Thanksgiving Day and sickened and angry about the physical, cultural, economic violence being perpetrated by Energy Transfer Partners against the #StandingRock Sioux Tribe and the more than 300 Indigenous tribes and other peoples standing with them as they prevent the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Thinking about the organizing against DAPL in relation to the Hill District takes me to when the Hill District and folks like Ms. Alma Speed Fox organized to say “no further” in response to the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s forced removal of residents and businesses from the Lower Hill. The removal and redevelopment stopped and thank goodness, if it hadn’t been stopped I might not even be here writing this post. 50 years later the entire effort delivered almost nothing on its promises and had to be “fixed” by having its development rights essentially given to the Pittsburgh Penguins, so that they would not leave. About ten years later there’s still really no development on the Melody Tent site in the Lower Hill. To make a contribution to support the protesters, here is a link to support those at the Sacred Stone camp. They have been there since April. #NoDAPL
Digging this view coming down Wylie Ave. Bomani Howze was the person I knew who really campaigned to connect Wylie Ave to downtown for the Hill’s economic benefits. I hadn’t thought about the aesthetic benefits. The reports that this connection has now been made are greatly exaggerated , but the plans are to get it to Washington Place, so I am good with this first connection to Fullerton. I get a relaxing breath just going down this street. A piece of the Greater Hill District Master Plan that is coming to pass.
Glad I decided to walk to work and that the guy turning up Roberts didn’t run me over as I type on this phone! Just met Chef Hassan Davis, owner of Affordable Elegance Catering/Cafe/Bakery who has opened up a pop up cafe in conjunction with the Hill Community Development Corporation’s business incubator program. Affordable Elegance has sandwiches and pastries available three days a week in the storefront through November 9th. You can find him 9-4, Monday, Wednesday & Friday in the Hill CDC building, 2015 Centre Ave. Sooooooo beautiful. Mr. Davis is now looking at spaces to open up a full service cafe, catering business with an accompanying banquet hall and space for music. And the icing on the cake? Born Hill Disticter feeding the culture. Shouts to the Hill CDC for its partnership with Mr Davis and shouts to Mr. Davis for adding this and his commitment to the neighborhood. Super dope.
To reach Affordable Elegance, email firstname.lastname@example.org or give a call to 412.224.0653.
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
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…
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.
The Black Panther Greens were a big pretty hit, so in the spirit of Ujima, to build and maintain our community together and to make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems own to solve them together, here is another dish for folks with the problem of looking to have another vegan cooking trick in their culinary bag–Bonnie’s Red Curry Vegetables (pronounced Ve-je-tah-bulls) over Brown Rice named after …my wife, Bonnie! Curries are a pretty easy and flexible dish, particularly when you use curry powder or paste, in that you can use the base in many, many ways i.e. chicken, shrimp, lamb, different vegetables & tofu, etc. so you can change this up pretty easily. This recipe makes the curry from scratch, so it requires a little more preparation, if you don’t already have all the spices. This recipe’s selection of vegetables really worked well and were the choice of Bonnie. However, as I said above, once you have the base of spices, onions and garlic, anything else can follow.
1 good sized tomato, chopped
1 good sized yellow onion, diced
3 clumps of garlic from a jar or 8-10 cloves
2 carrots, diced
1 sweet potato, diced
2 red skinned potatoes, diced
1 red pepper diced
2 shakes of a bag of peas
1 lb of spinach, use whole leaves
1 can of coconut milk
1/4 tsp of cayenne
1 tbs of cumin
2 tsps of chili powder
2-3 tsps of coriander
1 tbs of turmeric
1 tbs of paprika
3 tbs of olive oil
1 1/2 cups of brown rice
Cook onions and garlic in olive oil for 5 minutes or so and then add spices and cook for another couple of minutes. Don’t put the heat to high or you’ll burn the garlic. Then add the rest of the vegetables and cook for 15-20 minutes and then add coconut milk and cook for another 30-40 minutes on a medium heat & until they are level of softness you like. (My kids have never liked their vegetables too crunchy. Of course this would be healthier, but it’s all vegetables already, so you’re already kind of winning.) Meanwhile, boil the brown rice with a couple pinches of salt and cook it for 45 minutes. I haven’t cooked with brown rice for a while and I forgot how much better brown rice keeps itself as separate kernels, rather than merging into one pretty sticky rice clump. When the curry is ready, spoon it over the rice and serve.
Ok, so there’s another vegan dish you can bring to a Kwanzaa event or make for your own Kwanzaa event at home or make anytime during the year. As I said before, once you get a hang of the curry base, you can curry anything!
Shootings as an ongoing epidemic and the ravaged lives it leaves in its wake, continues to be a festering, untreated, disease in the Hill District. Despite the fact that the Surgeon General has declared gun violence a public health issue, and Pittsburgh, like almost all American cities, continues to have an epidemic of gun violence in predominantly African American neighborhoods, there is no mention in the Health Department section of the 2016 Comprehensive Fiscal Plan proposed by County Executive, Rich Fitzgerald, of preventing gun violence. Homicide is the leading cause of death for African American men and boys 15-34 and that doesn’t even begin to describe the trauma, and mental health, economic, educational destruction it is wreaking. And. There. Is. No. Mention. Of. Preventing. Gun. Violence. However, this is what is in the budget.
- Allegheny County Jail-$75,933,931
- Shuman Center-$10,514,615
- Public Defender-$9,572,773
- Juvenile Court Placement-$32,787,748
The Health Department’s budget is $17,790,632. Ice Cube’s character Dough Boy said in “Boys in the Hood” –“Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.” Of course Dough Boy knew what the budget makes explicit, they don’t care. Our communities do, though, deeply, and that needs to show up in the budget.
This past Sunday I was able to catch the second half of a talk given by an artist named Rick Lowe at the Open Engagment Conference held here this past weekend. Mr. Lowe’s conversation was about his work around the country employing art as social change and his twenty year work called Project Row Houses (PRH). I’ve heard great things about Rick Lowe for a long time and particularly wanted to get some ideas and inspiration that could go into the Hill District Arts Plan. However, I would’ve stayed in the family Sunday space and wouldn’t have made it if not for dope, new arts directer of the Hermera Foundation, Tatiana Hernandez checking on me, so thanks Tatiana!
I have never been to PRH and have only met Rick Lowe once and so this post should not be seen as anything like an authoritative account on that work. We actually have artists in Pittsburgh like Alisha Wormsley who have worked with PRH and so look them up for a deeper Pittsburgher understanding.
In my case I have heard more of the excitement around the work than really know it (Rick Lowe won a $250,000 Heinz Award, somewhat akin to the MacArthur “Genius” Award), but I do know that he has done an incredible job attracting resources for art to the 3rd Ward of Houston, TX and I love the mission statement that talks of employing African American culture in the development of the neighborhood. That’s right in line with Hill Master Plan’s 1st principle “Build Upon The African American Cultural Legacy”. So, I am feeling that for sure. Shouts also to Kilolo Lucket who is working with Alisha on implementing an interpretation of Lowe’s ideas in Homewood in a project supported by the Advancing Black Arts Initiative.
I left the talk inspired, but it wasn’t all simply “rah rah Project Row Houses” and, much to his credit, Lowe wasn’t looking to convey this message and I appreciated this as well. There were some obvious tensions that Mr. Lowe is wrestling with around art, funders, developers and justice in the ALAANA (African, Latino, Asian, Arab and Native American) communities he is often working in and a couple times he expressed concern that his work could become a pawn in the hands of developers. There was actually this very interesting moment when Lowe was talking of art and revolution and he mentioned being criticized as a college student by activists further on the left for not being revolutionary enough as he was discussing the need for artists to continue to use the word revolution in their work. In this vein, Lowe ended the talk defining revolution as the “continual empowerment of the powerless” and encouraging the audience to continue to also use the words justice in their art work in communities. Here I didn’t agree. Can we turn revolution into a word that could co-exist inside of an oppressive state and economic system and never have to confront it? Is that just taking artistic license or co-opting the word to be something less threatening? I left thinking we have to add “capitalism” to the list of words we can talk about.
However, I don’t want to leave this post on that note because Lowe has accomplished so much of what he has imagined and there is a lot we could learn for the Hill District and the work we are doing on the arts plan. One of things he said that I dug the most was how he has looked for ways to pay community members for work that consultants would normally get paid to do in his residencies
as well as his stories of how PRH has created other avenues for community members to realize dreams inside of the 3rd Ward. I like this because its the idea that art should develop community & community members, rather than be used as a tactic to draw outside capital and increase the dollars that developers can get for selling property in the neighborhood. This, again, is raises the question of what and who is community development really developing? I say this because as someone who is paying a mortgage on two homes in the Hill, increasing the property value of our homes happens not to be our family’s first priority and yet we represent a population supposedly community development orgs and city governments want –professional class African Americans. Not having housing value as a first priority is unlike city government and city fathers /mothers which are much more narrowly focused on the property taxes of neighborhood, particularly African American neighborhoods with a lot of vacant property. Safety, enjoyment, a sense of community, things to do for my children. Those things matter more to me.
So, how do we take these ideas of community development actually developing community into the art plan? A couple of nights ago Bonnie and I spent part of the evening working on the next step of the the planning process: artist focus groups. I won’t reveal the questions here because the streets is watching (of course they’re absolutely not watching, but apparently good focus group practice is to let the questions be responded to spontaneously), but I note from the PRH website that the idea came from a vision of artists, so I am starting to get excited about what could come out of these conversations. Not thinking we need to “replicate” PRH, but rather be inspired by it and create something that makes sense in our own space and time. For example, what would a mission focused on providing a voice and platform for Hill District artists look like in action? How might that deal with issues of justice, power, racism, markets and capitalism? What else might be needed? What other visions might folks have for art and culture in the Hill? We’ll learn more next Tuesday at the Hill District artist focus group meeting starting at 6 pm. If you know folks who are Hill District artists please ask them to come out and for more information please call 412.697.4692 or email at email@example.com.