The Blues Music Awards: A Funky Family Reunion

click to enlarge William Bell and Bobby Rush

  • William Bell and Bobby Rush

The Blues Foundation’s 38th Annual Blues Music Awards (BMA’s) were held Thursday night at a packed Cook Convention Center, and for those few hours, a kind of blues utopia materialized in downtown Memphis. First and foremost, it was a utopia for blues fans of all stripes, with performances by luminaries old and new keeping everyone moving and “rattling their jewelry” at the gala event. But it was a utopia as well for the performers and others in this niche of the music industry, coming together to renew old friendships, forge new ones, and see the once-humble world of blues entertainment exploding before their eyes. Paradoxically, and perhaps due to the blues’ homespun values, the community has lost none of it’s personal quality even as the industry of the blues has grown.

“It’s the biggest night in blues. We have two Grammy award winners, Fantastic Negrito and Bobby Rush, and they presented together,” explained Blues Foundation president Barbara Newman, who noted that the personal quality of the gathering remained intact. “It’s all about relationship-building. It’s a big reunion. And everybody’s looking out for everybody else. All the nominees want to win, but they’re really happy for their friends if they don’t.” Having headed the organization for less than two years, she’s made it her goal to reach beyond the established community. “The blues world knew about the Blues Foundation, but people that love the blues, but aren’t necessarily entrenched in the blues, didn’t know us, and we’re working to get them to know who we are. We’re seeing a lot more excitement and energy. Our social media has popped. There’s been huge growth there.”

Highlights of the night included a soulful set by Betty Lavette, who fondly recalled recording one of her hits here in Memphis forty-eight years ago, and a bristling performance by longtime Muddy Waters sidekick John Primer. Primer delivered the most gripping solos of the night, playing bottleneck slide in frenzied, coruscating sheets of sound, invoking the early Chicago scene one minute, quoting the Star Spangled Banner in the next. Pausing between numbers, he noted, “You know, I won one of these trophies last year. But I’ll be so happy when someone else wins. I don’t need five or six trophies. Let these young people win some and keep the blues alive.”

And while many young talents were recognized last night, the royalty of the evening was clearly Bobby Rush, fresh off his recent Grammy win for Best Traditional Blues Album. At the BMA’s, not only did his Porcupine Meat win Album of the Year, his fifty-year career retrospective on Omnivore Recordings, Chicken Heads, won Historical Album of the Year. “It makes me feel old!” quipped Rush. “But it’s a blessing to get old. You put your mark on a wheel and you roll it down a hill, and your mark come back to you.”

Musing on the four disc set, Rush noted, “to have a CD out with this many records, you have to be blessed enough to have that many masters. Because the masters that I have, I own. Not many artists, especially black artists, own their own masters.” Was this due to his business smarts at the time? “Now I think it’s smart. But I was blessed, because I think what happened was, they counted me out, ‘cos I was just a little blues guy, would never amount to anything. ‘Let him have it, he’s not gonna do anything with it.’ And all of a sudden I get 80 years old, and I have a valuable piece of property.” Rush hinted at more retrospectives to come. “That’s not even about half of it. I probably have another 120 songs in the can,” he said before adding, with his eye on the future, “My motto is, ‘I must do all I can while I can.’ The best song never been sung yet.”

For a complete list of winners and other information, go to https://blues.org/blues-music-awards/

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Scarberia redacted: Catherine Hernandez’s novel brings a spotlight to a Toronto neighbourhood often left in …

Scarborough
By Catherine Hernandez
Arsenal Pulp Press
264 pp; $17.95

Scarberia. Having been born and raised in the generally lower-income east-end Toronto neighbourhood, this is how my friends and I have always referred to Scarborough, stamping it with the same doom and gloom our central and west-end neighbours did. For so many of us, it is a place to escape, to grow out of, the small town to the city’s bright lights. For others, it’s home, period. Often because, while something bigger may be our destination, for our immigrant parents, Scarborough was the destination.

This is a place established by the brown and black working class and a multicultural artistic community, proudly held up even while disregarded by the rest of Toronto. There is an authenticity to it, one well captured by activist and writer Catherine Hernandez in her new novel, titled – what else – Scarborough. It’s unusual to read about the streets I’ve been raised on, the parks where I used to play, the roads I still drive down now. Because for many Scarberians, this is a story never told and often considered not worth telling, and one that makes me want to relinquish that Scarberia moniker once and for all.

The novel follows the interconnected stories of three children living around the Kingston/Galloway area, each with their own battles. There is Bing, who is struggling with his sexual identity and his father’s mental illness; Laura, who has bounced from her mother to her unstable, neglectful father’s care; and Sylvie, who spends her days with her family in a shelter.

The three, along with their parents, build a community in their Scarborough school, where they are brought together by Hina, a literacy program coordinator who makes it her mission to not only better these children’s language skills, but to offer a place of refuge and safety in an environment where drugs, crime, poverty and racism run rampant.

The way Hernandez refers to the suburban non-white experience, layered by class difference, makes Scarborough not only a topical read, but an evergreen one. Victor, a young black artist who is beloved in the community, at one point recalls being ostracized (even by his own neighbours) after he is admonished by police for painting a mural for which he was given a grant. His fear is palpable in Hernandez’s writing: “I was told by so many, and trained by so many to protect myself, that the act of stiffening in the presence of hatred toward black men became, and still is, as routine as putting on a shoe. Rabbit ears through the loop. Pull the laces.”

Similarly, Hina associates the way one white parent looks at her hijab – venom in his eyes and words as he drags his daughter away from a moment of affection between teacher and student – to a time she was laying on a hospital bed for an emergency appendectomy. The foreboding and fear is painfully familiar. She thinks, “Something about it made me remember my subconscious understanding that I was being cut open. I was being dissected. Then I was being sewn up, with something missing inside. Something about that moment. It made me remember the scalpels. The bright lights. The blood.”

It’s the plight of the other, alive in everyday conversation, in everyday contempt, even within her own community.

But Hina serves as a caregiver, and there is a keen, incredibly moving familiarity in the way the novel’s mothers and mother-figures love their children – something I associate with my own, but thanks to Hernandez, now see as the unique touch of the immigrant mother: the soft caressing, the arms a wrap-around “fence,” “fierce kisses” that are “more a smell than a smooch.”

After being harshly bullied by his schoolmates, Bing’s mother holds him tight, a barrier from the outside world. He repeats to himself the mantra her arms remind him of: “I am loved. I will be loved. I am loved. I will be loved. I am perfect just the way I am. … I practically suffocated under her loving grasp, but I dared not escape. … I languished in the sheer size of me. I was forced to rejoice in every fingernail, every hair on my head, the dimples on my cheek.”

This rare intimacy is strong in Hernandez’s dedication to a child she once taught in a Scarborough community centre when she was only 15 and the child was four. “Wherever you are, I hope you are safe,” she writes, a notion that lingers throughout the book, not only a message to outsiders of what it means to live in this neighbourhood, but that we are in it together. It’s sentimental, but I couldn’t help but feel profoundly moved in these small moments. We are a community that is not often lent a megaphone, falling off at the edge of the city, but one that is very much alive, through art, music, food and family. We are more than what makes the 6 p.m. news.

As a story that touches on problems accustomed to a neighbourhood plagued by its poverty, however, at times Scarborough verges on after-school special, a Degrassi for the more troubled set. But the melodrama hinges on the interplay between its three sets of young eyes – elementary school children who don’t know any better, but are beginning to discover that their lives are not quite as privileged as some of their classmates’ and those they see on TV. It’s a heartbreaking realization to read as it unwraps, but it’s a worthy reminder that there are many versions of one community and this is just a spotlight onto one rarely seen.

From the Rouge Hill waterfront via the 54 bus route, to the little strip mall on Lawson and Centennial to the National Thrift on Lawrence and Kingston, to the mural on the Warden Station underpass (Jamaican patty in hand), this is a town coloured by its people, brutal when it’s rough, comfortably home when it feels like it or when it doesn’t. And this is a story on the reckoning of privilege and the acceptance of difference. Simply put, it’s a lot.

As one character reminisces while working at a family-owned restaurant serving dishes from back home, “People here want home. They want home because it is so darn cold outside, and all they want is their mom and dad or kids back where it’s warm. And green. They want it how it is back home. Looks ugly and tastes pretty. Simple. Served with a big spoon on a big plate. No fuss. No thinking about texture and height and taste journey or whatever. They just want home.”

Because if Scarborough is anything, it’s an amalgamation of culture, connected by families who have immigrated from warmer climates with spicier palates, who have left behind their own parents and siblings and friends to find a better place for their children. And in Toronto, that place is Scarborough – a home away from home.




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RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Vicenza comes alive with JAZZ

Uri Caine performs at the Teatro Olimpico, Olympic Theater, during Jazz Festival 2014 in Vicenza. The city has cultivated its jazz tradition over a period of more than 20 years and is now home to premier annual concerts.
1 / 1 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Uri Caine performs at the Teatro Olimpico, Olympic Theater, during Jazz Festival 2014 in Vicenza. The city has cultivated its jazz tradition over a period of more than 20 years and is now home to premier annual concerts. (Photo Credit: Cesare Greselin, Contributor) VIEW ORIGINAL

VICENZA, Italy — Vicenza comes alive with jazz every year in May and has done so for the last 22 years.

When it started, Vicenza was not a town with a tradition of jazz like some others in the Veneto area, so it had a slow but significant start.

The first to put down the foundation of jazz in Vicenza was “Perigeo,” a progressive jazz group of the ’80s. The jazz lover had to wait until 1983 when Italian musicians like Enrico Rava, Roberto Gatto, Dado Moroni and Paolo Fresu started performing at the Astra Theater. Then, in 1989, came Herbie Hancock at the Palasport.

Later, at the Totem Club, there were guests such as Joe Lovano, The Oregon, and Michel Petrucciani. With the help of the club’s owner, Bill Evans and Steve Coleman were brought into the square. Jazz came to Vicenza through the official main door to the oldest indoor theater in the world, Teatro Olimpico (Olympic Theater), with “Rava L’Opera Va” with Rava and his band with the orchestra of L’Olimpico. One year later, in 1995, Michel Petrucciani performed with the orchestra to enormous success. Now Vicenza was mature for jazz.

For the city to host a real jazz festival, help was still needed. Francesca Lazzari of the department of culture, with Riccardo Brazzale as a collaborator, and a young entrepreneur by the name of Luca Trivellato started to make things happen with the “New Conversation.” Inspiration for the title came from a Bill Evans recording called “Conversations with Myself.” The idea was born that musicians like Paul Bley could come to the Olympic Theater and, with other musicians and their instruments, they could converse. It started as a weekend festival in 1997 but, little by little, it started to grow. The following year, the festival started on Monday and finished on Sunday.

Jazz flourished in Vicenza, and the music started to be played in bars, in the square, and just about on every corner in the city center, and jazz establishments started to open in the city. Today, visitors hear jazz not only during festival time, but also year-round.

This year’s festival, Vicenza Jazz 2017, starts today, May 12, and runs through May 21.
A few highlights of the festival are as follows: a free concert of “La Notte della Taranta” will take place in Piazza dei Signori May 13. The Black Art Jazz Collective will be on stage May 14 at the Community Theater, Teatro Comunale. The Chris Potter Quartet performs at that same location May 15, and American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater of Memphis will sing the blues there on May 17. On May 19, Jacob Collier, a pupil of Quincy Jones, will perform.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba will be at the Olympic Theater May 16. These are just a few of many performances. To get the full schedule, check out the website; www.vicenzajazz.it.

See you there!

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Mental Health in the African American Community: Talk or Taboo?

A person’s mental well-being is just as important to their health as their physical and spiritual well-being, and African-Americans may be more likely to face mental illness.

A study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health revealed that African-Americans are up to 20 percent more susceptible to mental illness. So why do so many African-Americans neglect their mental health?  

One of the barriers to mental health treatment is the historical mistrust the Black community has of health professionals, and the misdiagnosis of mental illness is still more prevalent among African Americans. African American women who suffer physical symptoms related to mental health problems, particularly depression, often are treated for the physical ailment and never the mental problem, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.

Similarly, African American men are sometimes misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia when they may actually have a mood disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder, also known as PTSD. The Atlanta Black Star reported in 2015 that PTSD has been on the rise in African-American communities due to the increase of racial violence nationwide and daily exposure to oppression in our neighborhoods.

Another barrier to care is the stigma and myths surrounding those with mental illness, especially in the Christian faith. Research has shown that many African Americans rely on faith and family during emotional distress, rather than seeking help from a mental health professional. This stigma often affects older members of the community, as the younger generation does not feel as embarrassed when seeking professional help.

In addition, many African-Americans lack health insurance which provides adequate mental health coverage. According to current statistics from countyhealthranking.org, which tracks health statistics nationwide, 13 percent of Marylanders under the age of 65 are uninsured. This number could increase if the American Healthcare Act (AHCA) is signed into law; the AHCA would give health insurance companies the right to increase premiums for enrollees needing mental health and addiction services.  

However, according to that database, services for mental health providers are abundant in Maryland, with 1 provider for every 490 residents; in contrast to the national average where there is only one primary care provider for every 1,130 residents. In Maryland, the lack of mental health resources is less an issue than the lack of health insurance access.

Increasing attention is being brought to mental health disparities within the African American community, with celebrities such as Kanye West and Kid Cudi publicly discussing their mental illnesses. African American pop culture has also brought a new awareness to the issue; for example, a recent episode of The Carmichael Show featured a character dealing with depression.

Those struggling and looking for help in Baltimore should call the city’s 24-hour mental help and substance abuse information and referral line at (410) 433-5175.

Country singer Darius Rucker is unrecognizable on Undercover Boss

Darius Rucker on Undercover Boss

Darius Rucker looks very different on Undercover Boss

This week on Undercover Boss, country singer Darius Rucker puts on an elaborate disguise as he seeks out new talent.

Rucker had six top 40 hits with his rock band Hootie & the Blowfish and then went on to release an R&B album, before moving to the country genre.

Rucker undergoes a big transformatation

Rucker undergoes a big transformatation

His 2008 album Learn to Live spawned several singles that made the number one spot on the Hot Country Songs chart, the first black artist to manage this since 1983.


He continued this success by being the first black artist to win the New Artist Award from the CMA and released a second hit album in 2010.

He’s currently working on what will be his fifth album in the country genre, but he is also keen to find new talent.

Let the transformation begin. Here’s a sneak peek at Friday’s Celebrity Boss with country music superstar Darius Rucker.

Posted by Undercover Boss on Wednesday, May 10, 2017

To this end he goes in the makeup chair and undergoes a transformation that makes him unrecognizable with a wig and prosthetics.

He then runs an open mic evening in search of some new singers and is impressed with what he sees.

Rucker also spends some time working as a roadie and takes a walk down Austin’s Sixth Street, where he is on the look out for street musicians with that something special.

Darius Rucker goes on a undercover journey to discover the next great musical acts in this Celebrity Boss sneak peek.

Posted by Undercover Boss on Thursday, May 11, 2017

Undercover Boss airs Fridays at 8/7c on CBS.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Prince’s Unreleased Album | Puppet Master Michael Curry And The Oregon Symphony | Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Immigrant Medea

We’re digging deep this week into all of your burning questions.

What does it take to craft gigantic puppets for Broadway? Does art history as we know it need a drastic makeover? And how exactly did a small record label in Vancouver, Washington, come across new music from Prince that has them in a battle with the Purple One’s estate?


Michael Curry directs the lead actress playing Persephone in an aerial ballet scene. The character is played by both a puppet and a live actress. 

Michael Curry directs the lead actress playing Persephone in an aerial ballet scene. The character is played by both a puppet and a live actress. 

Molly Solomon/OPB

Local Puppet Legend Michael Curry Conjures The Myth Of Persephone With The Oregon Symphony – 1:24

This weekend, the Oregon Symphony will wade into the wonderful world of puppets with a production of “Persephone” (May 13–15). For the first time, it’s collaborating with Michael Curry, the puppet master behind the animals in the Broadway production of “The Lion King,” as well as Olympic opening ceremonies and other massive events. OPB’s Molly Solomon takes us to Curry’s massive warehouse in Scappoose, Oregon, to see his magical operations.


Shaking Up The Classics At Oregon Shakespeare Festival – 3:30

For our money, the hottest ticket at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival this spring is a show with an ancient story: “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles,” which runs through July 6. It’s a retelling of Euripides’ classic tale of a princess witch who has followed her lover into exile in a foreign land. When he rejects her, she kills her own children in an act of vengeance. Adapted by the MacArthur-winning playwright Luis Alfaro, “Mojada” reforms the classic Greek tale into a story about Mexican immigrants trying to make it in Los Angeles.


From left to right: Khanh Doan, John San Nicolas, Michel Castillo, Madeleine Tran in "Talented Ones" at the Artists Repertory Theater. 

From left to right: Khanh Doan, John San Nicolas, Michel Castillo, Madeleine Tran in “Talented Ones” at the Artists Repertory Theater. 

Photo by Brud Giles

World Premiered Play Asks: Is The American Dream All It’s Cracked Up To Be? – 10:21

Seattle-based playwright Yussef El Guindi scandalized Portland, in a good way, with the world premiere of his play “Threesome” at Portland Center Stage in 2015. It’s about a Muslim couple’s failed attempt to invite a non-Muslim into their bed, but there’s a lot more going on in the show than pillow talk. El Guindi returns to the dynamics of a troubled immigrant couple with his new play, “The Talented Ones,” which is getting its world premiere at Portland’s Artists Repertory Theater through May 21. You can find El Guindi’s full conversation on Think Out Loud here.


David Staley and Gabriel Wilson are the duo behind RMA, an independent Vancouver-based record label that's trying to release Prince's latest album.

David Staley and Gabriel Wilson are the duo behind RMA, an independent Vancouver-based record label that’s trying to release Prince’s latest album.

Molly Solomon/OPB

How Did Vancouver Become The Center Of A Fight Over Prince’s Music? – 17:42

Last month, when a Minnesota judge halted the release of an album featuring six previously unreleased songs from the late artist Prince, something caught our eye. The record label in the middle of the legal battle was a largely unknown company from Vancouver, Washington, called Rogue Music Alliance. Before a federal judge halted its release, the EP, “Deliverance,” was the top selling pre-order on iTunes, with the single “Deliverance” hitting the No. 1 rock single spot.


The Fallen Heroes Of Comic Book Writer Chris Sebela – 23:16

Chris Sebela’s comic “Heartthrob” is the furthest thing from a romance novel. With art by Robert Wilson, “Heartthrob” tells the story of a woman who gets a heart transplant that not only saves her life but also throws her into a chaotic affair with the man who originally housed the heart — or at least his specter. Turns out he was a criminal and wants her to carry on some unfinished heists. Turns out, Sebela has a thing for heroes with flaws, from the disgraced snowboard at the center of his hit graphic novel “High Crimes,” to the out-of-work movie monsters in “Screamland.”


opbmusic

opbmusic Session With Kelli Schaefer – 32:27

Portland songwriter Kelli Schaefer crafts ghostly rock songs that explore themes of capitalism and mortality — songs that are spurred by a big, dark voice that’s drawn comparisons to PJ Harvey. Her new album, “No Identity,” is a loosely-organized concept album following a family’s  run-ins with tragedy and the mundane. Schaefer will perform at Mississippi Studios on May 16. Want a taste? Check out videos of her opbmusic session. 


Why Everything You Need To Know You Did NOT Learn In Art History – 39:10

A little while ago, we had on the writer, artist and art activist Jennifer Rabin to talk about two projects she’s behind: Artists Resist and Art Passport PDX. (You can hear more about them here — and you still have several weeks to win $1,600 worth of artwork!) But the original reason we contacted her was to talk about an article she wrote for “Willamette Week” about the “Constructing Identities” exhibition at the Portland Art Museum. She wrote that her education in art history left her woefully unprepared to write about a show by African-American artists — or any underrepresented artist for that matter. So for our latest installment in our “What Are You Looking At?” series, we invited her to walk through the show with us.

Constructing Identities” is up through June 18, and there’re so many opportunities to learn about the work in it, from a seminar about black womanhood on May 14 to a social justice festival on May 27 and a film series on Black Cinema at the NW Film Center until June 11.  


Judge Nicole Pietrantoni talks with gallery visitors and artists at Pendleton Center for the Arts Open Regional Show.

Judge Nicole Pietrantoni talks with gallery visitors and artists at Pendleton Center for the Arts Open Regional Show.

April Baer/OPB

Pendleton Center for the Arts Celebrates Local Work – 48:32

Often art is about seeing people and experiences not like your own. Then there’s the show that reads like a neighborhood block party, where everyone knows everyone. Pendleton Center for the Arts’ Open Regional show (up through June 23) is that kind of party. Every artist around Umatilla County is welcome to submit. We talk to a number of artists about their pieces, from an artist who painted a TV pink to a woman who painted a portrait of her daughter with her pet cat.

More State of Wonder

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Is Political Art the Only Art That Matters Now?

The protests started almost immediately after the presidential election. An artist named Annette Lemieux emailed the Whitney Museum and asked that her installation Left Right Left Right — a series of life-size photographs of raised fists turned into protest signs — be turned upside down. The artist Jonathan Horowitz and some friends started anInstagram feed called @dear_ivanka, attempting to directly appeal to the soon-to-be First Daughter and shame her into pushing her father away from the Bannonite brink. The artist Richard Prince refunded her money for a piece that she bought, then put out a statement that was intended to de-authenticate it.

Sam Durant’s light-box sculpture, which read END WHITE SUPREMACY, was hoisted onto the façade of Paula Cooper Gallery in Chelsea (where it first appeared in the remarkably different context of Obama’s election in 2008), and another edition of it was set up by the gallery Blum & Poe to greet visitors at the Miami Beach Convention Center for Art Basel the first weekend of December, where the usual luxury-brand-fueled jet-set bacchanal seemed a bit muted and anxious and Nadya Tolokonnikova, founder of Pussy Riot, delivered a lecture by the pool at the Nautilus hotel on the dangers of authoritarianism.

Image
Sam Durant, End White Supremacy, 2008. Photo: EPW Studio/Sam Durant/Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

As the inauguration approached, the art world’s desire to make a statement increased. Many museums across the country went free on January 20, which was seen as a more productive response than shutting down, as a movement called J20 Art Strike called for, and the Whitney did a day of programs in partnership with the group Occupy Museums. The Guggenheim planted a Yoko Ono Wish Tree on the sidewalk out front, letting passersby record their hopes — perhaps that peace and tolerance might prevail. A collective of artists started a platform called 2 Hours a Week, which connects people with political actions they can take while still holding down their jobs. Gallerist Carol Greene teamed up with artist Rachel Harrison to rent buses to bring a group to the Women’s March, armed with social-media-friendly signage.

And it hasn’t let up. Each Trump proclamation has seemed to inspire a new round of agitation and action. When the president announced the first iteration of his ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, Davis Museum at Wellesley College covered or removed about 120 works that had been either made or donated by an immigrant. The Museum of Modern Art hung work from its collection by artists who come from three of the excluded nations.

Establishment Chelsea gallerist Andrea Rosen decided to shut down her gallery, in part to focus on political activities. The anti-Establishment (or, anyway, far less established) Christopher Stout Gallery in Bushwick, which specialized in “feminist, queer, anti-Establishment, hyperaggressive, mystic and/or joyously sexual” art, rebranded itself the ADO (Art During the Occupation) Project. Awol Erizku, the photographer best known for having taken Beyoncé’s maternity portrait, just announced his “anti-Trump” art show “Make America Great Again,” at which he will sell baseball caps featuring that slogan superimposed on the image of a black panther (“to have something affordable in the show”). And the Public Art Fund in New York commissioned Ai Weiwei for a citywide proposition titled, with pointed irony, “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors.”

For the first 100 days of the administration, MoMA PS1 has given over a gallery to “For Freedoms,” a collaboration by the artists Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman for which they set up a super-PAC. The name was inspired by Norman Rockwell’s paintings of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech in 1941 and sought to co-opt the image of a simpler age, as Trump had. Last year, the super-PAC put up a billboard in Pearl, Mississippi, with the words MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN superimposed on the famous 1965 photo of civil-rights protesters on the bridge in Selma, Alabama, moments before state troopers unleashed tear gas and beat them with billy clubs.

The billboard is on display at PS1, its meaning having shifted after the election. Intensified. This happened often with artworks made in the run-up to the election; they just looked different afterward. Maurizio Cattelan’s solid-gold toilet, titled America, which was installed at the Guggenheim last September, suddenly felt spot-on. As did the punk-rock political caricatures in the Raymond Pettibon show at the New Museum. What might have been a quiet show of Alice Neel portraits of her multiethnic friends at David Zwirner became a rallying point of sorts for empathy. (See Cyrus, the Gentle Iranian.) The Dumbo nonprofit space Art in General’s eerie night-vision installation by the collective Postcommodity, whose members live and work near the U.S. border with Mexico, built around conversations the artists had with Border Patrol agents about how they use decoys to catch people trying to cross the border, now seems extra ominous.

Most prominent of all is the Whitney Biennial (in which both Postcommodity and Occupy Museums have pieces), which was skillfully planned to map the various cultural currents of the recent past as embodied in art. But in these highly charged times, it went from being almost universally well received for its political engagement to being the center of protests when an abstracted painting by the white artist Dana Schutz of the body of Emmett Till was condemned as an example of insensitive cultural appropriation. That reaction would have happened anyway, more than likely, but it ignited into something more rancorous (enough so to end up being discussed on The View) because, right now, the art world is on a perpetual boil. Whether this ideological high alert will produce good art is one question; whether the art will do any good is another.

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Dana Schutz, Open Casket, 2016. Photo: Bill Orcutt/Courtesy of the artist/Petzel Gallery, New York, and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin

“The left,” says the artist Marilyn Minter when we start talking about the Till controversy, “always eats its own.” We are at her studio in the West 30s. She’s invited over some members of the protest cell she’s a part of, Halt Action Group (which is behind @dear_ivanka), made up of members of the art world and those in its near orbit. While we’re waiting, one of her assistants finesses the design on her computer for a banner with the word RESIST emblazoned across it, for the upcoming Creative Time “Pledges of Allegiance” project, which asked artists to make banners expressing what they feel America stands for, or should. Another assistant sits at a table next to us painting one of Minter’s almost shockingly sincere commemorative plaques with Trump’s face embossed above the full text of his “grab them by the pussy” swordsman’s soliloquy in elegant gold type, like a historical marker for a Civil War battle on the side of a road.

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Halt Action Group, Trump Plaque, 2017. Photo: Courtesy of Marilyn Minter

Famous for her glittery, glamorously grotesque paintings and photographs of lips and eyes and shoes, Minter, at 68, has become one of the more beloved figures in the art world — a little bit Courtney Love and a little bit Auntie Mame. Her politics are passionate, generous, and of course very much of her generation. (For a while, in the 1990s, she was on the outs among certain feminist critics for being a bit too pornographic in her work, which at the time meant she was considered sexist.)

“I was born in Louisiana and grew up in Florida,” she explains. “I was radicalized because of civil rights.” She’s old enough to recall when her doctor wouldn’t give her birth-control pills because she wasn’t married — so she went to Planned Parenthood. Then, a couple of years back, she heard about the draconian new Texas and Ohio laws restricting access to abortion. The right to an abortion — she’d once had one herself — is something she remembered people not having. The idea that people might not, again, seemed inconceivable to her. And so she started fund-raising for the organization, getting other big artists (including “the boys” like Richard Prince) to donate pieces for auction. Among many things she finds unacceptable is Trump’s crusade against Planned Parenthood.

Her latest retrospective, “Pretty/Dirty,” opened the week before Election Day at the Brooklyn Museum. The show was to kick off that institution’s cavalcade of progressive programing called “A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism,” with the stated goal of “expanding feminism from the struggle for gender parity to embrace broader social-justice issues of tolerance, inclusion, and diversity.” It was timed to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, but it was supposed to be well timed in other ways, too: We were about to elect the first woman president!

After Trump won, the meaning of the “Year of Yes” became the “Fear of No.” Minter was contacted by a few friends whom she’d worked with on Planned Parenthood fund-raising, and soon an ad hoc group had formed. They decided to target Ivanka Trump, who had over the years studiously exfoliated her father’s vulgarity to establish herself as a hardworking, clean-living Manhattan heiress, earnest and anodyne enough to be friendly with Chelsea Clinton and concerned enough with her social position as a person of taste and enlightenment to collect art. They did a protest next to the Puck Building, which Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, had redeveloped as luxury housing, and launched @dear_ivanka. A Halt volunteer who is a psychotherapist helped fine-tune the group’s posts to push Ivanka’s buttons. The first one, with a picture of her in a red dress, read: “Dear Ivanka, I’m afraid of the swastikas spray painted on my park.”

Was all this maybe a bit too blunt, even juvenile? Possibly. But Ivanka, like her father, seems to want to be liked. “I know Dear Ivanka is working,” says Minter. “She’s not following me on Instagram anymore and she used to.”

The project got press (and 25,000 followers), and Minter and her friends began gathering other art-world pooh-bahs who wanted to be involved. They’re thinking of what they’ll do next. Horowitz has since left and started another anti-Trump Instagram feed, @dailytrumpet. The rest of Halt wants to sell the plaques in the Brooklyn Museum’s gift shop to raise money for more activities. There are plans to go national, with Halt L.A. and Halt Austin. “I don’t think I’m trying to reach the Trump supporters,” Minter tells me. “I think we’re trying to reach the 90 million people who didn’t vote. If we become the tea party from the left, we’re going to kill them.”

Gina Nanni, the prominent arts publicist, and artist Xaviera Simmons arrive at the studio. Both are Halt members.

“I remember making politically engaged art two, three years ago, and you were a little on the outs” among collectors, curators, and the chattering critic class, says Simmons. “And now you can’t get money in the door fast enough from the creative class.”

“Don’t you think that this election has changed everything for all of us?” Nanni asks. “I don’t look at fashion shows anymore. Who cares?”

“Art about art just isn’t working anymore for me,” says Minter.

“It’s not okay to just write a check. It’s all-out war,” says Nanni, who had been part of a different politically motivated arts collective, Downtown 4 Democracy, which in 2003 raised money to defeat George W. Bush. Many of the members were Howard Dean supporters (Nanni liked Bernie Sanders this time around). “Our goal was to get our cultural heroes involved, to get people off their butts. Lou Reed, Susan Sontag …” In other words, make politics cool again for the rigorously over it. “We did a lot of artists projects,” she says. “We got Marc Jacobs to do political T-shirts. I remember a New York Times reporter called me — someone not very friendly — predicting Marc Jacobs’s demise for doing this. But the opposite happened. People were lined up down the block. People just didn’t know what to do then: Nobody knew how to participate. You were just arguing over the dinner table.”

“What do you guys think of the people who say that this was the best thing that’s happened to left?” asks Simmons. “It woke us up.”

“Madonna said that,” Minter points out, at an event she did at the Brooklyn Museum, the day before the inauguration (Minter had invited her). “Well, the resistance is working. That must give you some hope.”

It’s not that the art world had been asleep, exactly. Groups like Occupy Museums tried to call people’s attention to a supposedly liberal system’s hypocritical inequities: its class and race problems, its being in the general service of its plutocratic and corporate patrons, however well meaning those patrons may be. But the Obama years were very good ones for contemporary art, and not always, if you thought about it too hard, for the best reasons. Maybe even for some of the reasons that Trump and the other populists and neo-nationalists point to as justifying their rise. As the global rich got more globally rich, they bellied up to contemporary art’s movable feast. Prices went up, as did attendance at an expanding and well-publicized global itinerary of art fairs, biennials, and museums, many of them privately owned, often in alliance with luxury brands. Kanye West and Lady Gaga and, yes, Madonna wanted to be involved. The aesthetic or intellectual novelty and subversiveness of the art itself often became muted by its plush setting, its intentions hard to discern while downing Ruinart Champagne from the cart that plied the aisles of Art Basel in Miami Beach.

None of this is new: Most artists, like most of us, want and enjoy success and like to live well. But did the boom ruin art’s ability to have moral authority? Can you resist while also being on the VIP list? As one dealer of multimillion-dollar art put it to me, “The art world just doesn’t feel as relevant. They don’t go to the places that voted for him. Lena Dunham doesn’t know these people. Posting on Instagram isn’t resistance; it just means that you pose as resistance.”

That’s the danger — that the art feels like posturing more than protest. “We know how trendy the art world is,” Hank Willis Thomas says. “And this is just on trend. After 15 years of doing art in one way, it’s great to be on trend. What happens when the trend is over is the question.”

There is a larger conceptual problem for artists protesting Trump, which is how to actually go about effectively doing it. What can the artists themselves do to go up against the policies of a president who is, in many ways, a kind of performance artist himself? How do the discontented, visionary weirdos muck with our reality when creating alternative realities is now the purview of our say-anything postmodern mad king? What do clever artists do when the world itself has become so darkly clever?

It doesn’t help that the fringe and the center seem to have switched places, that the person in the White House and his most noxious supporters have cast themselves as the true outsiders. Last October, Lucian Wintrich, a preppy provocateur who now has press credentials at the White House, put on what was billed as a pro-Trump art show in Chelsea called “#DaddyWillSaveUs: Make Art Great Again!,” featuring work by Milo Yiannopoulos and Martin Shkreli. It was boorish and desperate, but he had a point when he later told The New Yorker, in all seriousness, “Good art should be transgressive. These days, it seems, the best way to be transgressive is simply to be a white, male, proudly pro-American conservative.”

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Photo: Twitter/@hei_scott

The Whitney Biennial at first seemed like a precisely calibrated response to those white male conservatives (not that most of them would ever see it). The show had been conceived under the subtle assumption that Clinton would likely win, and yet its themes — racism, inequity, censorship — were even better suited to our current political moment. But then, on March 17, the first day the show opened to the public, an African-American artist named Parker Bright stood in front of Schutz’s painting with a handmade T-shirt reading BLACK DEATH SPECTACLE on the back. It was a statement perfectly suited to Instagram, and it was widely distributed. Soon after, another artist, Hannah Black, wrote an “open letter” on Facebook calling for Schutz’s painting to be taken down and destroyed, explaining: “It is not acceptable for a white person to transmute Black suffering into profit and fun.”

The internet — most of which had not had a chance to take in the biennial and, for that matter, never will — reacted as the internet does: marshaling preexisting worldviews and arguments with imperious take-a-side disdain. The New Republic published a much-circulated anti-Schutz perspective; Hyperallergic was more skeptical (“Hannah Black and company are placing themselves on the wrong side of history”); Whoopi Goldberg chimed in (against censorship) on The View. Kara Walker, on Instagram, took the long view (“The history of painting is full of graphic violence and narratives that don’t necessarily belong to the artist’s own life”). And the artist Chris Ofili checked in with The New Yorker (“Seeing a painting and talking about a painting are two different things. One should not confuse sharp eyes with a sharp tongue”), which ran along Calvin Tomkins profile of Schutz, who sounded a bit tentative and abashed about the whole episode: “I knew the risks going into this. What I didn’t realize was how bad it would look when seen out of context.”

The museum stood by the painting, although it acknowledged the controversy on the wall text. Mostly its curators pleaded with people to see it in the full sweep of depictions and concepts in the show, which is hardly one-note. On April 9, the Whitney’s director, Adam Weinberg, hosted a program to address the criticism and provide perspective. “Against the background of the current political climate,” Weinberg said in opening, “the exhibition touched a nerve.”

To say the least. The politics of the art world don’t always make sense to people not scrapping for intellectual cred as it is defined by the art world, and the situation is made more complicated by the ease of ricocheting commentary and the quick-to-arise mob moralisms of social media. But the worst outcome of the Schutz controversy would be if artists became afraid of that. As Thomas tells me, “I learned that you have to be willing to get your hands dirty if you really want to make an impact. You have to run the risk of being misinterpreted.”

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Paul Chan and Badlands Unlimited, New Proverbs (2017). Photo: Matthew Raviotta and Burke Battelle for Badlands Unlimited

In the circulating images of protest that have thronged social media since January, I’ve been particularly struck by the placards declaring GOD HATES IVANKA and FAGS HATE TRUMP, which took their graphical inspiration from those of the loathsome Westboro Baptist Church (known for protesting the funerals of soldiers and owning the URL “godhatesfags.com”). It turns out they were made by the artist Paul Chan and his small art-book publishing company, Badlands Unlimited.

I visit him and his crew at their offices in a walk-up on Rutgers Street, where Micaela Durand shows me a photo shoot they did of young people brandishing the signs. She explains the idea: “This is A Clockwork Orange, but with minorities taking the lead,” she says. “The whole purpose of the shoot is to inspire a type of new courage on the street. They’re kind of a look book to try to start a national campaign. To move the signs to the red states.”

It’s a refrain I heard a lot. Everyone in the art-“resistance” set is interested in doing something that could have an effect on the rest of the country, even those who joined up with the art circus precisely because they were running away from the dreary red state they were from. Chan was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Nebraska. He’s not new to politics, but usually his points are more oblique. In 2007, he worked with Creative Time to put on Waiting for Godot in the streets of New Orleans: “Two years after Katrina, everyone there was waiting for something,” he says. His exhibition at Greene Naftali, which closed April 15, included some of his “breezies” — ghostly comic-ominous sculptures animated by fans; some of them looked a bit like Klansmen.

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Paul Chan, Madonna With Childs, 2016. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

After the election, his mind turned to Westboro’s signage, which can seem so bizarrely and pointlessly vituperative as to read as parody in the same way Trump and his fans on Breitbart News can. It gave him an idea: Troll the trolls. “We thought: We were angry. It should be hate against hate. The Westboro are hateful motherfuckers. They are really savvy and hateful. And their visual design is so iconic.” He made the first signs for the Women’s March. Reactions were not uniformly positive. “They were a big hit,” Chan says. “People loved them and hated them in equal measure, basically. The liberals were the ones who really hated us.”

“They were like: ‘God doesn’t hate anyone,’ ” says Durand in a slight singsong.

“We had Evangelicals trolling us and leftists trolling us,” Chan says. “Which I think is a good sign. We’re doing something right.” He paused and reframed. “We’re not looking to make peace. We’re looking to make everyone else feel just as unsafe as we feel.”

Badlands has in its office a map of the country with pushpins in it: The idea is that the group will sell the posters in places like New York and Los Angeles, at artist-run bookstores, then use the profits to fund donations of the posters in the hinterlands. It keeps making more of them; the favorite at the moment is TRUMP LOVES RAPE. The artists are premiering the signs at different rallies.

“We hear a lot about how we shouldn’t only preach to the converted,” Chan says. But he also sees that the complacency of New York is only beginning to be shed. “Just because you are against homophobes doesn’t mean you will step up when someone is being bothered on the subway. What the converted need is more courage, and the people who voted for Trump need a little more fear.”

They send me on my way with a TRUMP LOVES RAPE poster, colored pink, yellow, and orange.

*This article appears in the April 17, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.

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‘This African American Life’ Book Signings

Hugh Price, former president and CEO of the National Urban League, is the author of This African American Life. He is holding book signing at the Sankofa Video Books & Café, 2714 Georgia Avenue NW, on May 15 at 6 p.m. and at Bus Boys and Poets, 2021 14th Street, NW, on May 17 at 6:30 p.m.

Hugh Price, former president and CEO of the National Urban League, and author of This African American Life. (Courtesy Photo and Image)

Toronto exhibit honours nearly 30 years of black photojournalists’ work

A protesting group of mostly black men, women and children carry signs that read “Fire police board” and “Stop police brutality.” The words “Don’t shoot, I’m black” are printed on a woman’s blouse. The lone white man in the group holds the hand of a young black girl marching alongside him. It is a solemn yet intense scene.

The photo telling the story was taken 38 years ago by Canadian photojournalist Jules Elder. The protesters were responding to the 1979 killing of Albert Johnson, a black Jamaican immigrant shot to death by Toronto police in his home.

Albert Johnson’s widow and children lead march in protest of his murder by Toronto police, 1980. Courtesy of artist, Jules Elder

Albert Johnson’s widow and children lead march in protest of his murder by Toronto police, 1980.

Courtesy of Jules Elder

This photo is also one of the works on showcase in a month-long exhibit in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood hosted by the Black Artists’ Networks Dialogue, also known as BAND. In the celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, BAND aims to acknowledge black Canadian photojournalists who have made remarkable contributions to documenting history throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The exhibit features works from Mr. Elder, Diane Liverpool, Al Peabody, Eddie Grant and James Russell.

Their photos tell stories about migrant workers coming into Canada in the 1960s; political outcries and protests throughout the 1970s and 80s; and visits from international statesmen such as former Jamaican prime minister Michael Manley and musicians, including Tina Turner and Gladys Knight.

Julie Crooks, curator of the photo exhibit, says the event is an effort to preserve and highlight an important aspect of Canadian history that is often disregarded.

“When I was thinking about the show, I was struck by the fact that most people don’t know who these photographers are,” Ms. Crooks said. “They worked for community and mainstream newspapers such as The Globe, the Star and the Sun. They also were committed to documenting the black community in moments of transition and intensity.”

Miss Black Ontario Contestants: Miss Oshawa, Miss Chatham and Ms. Agincourt, 1981.

Miss Black Ontario Contestants: Miss Oshawa, Miss Chatham and Ms. Agincourt, 1981.

Courtesy of Jim Russell

Jules Elder captured photos of turbulent relations between the police and the community in Toronto during the 1980s. As an editor at Share newspaper, Mr. Elder assisted in making it one of the largest black-owned publications in Canada.

“I thoroughly enjoyed working within the black community,” he said in an interview. “I think it is important for people to know that we have stories that deserve to be told so that generations to come will see and appreciate.”

Al Peabody worked as a journalist and photographer for Contrast, a black-owned community newspaper, and as a freelancer for The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star throughout the 1970s and 80s. Mr. Peabody captured images showing moments of pain and celebration in the black community.

“My imaging is solely a representation around where I live and the areas of interest to me,” he said. “The essence of photography is to record a slice of time in your life and pass it on so that younger people will be able to see where we have been and what we have seen.”

Diane Liverpool, the lone female photojournalist in the exhibit, worked throughout the 1970s and 80s in Toronto at Contrast. A Montreal native, Ms. Liverpool was one of the few black female photojournalists working in Toronto during that time.

A Jamaican teacher and her students visit to Contrast Newspaper, 1980.

A Jamaican teacher and her students visit Contrast Newspaper, 1980.

Courtesy of Diane Liverpool

“There were many barriers and obstacles in the field,” she said. “But I wanted to work for a black publication; that was my goal.”

The other photojournalists, Eddie Grant and Jim Russell, who both contributed to Contrast and other publications such as the Toronto Sun and Share, also produced works that were instrumental in amplifying the voices of black Canadians and other marginalized groups.

The exhibit continues until May 28 at BAND’s new location, 19 Brock Ave.

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The Lorraine Hansberry produces ‘Home,’ finds one

Tristan Cunningham (right) and Britney Frasier rehearse Lorraine Hansberry Theater’s “Home.” Photo: Paul Kuroda / Special To The Chronicle / online_yes

Photo: Paul Kuroda / Special To The Chronicle

Tristan Cunningham (right) and Britney Frasier rehearse Lorraine Hansberry Theater’s “Home.”

The story you typically hear about Lorraine Hansberry Theatre is that it’s struggling, with greatly reduced programming. Samm-Art Williams’ “Home,” which opened this weekend, is the only full production of a play the company is mounting by itself this year. “Every 28 Hours,” from this fall, was a co-production with many other theaters, and winter’s “Soulful Christmas,” an annual tradition, is a gospel concert.

Over the past decade, the company weathered a series of setbacks that would bring any theater to the brink of death. In 2008, it lost its space. It found another, but then its two founders, Stanley E. Williams and Quentin Easter, died within months of each other. When Steven Anthony Jones took over as artistic director in 2010, he inherited significant debt and realized the theater couldn’t afford that second space. “I learned a very hard lesson, and that is that you’ve got to feed that dog when he wants to be fed,” he says over the phone. “The rent is due every month whether you’re producing or not.”

But to assess the 36-year-old company today just by looking at its main-stage season neglects all its less-flashy accomplishments behind the scenes.

Above: The two late founders, Quentin Easter and Stanley Wil liams, at the old Lorraine Hansberry Theater on Sutter Street, 2007. Left: Artistic Director Steven Anthony Jones. Photo: Kurt Rogers, The Chronicle

Photo: Kurt Rogers, The Chronicle

Above: The two late founders, Quentin Easter and Stanley Wil liams, at the old Lorraine Hansberry Theater on Sutter Street, 2007. Left: Artistic Director Steven Anthony Jones.

Jones has been gradually stabilizing and rebuilding the company. It might not be returning to a full, five-show season any time soon, but “we’re out of debt,” he says. After years of nomadism, he’s found office space and a consistent venue in the African American Art and Culture Complex, which he can share with other companies, without shouldering a lease on his own. He’s recruited a board of directors that’s capable of fundraising and that’s governed by “a more traditional structure,” he says. This year, he’s produced 10 staged readings as part of the company’s Bringing the Art to the Audience series — so many that he keeps music stands (which hold scripts for readings) in his truck at all times. For 2017-18, he has a plan to hold steady, with three more full productions and a robust staged reading series, while hoping to grow his staff. He has two staffers who each “wear 15 hats, and the hats they don’t wear, I wear.”

For the present, “Home,” which Aldo Billingslea directs, testifies to the enduring importance of ethnic-specific theater. Williams’ mythic, poetic play about South Carolina orphan Cephus Miles (Myers Clark) was a hit on Broadway and garnered a 1980 Tony nomination. “You would think that a play like this would just have a long life and a lot of theaters would do it,” Jones says. “It’s three actors. It’s very simple.” He remembers that its Broadway set consisted of only four or five black crates. But “it’s like it fell off the table. It disappeared.”

Today, it’s no longer acceptable for a major mainstream theater company to program a whole season of works without any plays by people of color. Still, Billingslea says, “if the job of the theater is to hold a mirror up to society, you need to make sure that you’re able to see all facets.” It’s not enough, he says, to allow “the minority view in one show of the season … where all of the minorities will fight for that one play.”

Jones calls ethnic- and identity-specific theater companies “the conscience of the American theater,” dating back to Douglas Turner Ward’s 1966 New York Times essay “American Theater: For Whites Only?” in which the playwright and all-around thespian called for a black-led theater. Before that, Jones says, theater “interpreted all of us” — blacks and other minorities — “in ways we weren’t really crazy about,” whether that meant stereotyping or complete omission.

“That struggle continues,” Jones says. “We tell our stories the best. The Lorraine Hansberry is going to be the place where some young black writer might have the best chance to get their work read and perhaps done. We are all part of the American theater, and we simply make the American theater richer, stronger, more honest, and that’s always going to be the case.”

Jones decided to produce “Home” in part because of its opportunities for black female actors. In the show, Tristan Cunningham and Britney Frasier play a variety of roles, from Sunday School teachers to drug dealers to little boys to the very land, the earth Cephus leaves behind when he travels to the big city. “The play calls for artistic gymnastics,” says Billingslea. “You don’t see opportunities like this onstage for black women very often,” says Jones.

“I’ve always felt to a certain extent that Lorraine Hansberry is watching me,” says Jones of the playwright best known for creating “A Raisin in the Sun.” “I am acutely aware that the name of this theater is ‘Lorraine Hansberry,’ and as a man, I’m in an oddly privileged position. Her brilliance went unfulfilled. She died so young. She was an incredible intellect, an incredible writer, an incredible theater artist. I wish she was here now, so she could help me understand this time we’re living in.”


Lily Janiak is The San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic. Email: ljaniak@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @LilyJaniak


Home: Written by Samm-Art Williams. Directed by Aldo Billingslea. Through June 4. $25-$35. African American Art and Culture Complex, 762 Fulton St., S.F. (415) 474-8800. www.lhtsf.org.

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