Oakland’s Black Artists Make Space for Themselves

click to enlarge Members of the film collective The Black Aesthetic: (back row, left to right) Jamal Batts, Leila Weefur, Ryanaustin Dennis; (front row) Zoé Samudzi, Malika “Ra” Imhotep. They organize screenings, moderate discussions, and publish books. - PHOTO BY LANCE YAMAMOTO

  • Photo by Lance Yamamoto
  • Members of the film collective The Black Aesthetic: (back row, left to right) Jamal Batts, Leila Weefur, Ryanaustin Dennis; (front row) Zoé Samudzi, Malika “Ra” Imhotep. They organize screenings, moderate discussions, and publish books.

About 100 people crammed inside UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive’s tiny reading room one evening last November. As soon as it felt like no one else could possibly fit, a few more folks would lurk in the hallway, craning their necks to see what cool, inspiring night The Black Aesthetic had in store. More white folding chairs emerged. More delicate steps over bodies ensued.

It was The Black Aesthetic‘s season three finale and the film screening collective’s most well-attended event yet. The five-person team formed in late 2016 with the goal of showcasing the multidimensionality of Blackness in under appreciated films or works by emerging filmmakers. On this particular evening, one of The Black Aesthetic’s original founders showed his short film A Moment of Truth + Sin, a dark thriller about a Black man who fantasizes about killing his progressive white wife — Oakland filmmaker Christian Johnson’s spit in the face of the Bay Area’s suffocating white liberalism.

Despite the piece’s intensity, the resulting panel discussion bloomed with laughter. Johnson and collective member Malika “Ra” Imhotep deftly navigated both racially charged realities and motivations behind Johnson’s creative decisions without any film school jargon. It’s not surprising that The Black Aesthetic has become something of a media darling. These events capture Black joy at a time when it’d be far too easy to be beleaguered.

Looking back on 2017, it felt like a significant year for Black arts in Oakland and the rest of the inner East Bay. Countless events explored Black identity in different ways: visual art exhibits, one-off dance classes, and full-blown festivals celebrating Black culture, plus new books, magazines, podcasts, and films. Of course, the city has long been a bastion for Black culture, activism, and life. But what’s happening now feels particularly informed by the region’s declining Black population coupled with the housing crisis. In turn, much of the art reflects an increasing urgency to preserve the local legacy of Black culture, to hold space, and to explore questions of belonging.

During the Great Recession, the Black arts scene stagnated — and with fair reason. Who is going to start a new arts organization when many people are struggling to feed their families? The Black Aesthetic’s Leila Weefur witnessed this first-hand. Born and raised in Oakland, she left in 2007 to attend college in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles and returned in 2012 as a graduate student at Mills College to find her community had already vanished.

“Oakland was the hub of Black art when I was growing up, but leaving and coming back and that being gone was devastating,” she said. “I think right now, there is an increase in Black creatives making space for themselves because it’s missing.”

As Black folks continue to get priced out of Oakland and the inner East Bay, Black artists are affirming their presence through these events. At the same time, higher rents and costs of living are making it challenging for artists to continue their work — especially with the knowledge that they could earn more money in a less expensive region.

The Black Aesthetic, most of whose members are graduate students scraping by, doesn’t make any money for its efforts. They organize film screenings, moderate discussions, and publish books, but they won’t turn anyone away who can’t afford the $5 ticket. They believe in accessibility. At the same time, given that they donate their own limited funds to The Black Aesthetic’s needs, members like Zoé Samudzi aren’t sure how much longer they can keep it up.

“Nobody wants to pay Black people to live, to eat, to make the things that they want see, to put on Instagram and be like, ‘Look at this cool thing that I went to,'” Samudzi said. “Everybody wants to consume Blackness but nobody wants to make sure we don’t die.”

The history of Black culture in Oakland runs deep.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Oakland had a vibrant entertainment district nicknamed “the Harlem of the West.” In 1966, the Black Panther Party was born, becoming hugely influential for its activism as well as the bold artwork that would grace its popular newspaper. Soon after, Oakland had an African-American artists’ advocacy group, Art West Associated North, that protested the exclusion of Black artists from local galleries and museums. All of this helped shape a city that would become half Black by the ’80s, a place well-known for art with a political bent.

By 2000, the city’s Black population started declining. Black folks made up 35.1 percent, down from 43.9 percent a decade earlier. By 2010, it had dropped to 27.3 percent, and according to 2016 Census estimates, that figure has further dipped to 24.1 percent. And the city’s white population has been climbing. For the first time since 1970, white people were estimated to become the dominant racial or ethnic group in Oakland in 2014 at 26.5 percent.

The current exodus of Black folks stems from the Bay Area’s housing crisis. Rents have doubled and sometimes tripled in places such as West Oakland, a historically Black neighborhood that’s now popular with white tech workers who have fled San Francisco’s even higher prices.

Deep East Oakland native Brittani Sensabaugh lives with her mom in North Oakland on a block that used to include a few fellow Black families. Now, there are no more.

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NASA Removes Astronaut Who Would Have Been First African American ISS Crew Member From June Launch

NASA announced on Thursday that it was shuffling astronaut assignments for launches taking place later this year. Jeanette Epps, who was scheduled to launch in June, was removed from the mission, replaced by Serena Auñón-Chancellor. If Epps had launched in June, she would have become the first African American space station crew member and the seventh African American sent to space.

In the announcement, NASA offered no explanation for why the changes were made. In an email, spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz wrote, “A number of factors are considered when making flight assignments; decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information.”


Astronaut Jeanette Epps. NASA

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Before becoming an astronaut in 2009, Epps earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering and spent seven years working for the CIA. She was a back-up member of Expedition 54/55, the trio of astronauts that launched in December. Her June launch, to which she was assigned in January 2017, would have been her first trip to space. While Epps would have been the first African American to serve on a space station crew, six other African American astronauts have flown on the space shuttle in shorter space missions. 

Epps and Auñón-Chancellor entered astronaut training at the same time, although, as a surgeon, Auñón-Chancellor had previously worked with space crews. Prior to the reassignments, she had been Epps’s back-up.

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While Epps is ground-bound, she will be based at the Johnson Space Center in Houston to continue training and work in the agency’s astronaut office. Auñón-Chancellor had been due to launch in November; her November spot has been filled by Anne McClain. Auñón-Chancellor will launch in June with fellow astronauts Alexander Gerst, a geoscientist with the European Space Agency, and Sergey Prokopev, a Russian military veteran.

Read more: Space Fever: Astronauts Risk Hitting 104 Degrees During Exercise, Making Mars Trip Dangerous

According to Ars Technica, astronauts have been reassigned as late as one week before launch on one occasion in 1970. However, in that case, the astronaut risked being exposed to rubella and was delayed for his own safety, a rare example of NASA offering an explanation for a reassignment.

This article was first written by Newsweek

More from Newsweek

Trump at one year: From ‘hopeful’ to ‘disgusted’

First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.

WASHINGTON — It’s almost fitting that, on the final day of President Trump’s first year in office, Washington is facing the real possibility of a partial government shutdown — especially given all of the stunning news events and chaos since Jan. 20, 2017. The “American Carnage” inaugural address. “Alternative facts.” The Comey firing. The Mueller probe. Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation. The legislative defeat on health care. The legislative victory on taxes. Charlottesville. The Alabama Senate race. “Shithole.” And now a likely shutdown.

But our new NBC/WSJ poll is a reminder that Trump’s first year in office didn’t have to be this way. Back in our Dec. 2016 poll, respondents were asked which word best described how they felt about the results of the election, and the top answers (allowing for multiple responses) were “hopeful” (32 percent), “disgusted” (25 percent), “scared” (23 percent), “excited” (12 percent) and “relieved” (11 percent).

But when we asked the same question about how Americans feel about Trump’s first year as president in our latest poll out this morning, here were the top responses: “disgusted” (38 percent), “scared” (24 percent), “hopeful” (23 percent), “proud” (12 percent) and “angry” (11 percent).

“At the time of his inauguration, ‘hopeful’ was the word most used word about the 2016 results,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “But at the end of his first year, ‘disgust’ was the word most cited about him.”

When asked in the poll which one or two accomplishments made them feel the most positive about Trump, 20 percent cited a strong economy and low unemployment; 13 percent said “putting America first”; 10 percent said the tax legislation that Trump signed into law late last year; and another 10 percent said the military successes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

As Hart puts it, Trump’s “positions on some issues play better than his personal character.” Indeed, our Sept. 2017 NBC/WSJ poll found that Trump’s MOST POPULAR action was his bipartisan deal with Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi.

Showcasing the Dem and GOP arguments if the government shuts down

Here’s the state of play when it comes to the looming government shutdown, per NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell: “House Republicans overcame a major obstacle late Thursday when the most conservative wing of the conference announced its support for the short-term spending measure to avoid a government shutdown. The measure passed the House on a mostly party line 230-197 vote. But the fate of the measure is uncertain in the Senate where at least six Republican senators have come out against the measure and Democrats are confident they can block it from advancing.”

Democrats will argue in this shutdown fight:

  • Republicans are in control of the government (White House, House, Senate);
  • Trump and the GOP rejected the one bipartisan DACA compromise (Graham-Durbin) when a solution to DACA needs to happen ASAP to begin processing the paperwork;
  • Republicans have no plan other than to pass stopgap measure after stopgap measure;
  • And that Trump isn’t showing the leadership needed to forge a bipartisan compromise (given that he’s the only one who can convince House conservatives to allow a vote on a bipartisan immigration compromise).

Republicans will argue:

  • Democrats co-own the Senate, since 60 votes are required to pass legislation there;
  • Democrats are siding with undocumented immigrants over CHIP — since a long-term CHIP extension is the measure the House voted on yesterday;
  • DACA doesn’t need to resolved right now given Trump’s March 5, 2018 deadline;
  • And Democrats, after railing against governmental chaos during the 2013, are inviting chaos with their DACA demands.

Two big questions to ask in this shutdown fight: Who has more bipartisan cover? And how are you conducting yourself?

Beyond the arguments, there are two big questions that could determine how this looming shutdown plays politically.

  1. Which party has more bipartisan cover? Do a handful of GOP senators (including Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Mike Rounds, R-S.D.) side with Democrats in rejecting the House stopgap measure? If so, that will make it MUCH harder for Republicans to argue Democrats are shutting down the government. Conversely, do more red-state Dems (Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.) vote for the House CR?
  2. How are the players conducting themselves? As the 1995-1996 shutdown proved, behavior (we’re looking at you, Newt Gingrich) can influence public opinion). So we ask again: Is Trump really going to Mar-A-Lago if the government shuts down?

Also, can the Trump White House actually MANAGE a shutdown? Here’s the Daily Beast: “Obama administration officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said they were shocked at the apparent lack of seriousness with which lawmakers, and the Trump White House, appeared to be approaching the potential funding lapse. When they went through a shutdown in 2013—and when they prepped for one in 2011—the contingency planning took weeks.”

“As of late Thursday afternoon, however, numerous federal agencies appeared to have not submitted updated plans to the Office of Management and Budget. Of the nearly 130 agencies and offices that submit contingency plans, 66 of them had not publicly updated their proposals since 2015.”

NBC/WSJ poll: More than half of Americans strongly disapprove of Trump’s job

Going back to our new NBC/WSJ poll… President Donald Trump ends his first year in office with 39 percent of Americans approving of his job performance, according to the latest national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll – the lowest mark in the poll’s history for any modern president ending his first year.

Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Trump’s job, including a majority of respondents — 51 percent — who now say they strongly disapprove, which is a record high for Trump in the survey. That’s compared with 26 percent of Americans who strongly approve of the president’s job.

Among key demographic groups, 46 percent of men, 45 percent of whites and 41 percent of seniors give Trump a thumbs-up, versus 35 percent of those ages 18-34, 33 percent of women, 26 percent of Latinos and 8 percent of African Americans who do.

By party, 78 percent of Republicans approve of the president’s job, compared with 8 percent of Democrats and 33 percent of independents.

Trump’s overall approval rating of 39 percent in the NBC/WSJ poll is lower than George W. Bush’s (82 percent), Bill Clinton’s (60 percent) and Barack Obama (50 percent) at this same point in their presidencies.

Trump’s job rating in last month’s NBC/WSJ poll was 41 percent.

The rest of the NBC/WSJ poll — which was conducted Jan. 13-17 of 900 adults, and which has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.3. percentage points — comes out later today.

The Jewish Museum makes 4,000 years feel totally modern

Can an exhibit about a 4,000-year-old culture feel as modern as an episode of “Orange Is the New Black”?

An episode of the hit Netflix series featuring an inmate converting to Judaism makes it into Television and Beyond, one of the seven rooms that comprise the Jewish Museum’s exciting new exhibit Scenes from the Collection.

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Its first major new display in 25 years of its nearly 30,000 items manages to take over 600 of them — spanning antiquities to contemporary art — to look at what happens when art and Jewish culture meet.

“These are works that maybe wouldn’t make the cut at the Metropolitan Museum, but they’re very important to us,” says lead co-curator Susan L. Braunstein.

“What we really wanted to achieve is for people to understand the multiplicity of what it means to be a Jew and how people react to Jews, and the many ways to relate to the Jewish experience.”

Another room, Masterpieces and Curiosities, highlights the objects that came out of Theresienstadt, a concentration camp-ghetto where the Nazis imprisoned many Jewish artists, writers and craftspeople and forced them to create works of art for their captors.

But what’s on display is the art the Jewish creators kept for themselves to ensure their survival, whether toys for children or paintings smuggled out and bartered for food.

Even when it includes items specifically used in Jewish rituals, it’s in the context of art, making the works accessible to non-Jewish visitors while offering a fresh perspective to the faithful. African-American artist Kehinde Wiley painted a series of portraits while traveling through Israel, and one of them (“Alios Itzhak”) is displayed next to the mizrah (an ornamental picture hung on a home’s eastern wall) he used as a backdrop.

“That’s an example of a person who’s not of the Jewish faith looking at the Jewish culture,” says Braunstein, “and that’s very important to us, to not just be talking about ourselves but expand it out to the larger world.”

It’s not just looking at Jewish artifacts, but at their faces too. There’s Gert Wollheim’s painting of a fashionable couple at a party in 1926 with all the uncertainties of their era imbued in their expressions, and the photograph by Larry Sultan of his own parents in their Brooklyn living room in 1984, totally assimilated into secular America.

While most museums would bristle at the idea of including pieces that dilute its sacred symbols, the Jewish Museum leans into interrogating the story of the Star of David, which didn’t become associated with Jewish people until 1600.

Examples of the hexagram’s use includes an embossed ceramic flask likely made by an Irish Freemason, and an 1800s-era Passover-style platter from China in its iconic blue and white pottery style but lacking any of the usual Jewish symbols that would indicate it’s for religious use.

And then there’s Isaac Mizrahi’s giant Star of David belt buckle (next to a rainbow yarmulke) captioned with a quote by the designer: “If crosses are everywhere, why not make the Star of David ubiquitous too?”

If you agree with that sentiment, Scenes from the Collection is the treat you’ll keep coming back to — the seven rooms will change annually, while the TV room will have a new theme every six months.

Scenes from the Collection opens Jan. 21, 2018 at the Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Ave. The collection is included with a general admission ticket ($15 for adults, free under 18).

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Stansfield Turner, C.I.A. Director Who Confronted Communism Under Carter, Dies at 94

President Carter supported that action. “We were aware that some of the unqualified and incompetent personnel whom he discharged were deeply resentful, but I fully approved,” Mr. Carter said in a written response to a question about the episode.

But resentment against Mr. Turner smoldered at the C.I.A. He wrote that his enemies within the agency had tried to discredit him with disinformation campaigns — “one of their basic skills,” he wrote.

A Christian Scientist who drank hot water with a lemon slice at breakfast, Mr. Turner was an upright Navy officer who shared his president’s sense of propriety.


Mr. Turner in 1983, two years after he left office when the Carter administration ended. Credit United States Navy

But like Mr. Carter, he said, he had no illusions about the nation’s need for secret intelligence. “Lots of people think President Carter called me in and said, ‘Clean the place up and straighten it out.’ He never did that,” Mr. Turner said in an interview after his retirement. “From the very beginning he was intensely interested in having good intelligence. He wanted to understand the mechanisms — from our satellites to our spies to our methods of analyzing what was happening. He was extremely supportive of the intelligence operations.”

He added: “The Carter administration had no bias against covert action. The C.I.A. had a problem with covert action itself, because it was in this state of shock from the criticisms it had gone through” during the 1970s.

Early on, Mr. Turner said, he faced a life-or-death question. C.I.A. officers had come to him and told him that they had an agent “almost inside” a terrorist organization. The officers, he said, wanted to ask the agent “to do one more thing to prove his bona fides” — “to go out and murder one of the members of the government.”

They asked, “Do we permit him to do that?” “And I said, ‘No, we pull him out,’” Mr. Turner said. “I was not going to have the United States party to a murder.”

Still, under Mr. Turner, the C.I.A. mounted covert actions aimed at Moscow, Warsaw and Prague, printing and distributing magazines and journals in Poland and Czechoslovakia, circulating the written work of dissidents in the Soviet Union, placing fax machines and tape cassettes in the hands of people behind the Iron Curtain. These acts, approved by President Carter and his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, sought to subvert the control of information that was the foundation of repression in the Communist world.

None of this enhanced the C.I.A.’s understanding of the Soviet Union, Mr. Turner acknowledged. “We were appreciating as early as ’78 that the Soviet economy was in serious trouble,” he said after the Cold War was over, but “we didn’t make the leap that we should have made — I should have made — that the economic trouble would lead to political trouble. We thought they would tighten their belt under a Stalin-like regime and continue marching on.”

The C.I.A. did not see the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan coming in December 1979. But days later, Mr. Carter ordered the agency to begin shipping weapons to the Afghan resistance. During the 1980s, under President Ronald Reagan, the United States poured billions of dollars into that C.I.A.-run effort. The Reagan administration also greatly expanded small covert operations that had begun under Mr. Carter to undermine the left-wing Sandinista regime in Nicaragua.

Nor did the C.I.A. anticipate the fall of the shah of Iran. “We were just plain asleep,” Mr. Turner said. The Iranian revolution caused the greatest frustration of Mr. Turner’s years at the agency: The four members of the C.I.A. station in Tehran were among the American hostages held for 444 days, until the end of the Carter administration, in January 1981.


Jimmy Carter watching as Mr. Turner spoke in 2005 at a submarine commissioning ceremony in Groton, Conn. Credit Jack Sauer/Associated Press

On taking office President Reagan dismissed Mr. Turner. Mr. Turner spent much of his remaining years writing and lecturing on the C.I.A. and American national security. Reviewing his 1985 memoir, “Secrecy and Democracy: The CIA in Transition,” for The New York Times, the historian Thomas Powers wrote that Mr. Turner “had no instinct for the black arts” of covert action and clandestine political warfare at the C.I.A.

“When it comes to the darker side of intelligence,” Mr. Powers wrote, “his book takes on the cheerful vagueness of a 19th-century marriage manual dealing with Problems of the First Night.”

Mr. Turner’s 2005 book, “Burn Before Reading: Presidents, CIA Directors and Secret Intelligence,” was far less restrained. Calling the C.I.A.’s reputation “at a nadir,” he proposed dismantling the agency as the best course for the nation and “the professionals in the C.I.A. as well.” After the Sept. 11 attacks, he criticized George W. Bush’s administration for using the C.I.A. to conduct harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists. “I am embarrassed that the U.S.A. has a vice president for torture,” he said, referring to Vice President Dick Cheney. “I think it is just reprehensible.”

Writing also made Mr. Turner an advocate for the First Amendment. After submitting his first book to the C.I.A. for a prepublication review — a system he had created — the agency insisted on more than 100 deletions in the name of national security. He called the result “a gross abuse of the constitutional right of free speech.”

Mr. Turner was born on Dec. 1, 1923, in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, Ill., to Oliver Stansfield Turner, a real estate broker, and the former Wilhelmina Josephine Wagner. He attended Highland Park High School and entered Amherst College in 1941. He joined the Naval Reserve, before being admitted to the United States Naval Academy in 1943; one of his classmates was Jimmy Carter, though the two men barely knew each other at the time. At Annapolis Mr. Turner played guard on the football team.

A Rhodes scholar, Mr. Turner received degrees in politics, economics and philosophy from Oxford University in 1950. As he rose though the ranks during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, he commanded a minesweeper, a destroyer, a carrier group and a fleet. He also served as president of the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., from 1972 to 1974.

His marriage to Patricia Busby Whitney ended in divorce; they had a son, Geoffrey, and a daughter, Laurel, both of whom survive him. His second wife, Karin Gilbert, who had been his secretary, died in January 2000 in a crash of a light plane in Costa Rica. Mr. Turner was critically injured in the accident but recovered and returned to his post, which he had held since 1991, at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland. He is also survived by his wife, Marion Weiss Turner, whom he married in 2002, along with his stepsons Peter Weiss and Andrew Weiss; another stepson, John Gilbert, and a stepdaughter, Laila Ballon, from his marriage to Ms. Gilbert; 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Mr. Turner’s colleagues in the Navy were given to describe him as contemplative and intellectually curious — whether the subject was military affairs, philosophy or opera.

But they also described him as energetic and often tough. When he commanded the Second Fleet in the Atlantic in 1974, he was known to make surprise visits to his ships by helicopter, The Times reported in 1977. Before landing he would sometimes engage in an impromptu emergency drill, tossing a life preserver into the cold ocean and telling the crew members to imagine that there was a man overboard. Then he’d say, “Now show me what you can do.”

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Amherstburg Freedom Museum hosting Artists of Colour’s “Journeys” exhibit

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum, in partnership with the Artists of Colour, will host the exhibit opening for “Journeys,” with the exhibit opening being Feb. 2.

“Journeys” features 14 works of art from a group of local Black artists who form the committee of the Artists of Colour. Museum officials state the event will feature live entertainment, providing a musical accompaniment to the exhibit.

The art works chosen are part of the first stage of the “Journeys” project which the Artists of Colour have begun to construct, will be an art exhibit that will celebrate and relay the story of Black enslavement and the long journey back to freedom. The museum states “this exhibit will tell the story to all generations of the courage and determination of a people who refused to accept the degradation of slavery. White and Black stood up against the injustice and demoralization of slavery, risking their lives and livelihood opposing the injustice inflicted upon their brothers and sisters. They unselfishly dedicated their lives to the cause of liberty.”

This exhibit is the first stage of the “Journeys Project” and shows how the Underground Railroad gave birth to the first racially integrated, religiously inspired movement for social change within the United States and Canada. Between 1840 and 1860, before the American Civil War, once-enslaved Africans followed the North Star on the Underground Railroad to find freedom in Canada. That journey to freedom was long, dangerous and life-changing.

The opening reception of “Journeys” at the Amherstburg Freedom Museum runs from 7-9 p.m., and will feature light refreshments and live entertainment. There is no charge to attend the official opening, but donations are being accepted.

The exhibit runs until April 1, with regular admission rates applying after the Feb 2. opening.

The Amherstburg Freedom Museum is located at 277 King St. in Amherstburg and their phone number is 519-736-5433. The museum’s website is www.amherstburgfreedom.org. Their Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/AmherstburgFreedom and their Twitter page can be found by searching @AburgFreedom.

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A Retrospective of Black History Month exhibit will be showcased at Candy Factory

From a press release: 

To commemorate Black History Month, the Center for the Arts has scheduled Ayeye: A Retrospective of Black History Month, an exhibit from January 30 – March 2 exploring art works by local and regional African-American artists.

The term ayeye means “celebration” or “ceremony” in Yoruba. For a third year, Prince William Alumnae Chapter Delta Sigma Theta (PWCAC DST) will host a Black History Month reception at the Center for the Arts to celebrate the contributions that African-Americans make to the arts. The free opening reception will be on Saturday, February 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. and the public is welcomed. Attendees will enjoy live music, refreshments and door prizes, in addition to the opportunity to enjoy artwork and photography.

This eclectic and collaborative exhibition includes photography, painting, and mixed media with subject matter ranging from studies of African culture and history to nature and travel photography.
Ceremonies are considered a core value in Yoruba culture and involve the participation of not only family, but community. Join PWCAC DST to celebrate culture, history, and community.

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Emanuel lectures City Council after 18 aldermen vote against him on Presence subsidy

The Chicago City Council, long known for its liberal worldview and 50-0 votes, found itself bitterly divided Wednesday when support for health care in African-American neighborhoods ran into concerns about abortion rights for women.

For more than an hour, aldermen held an unusually frank discussion about the city’s racial politics and the ethics of providing public money to a private institution that opposes abortion and contraception.

With Mayor Rahm Emanuel looking on from his perch at the front of council chambers, aldermen criticized and cajoled, trying to build support or stoke opposition among colleagues on the issue of giving Presence Health a $5.6 million tax subsidy to help pay for its downtown corporate headquarters.

Supporters noted that Presence also has pledged to build four community care centers in neighborhoods where local health services are scarce. Opponents ripped Presence for the Catholic institution’s stance on reproductive health.

And Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, said it isn’t right for men to brush aside women’s concerns about their access to abortion and contraception. “One of the most important decisions a woman will ever make in her lifetime is whether or not to have a child,” she said. “Access to health care means all aspects, including a woman’s reproductive rights and reproductive health.”





Abortion rights, race at center of City Hall fight on hospital subsidy »

Aldermen approve $5.6M subsidy for Presence Health despite flap over abortion services, birth control »

Moody’s downgrades Presence Health to edge of junk status »

Artworks that cost a fortune


A Sotheby’s official speaking about an untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat at Sotheby’s in New York (left) and Ehoodi Kichapi’s portrait at Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi (right). His style of art has a resemblance to Basquiat. Photos | Courtesy
A Sotheby’s official speaking about an untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat at Sotheby’s in New York (left) and Ehoodi Kichapi’s portrait at Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi (right). His style of art has a resemblance to Basquiat. Photos | Courtesy  

Many eyes popped in disbelief when Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Untitled’ skull painting broke art auction price records last year.

It sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s art auction, making it the sixth most expensive artwork ever sold at auction at the time.

It went to Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who is making news now because he’s putting Basquiat’s 1982 work on display at the Brooklyn Museum later this month.

The painting is expected to attract large crowds, but not just because the late African-American artist of Caribbean descent has a significant fan-base. Nor will it be because people understand the emotive power of the piece or the artist’s explosive use of colour, line and design.

It will partly be because Basquiat’s painting joined what New York Times described as ‘the rarefied $100 million-plus club’.

Apparently only 10 other artworks have broken that $100 million mark. That puts Basquiat in the same league with world-class artists like Pablo Picasso and the British painter Francis Bacon.

The ‘Untitled’ skull painting is not the first work by Basquiat that Mr Maezawa owns. The 41-year-old founder of Japan’s large online fashion mall, Zozotown bid and won the artist’s large Horned Devil at an art auction held the previous year at Christie’s. For that piece, he only paid $57.3 million.

But Mr Maezawa, who is also founder of the Contemporary Art Foundation, doesn’t plan to simply keep his Basquits on walls back in his hometown of Chiba, Japan. He has told the media he intends to one day establish an art museum in Chiba.

Kenyan art lovers

But first, he apparently feels he has a higher calling which is to expose the world to the artist’s works. Both were painted in 1982 using oil sticks and spray paint. But for more than 30 years, he’s said the works were ‘unseen’.

Back in 2016 when he obtained the Horned Devil, he was already intent on loaning (for a fee) that first Basquiat to institutions around the world.

But having won the bid on the “Untitled’ Skull and clearly having generated even more of a buzz in the art world over it, Mr Maezawa chose to premier Basquiat’s Skull over his Devil in New York in this new year.

Why all this news may be of some interest to Kenyans is not necessarily because they appreciate the colourful artistry of this African-American painter who started his career as a self-taught graffiti painter.

Nor is it because they have seen art by the Kenyan painter Ehoodi Kichapi which bears some resemblance to Basquiat’s million dollar work. (In 2017 Kichapi had successful exhibitions at One Off Gallery and at The Attic.)

Many Kenyans are more keen on making money than making art. Not many believe that making art can be a way of also making money.

But Mr Maezawa has illustrated how not only the artist but the owner of the art can make money from the creative process.

Sadly, Basquiat died of a drug overdose at age 27 in 1988, so he is not around to enjoy the dollars that his art earned him.

Nonetheless, Kenyans can at least see the potential the creative process has if only parents would encourage their children to express their imaginative powers freely.

In the past, Kenyans have been told that buying a work of art need not be only to hang on their walls or stand in their gardens or at their front doors.

They have been encouraged to see the purchase of art as an ‘investment’. That is to look at a painting or a sculpture like a stock that can rise or fall in the art market which in Kenya is rapidly developing now that Nairobi has its own annual art auction launched several years ago by the Circle Art Gallery.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Life Saver: Celebrating 40 years of Whitman-Walker

Whitman-Walker in Pride parade

“Whitman-Walker Health is evidence of how any group of people, when they come together for a common purposes, can make a tremendous impact,” says Joseph Izzo.

Izzo, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist at the community health center has witnessed firsthand Whitman-Walker’s ability to weather difficult times. He’s been with the clinic since 1986 and, as such, is its longest-serving employee. Despite a series of boom-and-bust cycles that threatened its financial solvency, and until 2006, frequent changes in management, Whitman-Walker has overcome a number of challenges to continue operating crucial health care programs, including LGBTQ-competent health services and HIV/AIDS care.

Now in its 40th year, Whitman-Walker has long served as the anchor of the 14th Street corridor, and a go-to health center for D.C.’s LGBTQ community, whose own history is inextricably intertwined with that of the organization.

Whitman-Walker began in 1973 as an all-volunteer program of the Washington Free Clinic, known as the Gay Men’s VD Clinic, which operated out of the basement of Georgetown Lutheran Church on Saturday mornings. Five years later, with a new name and $15,000 in funding from the D.C. government, the Whitman-Walker Clinic rented a new facility on 17th Street NW, with its services emphasizing gay men’s sexual health. The clinic would later move to 18th Street NW in Adams Morgan, where it would remain until 1987 before moving to the first of three sites along 14th Street NW.

“The first 10 years was largely about Whitman-Walker being a safe space, a sanctuary, a gathering space for gay men and lesbians,” says Don Blanchon, Whitman-Walker’s current executive director. “There was less embracing or acceptance [of LGBTQ people] in society, which meant that, particularly in urban areas, there were a lot of places like Whitman-Walker that basically became a place where gay people could gather, beyond just the club scene.”

The clinic’s role as a community gathering place would change in 1981, when reports of a new form of cancer and pneumonia that seemed to be affecting gay and bisexual men began to emerge. It would prove to be the early days of an epidemic that would drastically change the clinic’s mission.

Whitman-Walker Health’s former 14th & S Street building

An Epidemic Begins

AS HIV BEGAN to take its toll, Whitman-Walker, as one of the first-line responders, took a leadership role in educating the LGBTQ community about the disease. That year, the clinic launched its AIDS Education Fund, an AIDS information hotline, a prevention advertising campaign, and programs to help those living with AIDS, including a housing program, food bank and legal services.

“Much like other cities, the gay community responds, because the gay community is dying from it, and we are off to the races,” Blanchon says. “That second decade is about Larry Medley, Bill Cunningham, Sunnye Sherman, Jim Graham, Max Robinson. It’s all these people who said, ‘Hey, this is happening. This is real. We’ve got to have a community response.’

“I also give Marion Barry a lot of credit, because Marion was on the forefront of some of this stuff as a political leader,” Blanchon says of the former mayor. “He knew this was going to be really bad for the city, and he put money into Whitman-Walker…because he wanted people to have the latest information.”

Izzo, a former high school teacher and sex educator, spent his first years at Whitman-Walker doing outreach to high-risk populations, including gay males, transgender females, intravenous drug users, and sex workers.

“We were out at night time, on the streets with trained volunteers,” Izzo recalls. “We distributed condoms, we distributed information packets about HIV prevention, and about medical services at Whitman-Walker. We basically tried to educate the community as best we could not to get infected.

“The bad part of it, from ’86 to ’90, was the fact that people were dying left, right, and center. They were dropping like flies. So I was going to lots of funerals during that time. That was probably the hardest part of it. By 1988, I had already lost three dozen people that I knew.”

Despite medical advancements, the epidemic ravaged the LGBTQ community well into the mid-90s.

“There really weren’t a lot of options for people in terms of medication, so we really were helping people through the dying process in a lot of ways,” recalls Wellness Coordinator Joanne Sincero, who initially started as a volunteer before joining the clinic staff in 1994 to work for its HIV day treatment program. “It wasn’t unusual to lose a person every week. Things became so normalized, like people on IV poles. At that time, 14th Street had a few carry-outs, and we would go up the street with the IV poles and go to the carry-out. I mean, people just went outside and continued to live even though they were really sick.”

Barbara Lewis started as a volunteer in 1979 with the clinic’s Lesbian Health Center, where she provided gynecological exams to women. As the epidemic began to take a toll, she shifted her focus to working on HIV/AIDS-related care.

“I think the AIDS epidemic really had a major impact on how a lot of us felt,” says Lewis, who currently works at the clinic as a physician’s assistant. “As I saw more and more people coming in sick in the emergency room…and seeing people dying and getting sick…, I was really very moved by what was happening to gay men. I think other women were, too.”

Ironically, Lewis says the epidemic helped bring together the gay and lesbian communities, who had previously operated in separate yet parallel spheres. Lewis and dozens of other lesbian volunteers donated their time to help test, counsel, and comfort their gay brethren infected with HIV. Due to their courageous efforts, the women earned spots on the Lesbian Honor Roll, a list of people dedicated to curbing the spread of the virus.

New Hope, New Mission

THE ADVENT OF antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV brought new challenges. Instead of essentially helping patients prepare for death, clinic staff found themselves supporting those who were infected, ensuring they’d live and could suppress their viral load.

That same success also led to financial difficulties for the clinic, as it struggled to get enough money to support its services, which had previously been offered to most clients free of charge.

Cornelius Baker, a Whitman-Walker board member during the ’90s who served as executive director from 2000 to 2004, notes that there was a significant racial divide in public opinion regarding the clinic and who it was perceived as serving — namely, white gay men. While Baker says the perception was not based on reality, to some in communities of color, particularly minority-led organizations or those residing across the Anacostia River, it appeared that Whitman-Walker was being favored for government grants or city contracts to provide AIDS services.

“A lot of it was about money and who got city funding and who didn’t,” Baker says. “A lot of it was about power, who had relationship to power. For example, in a city like Washington, D.C., with at that time still a 75 to 80 percent black population, with the epidemic of HIV, which was at that time…primarily a black epidemic, the [executives] were all white, and a lot of the board leadership. I think we had a 42-member board when I became the executive director, and the majority of members were white.”

Baker’s tenure also saw consolidation and the closure of Whitman-Walker’s housing and food bank programs, necessitated by a drastic decline in fundraising due to a recession in early 2001, government budget cuts, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which impacted the annual AIDS Walk fundraiser. Despite difficulties, Baker tried to reconfigure the clinic to meet the changing needs of the community, including introducing sliding scale fees so that more financially stable clients could contribute to their own care.

After repeated cycles of financial hardship and struggle, Whitman-Walker’s board brought in Blanchon in 2006.

“Given the financial circumstances of where Whitman-Walker was at that time in the mid to late 2000s, the board here and many employees as well as community members knew that there was going to be significant changes,” says Blanchon, who received a great deal of criticism from politicians, community leaders, and even longtime donors, about some of the tough decisions he was making. Yet he focused on trying to set the health center on stable footing and not take it personally.

“Remember there was no guarantee at that time that if we made this change, we were going to be okay financially,” he says. “And then, to state the obvious, as a straight ally but someone who’s not well-known in the gay or LGBTQ political establishment, people were questioning my motives They had every right to do that…. People were wondering what I was trying to do.”

Whitman-Walker’s Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center

An Eye Toward the Future

BLANCHON’S TENURE CAN uncategorically be declared a success, though he is the first to admit that there’s far more to accomplish. He also notes that Whitman-Walker is still heavily reliant on financial support from the community.

“In 2018, we need to raise $4 million,” he says. “Not $40 thousand, not $400 thousand. That’s $4 million to keep the lights on and do the things we need to do. If the community supports us and engages with us, we’ll be able to do more for youth. We’ll be able to do more for the trans community. We’ll be able to do more for people who live on the east end of the city. We’ll be able to do more for seniors. If they don’t, we’re going to have to fundraise just to keep our head above the water.”

Over the past decade, Whitman-Walker has weathered another recession, expanded services to include gynecology and psychiatry, and brought about a degree of financial security. In 2011, the clinic officially changed its name to Whitman-Walker Health, to better reflect its mission as a community health center.

In 2013, Whitman-Walker absorbed The Mautner Project, a women’s health collaborative, and hired its staff to provide comprehensive health care services to lesbian, bi, and transgender women. Two years later, it incorporated the programs of Metro TeenAIDS into its youth services offerings. That same year, Whitman-Walker leased a state-of-the-art building at 1525 14th St. NW to house a number of its services and programs, part of an effort to renovate the Elizabeth Taylor Medical site, at 1701 14th St. NW.

The Elizabeth Taylor site will become a new six-story, mixed-use building, including retail stores, restaurants, underground parking, and rental apartments, with Whitman-Walker maintaining administrative offices and a community space for meetings, gatherings, youth services, and yoga. By renting out space in the building, Whitman-Walker will raise capital that can subsequently be used to help rehabilitate its Max Robinson Center in Southeast D.C., to better ensure clients living east of the Anacostia River have access to quality health services.

However, because of the recent development of the 1525 and Elizabeth Taylor sites, some would-be donors have assumed that the health center is flush with cash. It isn’t.

“This whole plan is a 10-year model that says, ‘Move Elizabeth Taylor to 1525, redevelop Elizabeth Taylor, get economic value over time from that to rebuild Max Robinson.’ If this was a hospital, it would be one 10-year modernization project,” Blanchon says. “Instead, community members see it as, ‘Oh, you built a shiny building there.’ We don’t own 1525, we lease. We don’t have the money to be able to do it on our own, and if we tried to rebuild Max right now, we’d need $20 million.

“I can’t tell you the number of people who tell me, ‘Oh, you guys must be rolling in it. Look at you’re developing all this stuff,’ and I’m laughing, going like, ‘You have no idea how challenging this work is.’”

Despite financial stresses, board member June Crenshaw says Whitman-Walker has been especially agile in adapting to meet the changing needs of the community over its history, and expects that it will continue to do so.

“It’s not been easy,” she says. “It’s been really, really challenging and painful at times, trying to develop the mission and the vision and how to accomplish those things. If there’s any organization that’s not doing that on a regular basis, then they’re going to become obsolete pretty quickly. The great thing about Whitman-Walker has been that it’s been able to morph and transform itself to meet the community’s needs as the community has grown.”

Which doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Crenshaw sees a need for better outreach and education around Whitman-Walker’s various services to all members of the community, particularly in the Southeast. Both the rate of HIV and the number of people who have limited access to health care, remain stubbornly high in that sector of the city, which is majority African-American. Crenshaw also says that Whitman-Walker’s leadership needs to be more reflective of the communities it serves by including more people of color, lesbians, and transgender people — something the board has previously discussed.

Nonetheless, Blanchon is amazed when he reflects on the 40 years of service that Whitman-Walker has provided to the D.C. community, and the amount of support that the health center has received in return.

“I am in awe how much we have learned about the depth of support, through all of the mistakes that we’ve made over 40 years, and the community still wants us to thrive,” he says. “It is increasingly clear that our work around equality and social justice through health isn’t done yet. Those things are really apparent, whether it’s around the Affordable Care Act, whether it’s around the transgender community, whether it’s around fighting HIV, you name it. There’s just so much more work still to be done.”

Baker says the larger LGBTQ community and the District owe a debt to Whitman-Walker for its pioneering spirit, its wisdom, foresight, and dedication to doing everything possible to save lives, particularly in the darkest days of the HIV epidemic.

“I think that what we should see when we look at Whitman-Walker is just how bold, how noble, how visionary, how caring and how dignified that we have been over the last 40 years,” he says, “and I think that what it should do more than anything else is challenge us to think about who we are going forward, who we are as a people, who we are as a community, and how do we honor that work as greatly as it has been given to us.”

“Whitman-Walker is constantly reinventing itself,” adds Crenshaw, as she looks toward the future. “That has been an amazing process to witness and to be a part of. I feel as though it’s been a place to really grow and have some real challenging conversations about the direction and the importance and the value to the community, because this organization has saved a lot of lives, both physically and emotionally.

“It is so much needed, particularly in this current day and time,” she concludes. “We need it more than ever. Its success is important to the community as a whole.”

Whitman-Walker will kick off its 40th anniversary year with a dance party on Saturday, Jan. 20, from 8 to 11 p.m. at Town Danceboutique, 2009 8th St. NW. The suggested donation for entry is $10, but all are welcome regardless of ability to pay. For more information, visit whitman-walker.org.