginalization of Black male and female voices as well as ALAANA (African Latino Asian Arab & Native American) women and white women artists.  It’s hard for me to believe that that hasn’t occurred to Kanye and that bugged me enough to not want to post it. But rather to say something more about it.

At the same time it bugs me, Kanye is too special to dismiss. There is still something special & brilliant about Kanye challenging “the arts” industry by saying a Black male hip hop artist, married to a Kardashian, talking about his dropoutness and his dark twisted fantasies and designing sneakers and calling out billionaires on Twitter is more than worthy of the company of the “canonical” artists. That’s kind of revolutionary in and of itself, right? That’s a Black man taking on his internalized inferiority  , right? However, as he  scales the walls of race/hip hop by showing us he belongs on the pantheon of what we’ve been told our whole lives are the all-time arts greats, he heightens those walls for himself and the rest of us by reemphasizing the idea that white male artists are the true measure of whether an artistic practice is innovative.  For example, by definition jazz is also an ongoing, evolving artistic product, but at its height they didn’t have the technology to change albums once released. Still, John Coltrane, among others, is surely an ongoing genius tinkerer, right? Kanye’s choice to show us who he is by comparison to others brings to my mind Zora Neale Hurston’s comment “I feel most colored when thrown against a sharp white background.” Does she mean she felt most visible? Or most invisible? I’m curious. But, unlike Ms. Hurston who shows us the violence of racialization by pointing out how she is thrown against this sharp white background, Kanye seems throw himself against this background to be sure we see him. But in this case, I don’t see him, rather I see the (White, mainly male) Western Canon and the artists Kanye (errr TIDAL blogger) is not mentioning. So, while I both really admire Kanye’s courage to do what he feels he has to do to be seen, I also feel some kind of way about his lack of interest in making sure other Black artists are seen. I also think it’s a bad strategy. No matter how bad we are (“not bad meaning, but bad…”), we can’t take on white supremacy by ourselves.

But I don’t want to get too twisted up in feeding the pop culture monster and miss a chance to celebrate an artist I actually know who is here in Pittsburgh, among other places, directly taking on this question of Black visibility and that is Kilolo Luckett. Kilolo, invokes for me the memory of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), with the title of her  “By Any Means” Project (BAM),  opening in Pittsburgh this month with both an exhibit and symposium.“BAM seeks to address black artistic (in)visibility in Pittsburgh through a strategic convening of arts workers and stakeholders that will spark debate, constructive dialogue, and positive growth to our regional cultural institutions and visual arts community nationally and globally.”  BAM will feature an exhibit by an artist named Nathaniel Donnett opening April 22nd thru May 22nd at 709 Penn Ave, as well as a symposium to take place April 23rd in the Carnegie Lecture Hall from 10 am to 3 pm, with one of the talks being a panel on “Black Art Making in the 21st Century”. BAM is a project supported by Advancing Black Arts in its  “Advancing the Field” category, a funding initiative of The Pittsburgh Foundation and The Heinz Endowments. I worked with Kilolo in my capacity as Senior Program Officer for Arts & Culture with The Heinz Endowments. Looking forward her latest response to (in)visibility. I actually think a conversation between the two of them about art & (in)visibility would be fascinating.

 

Tam Joseph's "UK School Report"

No Colour Barred

I was in London to see  The Edge Fund two weeks ago for my work as a Program Officer for The Heinz Endowments (I’ve written about the Edge Fund before) and was taken by the fierce Isis Amlak, the chair of Edge, to this art exhibit No Colour Bar: Black British Art In Action at a place called the Guildhall Art Gallery. Now, I don’t always get amped upon hearing “We’re going to a museum” partly because of their general formality and I’ve resisted that part of the arts world since I was a youth, but largely because I associate it with a whiteness and class orientation that has left me feeling othered. So, sometimes the lights in my mind even dim nocolour,jpgas the generator slows preparing me to feel like an outsider to the style & context of the art. But even more so than the art, it’s actually many museums themselves that send an “othering” message as I approach. And, according to the headlines of the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2015 publication on arts participation, as a person of African descent, as a man, and as an American, I am probably pretty typical in this way. African Americans visit museums in numbers much lower than our numbers in general pop and we are even less likely to be on the curatorial staff. To complete the picture, men attend in lower rates than women and Americans are thought to be going less and less. Great. I am average.

But “no colour bar” was different. I got all wrapped into so much of the show, including a recreation of the Walter Rodney Bookstore, and this artist, Keith Piper, who I learned was at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University teaching from 2000-2003. After seeing his work, I went home to read about him and then watched a 30 minute video he produced

TamJoseph

Tam Joseph’s “UK School Report”

called Pathways to the 1980s about the Black Art Group 1979-1984. Piper had this one video/photographic piece, “Go West Young Man” simulating his father talking to him that I had to get right up on to explore whether my own father wanted me to understand this message. Then there was this painting from Tam Joseph called “UK School Report” that perfectly sums up what “good” Black boys are supposed to look like.  We should be ashamed that so many beautiful, intelligent Black boys that look the like picture of the Black boy on the right continue to meet the standard of “Needs Surveillance” from white controlled structures of power.

I would not be thinking about my relationship to museums were it not for the work of a number of dope Pittsburgh & non-Pittsburgh cultural instigators. For the last year or so, Kilolo Luckett, D.S. Kinsel & BOOM Concepts (a project supported in part by The Heinz Endowments) have been pushing into my consciousness the need to rethink the relationship of Black people to museums and museums to Black people. Separately & together they’ve been hosting visits, silent dance parties and talks in Pittsburgh Museums & Libraries. In doing so I hear “What public cultural spaces aren’t ours? What spaces shouldn’t welcome us?” Then this point was driven further home by this article in the NY Times article in November “Black Artists and the March into the Museum” Finally, this past week, my good colleague from the National Guild for Community Arts Education, Robyne Walker-Murphy, focused her monthly twitter chat #flychat featuring Ravon Ashley, Aleia Brown,& Stephanie Cunningham  on “#BlackGirlMagic on Museums” and had this super interesting dialogue in response to questions like “How do we make museums revolutionary spaces?” So, in what is the continued evolution of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, things are heating up for museums, which is exciting and good for museums and audiences. #NoColourBarred.