A Conversation With Country Star Mickey Guyton

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Mickey Guyton is one of the most prominent Black women in country music. Mickey signed a Nashville record deal over a decade ago, and since then has become a force in a genre that has often been unkind to performers of color.

As Elamin Abdelmahmoud writes for Rolling Stone:

At some point, it became an accepted cultural narrative that country music is the domain of white people. This has never been the case, but more to the point, it has never been further from the truth than right now. The myth persists while a number of Black artists are challenging its foundation, hiding in plain sight on the country charts or on tours or on the radio.

Mickey is one of those artists. During last month’s nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, she dropped a single “Black Like Me” with no promotion. The song ended up on Spotify’s Hot Country playlist. It asks country fans and industry people alike to look at life from a Black perspective.

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We talk with Mickey about being a Black woman in country music, her songwriting process and more.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

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80 artists will mark Fourth of July with skytyped messages over U.S. detention centers

It is a Fourth of July custom. Fleets of airplanes take to the sky and produce massive typewritten messages in the air. Known as skytyping, these vaporous missives generally serve as advertising for music festivals, summer movies or car insurance and are often generated over public parks and crowded beaches.

This holiday weekend, however, some of those messages and their locations will be very different.

A group of 80 artists from around the country, led by rafa esparza and Cassils, have teamed up to produce skytyped messages that will appear over immigrant detention camps around the United States, as well as other sites related to internment and incarceration.

The project, called “In Plain Sight,” will last for three days beginning Friday morning and will feature messages such as “ICE WILL MELT,” “CARE NOT CAGES” and “NO MORE CAMPS” displayed over sites such as the New Orleans field office for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Los Angeles County Jail and the Santa Anita Park, which once served as a temporary detention facility for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II.

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Also included will be messages in Spanish, such as “NO TE RINDAS” (Don’t give up) to be written over the U.S. Customs and Border Protection outpost at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, and one in the Mayan language of K’iche’, which will materialize over L.A.’s MacArthur Park. That message — “MA KA QA XE’IJ TA Q’IB,” which translates to “We will not be afraid” — was organized by artist Beatriz Cortez and a coalition of Central American community organizations.

An augmented reality visualization shows skytyped words in a Mayan language over MacArthur Park

An augmented reality visualization shows how a message in K’iche’ will appear over Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park.

(4th Wall AR / In Plain Sight)

“It’s exiting the confines of traditional art spaces and using the sky as the ultimate platform,” says esparza.

Adds Cassils: “It’s thinking about how art can serve.”

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It’s also about producing a work that just might be visible to those who are incarcerated as well.

The artists describe the action as a vast collective artwork — albeit one with a distinct purpose. Each skytyped message will feature the hashtag #XMAP, which should lead the curious back to the project’s website: xmap.us. That page will feature information about immigrant detention and a map of incarceration sites around the U.S., along with a list of organizations fighting for immigrant causes, such as the National Immigration Detention Bond Fund, which helps immigrants pay bonds set by immigration judges.

“You’ll also be able to put in your ZIP Code and see what detention center you’re closest to,” says esparza. “In terms of the sheer amount of immigrant detention centers — it’s something that people feel distant from. People place them along the border, but they don’t imagine them in every state. We want people to know that.”

A map produced by the artist project "In Plain Sight" shows the site of immigrant detention centers around the U.S.

A map by the artist project “In Plain Sight” shows immigrant detention centers around the U.S. — along with sites that will feature skytyped messages over the Fourth of July weekend.

(In Plain Sight)

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Among the participating artists are Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors; Mexican singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas; graphic designer Emory Douglas, once the minister of culture for the Black Panther Party; and a range of cultural practitioners, including Ken Gonzales-Day, Harry Gamboa Jr., Mary Kelly, Susan Silton, Raquel Gutiérrez, Raven Chacon, Karen L. Ishizuka, Edgar Arceneaux, Cannupa Hanska Luger and Devon Tsuno.

Esparza, a Los Angeles artist whose work straddles performance, painting and installations crafted with hand-made adobe, says the idea for “In Plain Sight” was born around July 4 last year amid rising concerns over the sheer number of incarcerated immigrants and the conditions they endure.

“There was a group of artists that had self-organized,” he explains. “We wanted to create visibility around immigrant detention.”

The group began discussing ideas in a group chat on Signal. Cassils, a multidisciplinary artist whose work engages issues of the body, gender and sexuality, was in Europe at the time — but was moved by the discussion.

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“I’m from Montreal,” they say. “Immigration has weighed on my life for a long time. It took me 17 years to immigrate and that was with all the resources. … Navigating the immigration system and staying in compliance and the expense of it. The lack of ability for me to hire a lawyer. It was so incredibly difficult.

“I can’t imagine if you’re trying to do this while you are fleeing for your life. To land in this country that is supposed to be about freedom and they lock you in a cage for profit. That is appalling to me as a new citizen.”

Rather than doing a benefit show in a gallery or staging some sort of charity auction, the group wanted something that would make a big statement to the broadest audience possible. Skytyped messages emerged as an idea that could help an unseen problem (incarceration) be accessed by everyone.

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“It also,” says Cassils, “seemed like a brilliant way to invert the terms of patriotism” — airplanes taking to the sky during Fourth of July.

So they got to work fundraising. Patching together donations from private supporters and various arts organizations, the pair were able to generate the $160,000 necessary to put planes in the sky on July 3 and 4, for a total of 80 skytyped messages. But everything else has been a volunteer effort. Dozens of artists, along with uncounted others, have donated their time to make “In Plain Sight” happen.

Esparza says many were personally motivated to participate.

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“There are folks whose family members were in incarceration camps during World War II,” he says. “There are folks who have relatives that were Holocaust survivors. And Black artists that use their work to talk about the prison industrial complex. We are all wanting to harness our voices to focus it on immigrant detention.”

Beyond the sky messages, “In Plain Sight” will exist in other ways. Documentarian PJ Raval and producer Farihah Zaman are filming a documentary series related to the project that will also explore deeper issues of migration and identity. To make up for the carbon footprint, artist Sam Van Aken is planting trees close to detention facilities and other carceral sites.

An augmented reality visualization shows the words "NO MORE CAMPS" over Santa Anita Park.

An augmented reality visualization of the words “NO MORE CAMPS” to be skytyped over Santa Anita Park this weekend. The project was organized by curator Karen Ishizuka and the group Tsuru for Solidarity.

(4th Wall AR / In Plain Sight)

Artist Nancy Baker Cahill has uploaded the skytyped messages into her augmented reality app, 4th Wall, which users can download for free to their phones. Once installed, it is possible to view skytyped messages virtually at each location. Not sure where those locations might be? A function in the app uses geolocation to direct users to the nearest site.

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Moreover, Oxy Arts, the cultural space run by Occidental College in Eagle Rock, which is serving as a presenter of the project, will host a fall exhibition of participating artists and offer related programming, such as panels and performances.

“In Plain Sight,” therefore, will continue to exist in myriad forms after the last clouds of vapor have evaporated.

Says Cassils: “It will live on.”

In Plain Sight

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RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Fresh Arts focuses on diversity

When artists and creative entrepreneurs attended Fresh Arts events before the onset of COVID-19, they saw a diverse representation of people that fostered an inclusive environment — a valuable resource for artists of color.

But because of the pandemic, the arts nonprofit made a point to continue their emphasis on diversity through virtual content by highlighting artists of color in online workshops and discussions.

“They will always be mindful that this person is from the African American community, this person is from Africa, this person is Asian America, this person is Hispanic American,” said local theater artist Neisha Bently. “I think if you’re trying to report the image of inclusivity you would host your events in that manner.”

Fresh Arts is a nonprofit that helps local artists and creative entrepreneurs succeed in the business of art. Fresh Arts treats the arts as any other industry, understanding financial success comes from a strong business acumen. Through their artist-centered community programs, they offer resource sharing and skill-building initiatives to help advance their careers.

Immediately responding to news that Houston would be following work-from-home guidelines, on March 17 Fresh Arts launched the first of many virtual programs aimed at amplifying efforts and support of Houston’s creative community.

“We have reached nearly 30,000 users from all parts of the world,” said Marci Dallas, executive director of Fresh Arts in a news release. “We are reaching twice as many artists and arts lead organizations as we were offline. We’re able to do that even more effectively now by meeting them where they are.”

Fresh Art’s strategy was to leverage what they’re good at, which was nurturing a good online following, and talk to people who already want to talk to them, then work based on that, according to Fresh Art’s programs outreach coordinator Reyes Ramirez.

Every Tuesday, Fresh Arts launches Arts on Tap LIVE on Instagram TV, featuring artist interviews and behind the scenes scoops on local art happenings. On the first and third Tuesday of the month, audiences can participate in the Resource Round-up, hosted by Ramirez, on Facebook Live that featured special guests and informs viewers on available resources and upcoming opportunities. Fresh Arts also recently launched a Facebook Live Conversation Series that is broadcasted every Thursday, where local artists talk about how they are adapting and staying engaged during the pandemic.

Beginning in August, Fresh Arts will also launch a monthly podcast discussion on career development.

Online content provides artists with an opportunity to remain engaged with their audiences throughout the shutdown, such as mezzo-soprano opera singer Jessica Blau whose work, Sonquete Iberoamericanx, was rescheduled due to COVID-19.

“The fact that Fresh Arts is there to help support some of us artists who are trying to create our own work and really showcase different kinds of projects, it really helps individual artists,” said Blau.

Still, many Houston creatives are not aware of Fresh Arts, including many artists of color. According to Bentley, many African American artists she knows do not affiliate with what they consider “non-black organizations.”

“Working in the theatre community, there’s the Ensemble Theatre community, then there’s everyone else,” said Bentley, referencing Houston’s Ensemble Theatre, an African American ran theatre company which works to bring Black Theatre to the Houston community.

In Bentley’s conversations with African American artists, many will say, “’Oh, I thought it was just for white people’, and I’ve found myself having to explain that it’s really open to all of us.”

According to Ramirez, Fresh Arts understands that Houston is one of the most diverse cities in America and makes a point to feature artists of color in their discussions and programs.

“Even before the protests, we understood that artists of color make Houston what it is. It makes the Houston arts community what it is. It’s always been great, and we know by featuring them would be paying them respect but also shows Houston that this is it, this is the heart of it,” said Ramirez. “It’s artists of color who have made Houston’s arts community great.”

One of their recent conversation series featured local artists Marissa Castillo from Teartx, a local Latinx Theatre Company, and Matt Manalo from Filipinx Artists, an artist collective of Flipinx visual, performing, literary, culinary and multidisciplinary Houston artists.

They have also featured multidisciplinary artist, curator, and project manager Theresa Escobedo, and visual artists Jamie Robertson. Their July programming is centered around cultivating equity in the arts, with topics such as Amplifying Arts Writers of Color, Implementing Language Justice for the Arts, and Prioritizing Programming for Marginalized Artists.

“They definitely do garner attention from all different types of people, ethnic backgrounds, geographic locations, and also artistic disciplines,” said visual artist Amy Malkan. “We’re bringing a different flavor, we’re bringing our own cultural backgrounds, our perspectives, to whatever that artistic opportunity is. “We’re introducing people to new cultures, new ways of thinking, new ways of seeing things.”

According to Malkan, the arts is like any other industry where people have subconscious biases and give art projects primarily to people that are white, leading to artists of color missing out on opportunities.

By Fresh Arts producing content that featuring a diverse group of people, “you can’t say ‘oh well they’re only catering to this group’”, said Bentley. “It’s never all one color”.

“It’s important now for our voices just to be heard,” said performing artist Chris Thomas, also known as Yung Chris, “It’s always been the time for that but I feel like now is more critical just because of the climate of what’s happening around the world and in our community.”

“I think people are starting to listen now versus just being silent,” said Thomas. “We have a story as well. We have narratives as well. Those narratives and stories should be highlighted, and I hope it’s not just a trend but more so it’s an actual change that will continue in the far future.”

ryan.nickerson@hcnonline.com

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

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RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Keeping the tradition going

When your family has successfully organized and run a multi-day arts and culture festival each of the past 33 years, odds are you’re not going to let a pandemic stop you from pulling off the 34th. 

“We always kind of check the pulse of what’s going on in the city,” says Florence Ayers, Colorado Black Arts Festival (CBAF) executive director. The festival was founded by her brothers, Perry Ayers and Oye Oginga, in 1986, and hasn’t missed a year since, rain or shine. “You’ve probably noticed that a lot of the Denver arts festivals didn’t go virtual this year,” Ayers adds, noting that the loss of some of Denver’s biggest summer fêtes — the Cinco de Mayo, Cherry Creek Arts and Dragon Boat festivals — left a gaping hole in 2020’s cultural scene.

“So we thought about it,” Ayers says, “And we decided we don’t want to miss a year. We’re not going to let COVID cancel this very important event. We don’t want to have our 34th year next year, we want to have it this year.”

So the 34th Colorado Black Arts Festival is going online, offering much of the same programming that has drawn as many as 100,000 patrons to Denver’s City Park in years past, like storytelling and hands-on activities in the Children’s Pavilion, music on the KUMMBA Stage (jazz, blues, neo soul, R&B), traditional African drumming and dance at the Joda Village Compound, live artist interviews, and maybe — “this hasn’t been set in concrete yet,” Ayers says — a socially distant version of the annual parade.

“The tradition of the Black Arts Festival is too important to be canceled,” she says. “It’s just so important to us to keep the tradition going. It’s important to have this celebration, whether it be in person or whether it be virtual.”

While the schedule for the festival is still developing, we talked to four artists who are participating this year. 

Please visit colbaf.org for more information. Check in regularly for a full schedule.

Adrienne Norris, Afro Triangle Designs  

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans activists at the helm of the Gay Rights Movement until they were pushed out by those who thought the face of the movement should conform more closely to social norms: White, affluent and part of the gender binary.

Adrienne “Adri” Norris loves to learn, but she likes to joke that you wouldn’t believe that if you saw her grades from high school. 

“If I’m honest, a big part of [the problem] was that I actually did not connect to the information at the time,” Norris says over the phone as we chat about her Women Behaving Badly series, multi-media pieces that tell the stories of women who history has relegated to footnotes — if it’s included them at all. Norris creates stunning, detailed watercolor portraits of women like Dolores Huerta, an American labor leader and civil rights activist who, with Cesar Chavez, co-founded what became the United Farm Workers; or Hedy Lamarr, the Austrian-American actress known for starring opposite Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart, but whose contributions to frequency-hopping signal technology weren’t fully recognized until more than a decade after her death. The portraits are accompanied by collages that tell a story about each woman’s life — an art history lesson, if you will.

Norris’ father was an educator — a French teacher born and raised in Barbados — and it was his teaching position at the United World College in Montezuma, New Mexico, that led his daughter to a sister boarding school in Italy. 

Adrienne Norris Audre Lorde, activist, poet and educator. She spoke of intersectionality before the term was coined because of her experiences in the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Lib Movement and the Gay Rights Movement. All wanted her to be other than the complete person she was. 

“[School] was very Eurocentric, and especially once I went to school in Italy … we’re learning, literally, European history that had nothing to do with me,” Norris says.

“By researching women in history, I’ve already got skin in the game just by virtue of being born female. By choosing to tell the stories of women of color, immigrant women from all walks of life, it gives me a much greater connection to history than I had ever been given before.”

Art has been a constant in Norris’ life since she was a child in the Bronx in the late ’80s, right after she, her mother and brother had moved from Barbados, where Norris’ father remained for several years until he was able to secure the teaching position in New Mexico. When her brother struggled to adjust to the move, it was his tutor who introduced Adri to a book of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci to entertain her while he taught her brother. 

“That was the first time I realized that these pictures were created by people,” she says.

She took art with her from New York to New Mexico, then from New Mexico to Italy. Still, she hadn’t considered a career in art. At the end of high school, with what she saw as limited options, she entered the Marines. 

Adrienne Norris Katherine Johnson, mathematician. She was the subject of the book and movie Hidden Figures about the Black women in NASA during the height of the Space Race. 

Despite academic struggles, Norris excelled at languages. She was quickly placed in an intelligence program in the Marines, where she became an Arabic translator as the U.S. was entering the first years of occupation in Afghanistan. 

“I did five years active duty and it was pretty much the weirdest five years of my life,” Norris admits. “It’s a very strange thing to do as far as I’m concerned.”

Determined to find another path in life, Norris left the Marines and applied and was accepted to the Art Institute of Colorado in Denver.

“I graduated with honors because after having had the military experience, I was like, OK, this is it now, if for no other reason than I don’t want to go back in,” she says. 

Today Norris makes a living from creating art full-time through her business Afro Triangle Designs. She’s made education a key component of her business model, visiting schools and camps to teach young people about the importance of learning history, and about the power of art. 

“[Women Behaving Badly] was kind of me taking over, sort of reconfiguring history education for myself and then putting it back out there for others,” she says.

Thomas E. Lockhart III, multi-media artist

Thomas Lockhart’s friends and family sometimes joke that when God was dishing out talent, Lockhart went back for seconds. 

“So my art style [has] a lot of elements to it,” Lockhart says. “And I really pride myself in being able to move through different genres over time, just working in and out of different mediums and different styles.”

Browsing Lockhart’s online gallery is like exploring Picasso’s periods; there’s realism, surrealism, Cubism, post-impressionism. Much of Lockhart’s work taps into the story of the African diaspora. 

 Thomas Elias Lockhart III
Title: Piercing Beauty
Medium: Mixed Media on Gallery Wrapped Canvas
Size: 36×36 inches

Picasso himself was deeply inspired by African art after Henri Matisse showed him a mask from the Dan region of Africa. For a three year period at the turn of the century, Picasso painted in a style strongly influenced by traditional African masks and art of ancient Egypt.

Born and raised in Denver, Lockhart picked up art as a child, watching his cousin draw while they both spent time at their grandmother’s house. He loved art of varying styles, from cartoons to murals to fine art. After high school he went to college for graphic design. 

He spent years working odd jobs, freelancing commercial art, developing his own fine art in his spare time. A local gallery in Denver took an interest in Lockhart’s art and began to move pieces around the country in the early aughts, but it wasn’t until 2017 that Lockhart felt compelled to take the plunge and make art his full-time gig. 

He had spent the last eight years working concurrently as a corrections officer and bail bondsman — work that gave him a clear picture of the systematic oppression of black men in contemporary America. 

“It was very difficult at many times,” Lockhart says of the work. “Once I [became a corrections officer], then I started doing a lot of reading and research and came to find out there are so many evils on the prison side — not only having to watch the prisoners but having to watch my own coworkers as well.”

Artist: Thomas Elias Lockhart III
Title: In the Dark, Still I Glow
Medium: Mixed Media on Gallery Wrapped Canvas
Size: 36×36 inches

Lockhart dove headfirst into the history of the American prison system, and the way it was used after emancipation to legally re-enslave black men.

“If you didn’t have a job, you could be arrested and thrown in jail,” Lockhart says of the fate of black men in the late 1860s. “You understand those slaves were just freed. Of course they didn’t have a job because the states would not allow them to work.”

Our conversation turns away from art and toward history. We discuss how American politicians of the 1970s “got tough” on crime, enlarging the penal system while decimating the welfare system — a plan that still guts black American families to this day. Lockhart talks about the Devil’s Punchbowl in Natchez, Mississippi, where 20,000 freed slaves were captured by Union soldiers and forced to live and work in a concentration camp. Many died of smallpox. Others — including women and children — died of starvation. 

You can see Lockhart’s reverence for history in his art, in the farm workers, activists, musicians and mothers he paints.  

“Art is history,” Lockhart says. “When you think back and you really want to find out what happened in history, somebody has drawn it. Somebody has brought it to life to be able to say, this is what happened in this particular time.”

Senakhu Donald, Intergenerational Women’s African Drum and Dance Ensemble (IWADDE)

When you watch Senakhu Donald lead her Intergenerational Women’s African Drum and Dance Ensemble (IWADDE) in kuku dance, you are witnessing a living art that has taken on many forms over many centuries. 

“The dance of the fishes,” Donald says of the West African dance that was originally performed by women returning to villages from a fishing trip. “A lot of [African dances] had an original, specific reason for the dance, and it’s kind of grown into a celebration dance.”

For more than 30 years, Donald has practiced various types of African dance, beginning with capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial arts dance, when she was in college in Stanford in the late ’80s. Over the years she discovered kuku and majani, a dance of the Bamana people of Mali. Eventually her daughters joined her in African drum and dance groups that often practiced dances from West Africa, where much of the American slave trade originated. In this way, African dance is a direct line to ancestors who were ripped from their homes and forced into endless labor and unthinkable abuse.

Courtesy of IWADDE A group shot of IWADDE during Kwanzaa, Dec. 2019.

Dance has provided a way for Donald to explore pieces of her heritage. Her name, Senakhu, means following the ancestors, she says. 

“We always try to start out with what we call the libation piece,” Donald says of IWADDE performances. “We’re giving honor to our ancestors either through the actual process of pouring libation — water —  to the earth, or [through] what we call moving libation [that everyone] participates in, drummers and dancers.”

Dance is like a prayer, Donald says, a way for humans to connect with pieces of themselves they didn’t know existed, to tap into buried emotions. In that way, IWADDE is a sacred space, specifically for black women, a place where there is no competition, only community.

“Sometimes you have dance troops and they’ll have… an intensity, let’s say, within the group,” Donald says with a laugh. “Even if it’s a more communal dance group, there’s still an intensity to it. But I did not want that. I really wanted [IWADDE] to be a group for fun, laughter, hugging — a safe space for black women, and that’s what it is.”

Donald has performed at every Colorado Black Arts Festival since its inception, and she wasn’t about to miss this one. 

“When I was first contacted, I was like, yeah, no worries; if I can pull the people together, we’re willing to do it,” Donald says, “because it’s important just to keep that continuity and energetic space of doing this celebration year after year.” 

Joice Thomas, Blackscape Studio, outdoor mosaic art

Joice Thomas ‘Out of Africa’

Joice Thomas may make art meant to withstand the unpredictable weather of Colorado, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fine art.

“One of the toughest jobs I have is explaining what mosaic art is,” says Thomas, who operates Blackscape Studio, creating African-culture themed outdoor mosaic art. “Because in [African American] culture, and I think most cultures, you don’t see mosaic art. It’s an old form of art [that existed] before Christ. You find it discovered in all kinds of places, way beneath the Earth, people in lost cities did mosaic art. … It’s even better than some of the fine art. And then you have the other end of it, which is more arts and crafts where you do flower pots and those kinds of things. Most people will come to me and say, ‘What is this?’ and they want to touch it. And it’s like, no, because it’s glass and it’s an uneven surface. …You wouldn’t go up to a Mona Lisa and rub your hand on it.”

Thomas has always loved gardens, especially the stone pavers and wrought-iron sculptures that turn botanical gardens into fresh-air art galleries. 

But she was dismayed when she couldn’t find art that reflected African culture. So she decided to create her own.

She wanted to create statuettes of black children, but found that to be financially prohibitive. While at an arts festival in Delaware she saw a woman creating stained glass art and thought, “I could do that.”

‘Ghana Woman’

“I picked up a[n instructional] book and started cutting glass and I absolutely loved it,” she says, and she’s been making mosaic art ever since. 

Thomas’ pieces use traditional African motifs, like adinkra, which are symbols that represent concepts or aphorisms. The Ashanti people of modern-day Ghana often wear robes adorned with adinkra. 

“My favorite [symbol] is the Gye Nyame,” Thomas says, an insignia that symbolizes the supremacy of God. “Religion is a big part of [black] culture, and when you go to a Baptist church or a black church, it’s an experience different from any other that you’ve been to. I can almost guarantee that.”

Thomas has begun to form 3D sculptures featuring various flags, like that of South Africa, which can be used to accent the home or garden. She plans to create a Pride flag 3D sculpture soon.

It’s taken her time, she says, to feel comfortable with her art.

“I used to feel intimidated by what people in my artist groups did, I always felt that I didn’t do enough,” she says.

“But [I realized] it’s not my job to make you feel comfortable about it. And that released me.”    

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Bombay Sapphire Gin Collaborates With Herbu Brantley to Launch First-Ever Artist Designed Bottle

Hamilton, Bermuda – Bombay Sapphire, the world’s number one premium gin by volume and value, announces its collaboration with contemporary Chicago artist Hebru Brantley to launch its first-ever artist-designed bottle in North America. As an extension of Stir Creativity, the global platform from Bombay Sapphire, the new Hebru Brantley Limited Edition bottle embodies the brand’s mission to inspire and awaken creative potential within everyone. The launch of the Hebru Brantley Limited Edition will benefit the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter.

Drawing inspiration from his early passion for street art, Brantley’s bottle design features distinct Afro-Futuristic motifs as an extension of his narrative driven work. Recognized as one of the preeminent Black artists at the forefront of culture, Brantley is internationally lauded for his public works and solo shows over the past decade, and has been sought after by a roster of A-list clientele including Jay-Z, Lenny Kravitz, George Lucas, LeBron James and more. Brantley’s most recent project, Nevermore Park, transformed his former Chicago-based studio into a fantasy-like immersive pop-up art experience that attracted tens of thousands of visitors from around the world. Continuing to channel his work on new unexpected canvases, the artist has collaborated with Bombay Sapphire to create a design for the iconic gin bottle.

“We are honored that our first artist edition is with Hebru Brantley, whose work we have admired and supported for a long time,” said Tom Spaven, North America Brand Director for BOMBAY SAPPHIRE gin. “Bombay Sapphire has always been a champion for equal representation in the arts, and it was absolutely essential to us that we make this donation to support the Black community. Art has the power to create change, but this is just a small step. We recognize that we can and will implement more long-term initiatives to champion marginalized voices in the creative arts — a mission that has never been more critical than it is now.”

The longstanding association between Bombay Sapphire and Hebru Brantley was first established in 2011, when Brantley as an up-and-coming artist qualified as a finalist for the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series — a nationwide search for the next big names in visual arts with a focus on fostering rising talents and undiscovered voices. As a part of the prize, Brantley’s work was showcased at Scope Art Fair the following year, propelling his work onto the global art scene and attracting the attention of major brands and cultural icons alike, including hip-hop mogul Jay-Z who purchased one of his pieces — a testament to the exceptional caliber of talent who received exposure from the brand’s annual emerging arts competition.

“It can be pivotal when an established, global brand like Bombay Sapphire believes and invests in up-and-coming artists early in their careers. My relationship with Bombay Sapphire began with the Artisan Series almost a decade ago, which played a role in jumpstarting my career,” says Brantley. “Now the relationship has come full circle with my reinterpretation of the iconic Bombay Sapphire bottle, which is an extension of my submission piece for the Artisan Series. When you create something unique like this, you want it to inspire hope for a better future and shine a light on the courage and resilience of Black people in America. It felt only right that Bombay Sapphire and I were able to do this together to benefit Black Lives Matter Chicago, to support the critical work they do in fighting for racial justice in my hometown.”

The Bombay Sapphire Hebru Brantley Limited Edition bottle is available in select states from July 1 and at ReserveBar.com.

HEBRU BRANTLEY X BOMBAY SAPPHIRE LIMITED EDITION

SIZE: 750 ML

SRP: $22.99

ABV: 40%

ON SHELVES: FROM JULY 1st, 2020

ABOUT HEBRU BRANTLEY

Hebru Brantley creates narrative driven work revolving around his conceptualized iconic characters which are utilized to address complex ideas around nostalgia, the mental psyche, power, and hope. The color palettes, pop-art motifs, and characters themselves create accessibility around Brantley’s layered and multifaceted beliefs. Majorly influenced by the South Side of Chicago’s Afro Cobra movement in the 1960s and 70s, Brantley uses the lineage of mural and graffiti work as a frame to explore his inquiries. Brantley applies a plethora of mediums from oil, acrylic, watercolor, and spray paint to non-traditional mediums such as coffee and tea. Brantley’s work challenges the traditional view of the hero or protagonist and his work insists on a contemporary and distinct narrative that shapes and impacts the viewer’s gaze. Collectors of his work include LeBron James, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, Lenny Kravitz, George Lucas, and Rahm Emanuel, among others. Brantley has collaborated with brands like Nike, Hublot, and Adidas.

Brantley earned a B.A. in Film from Clark Atlanta University and has a background in Design and Media Illustration.

ABOUT BOMBAY SAPPHIRE

BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® is the world’s number one premium gin by volume and value. BOMBAY SAPPHIRE is created with a unique combination of ten sustainably sourced botanicals from around the globe. The brand’s signature distillation process known as vapour infusion is showcased at the BREEAM award-winning Laverstoke Mill Distillery in Hampshire, England. The vapour infusion process skillfully captures the natural flavors of the botanicals which results in the gin’s fresh, bright taste. Awarded a double gold medal in the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE is consistently recognized for crafting the finest quality gin. For more information, please explore bombaysapphire.com.

The BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® brand is part of the portfolio of Bacardi Limited, headquartered in Hamilton, Bermuda. Bacardi Limited refers to the Bacardi group of companies, including Bacardi International Limited.

ABOUT STIR CREATIVITY

BOMBAY SAPPHIRE’s global platform – Stir Creativity – is not only a brand mission but a steadfast commitment to empowering people to awaken their creative potential; it’s a call to arms for everyone to engage with their creativity. Bombay inspires versatility and creativity in cocktail-making, which is why bartenders have recognized Bombay Sapphire as a canvas for creativity. Last fall, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE launched #FindYourCanvas under its global Stir Creativity platform to celebrate, inspire, and ignite creative self-expression among consumers; proving that anyone has what it takes to create a work of art. A creative outlet doesn’t need to manifest on a traditional canvas. Whether it be a blank canvas, a stage or a camera viewfinder, there are many different canvases (or catalysts) for creativity. Everyone has what it takes, all you have to do is #FindYourCanvas.

 For More Information: 

www.bombaysapphire.com.

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RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

For Actors Of Color, Art Reflects Life, for Better and Worse

The cast of Bay Street Theater’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun” during rehearsals in 2019. Chauncy Thomas is at left.

By Georgia Warner

As white Americans struggle to accept — or struggle to deny — the parts we’ve played in perpetuating the systemic racism that’s pulsed through this country since its inception, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) have been shining a light on the obstacles they’ve inherited as a result. And, if we resist the urge to look away, we’re faced with the painful and undeniable fact that racist ideologies have been insidiously permeating our every interaction, institution, and industry in ways that effectively prevent white people from discomfort, and BIPOC from equality.

The entertainment industry is, unfortunately, a glaring example.

Lately, many performers of color have boldly taken to social media to share their personal experiences with racism in the TV, theater and film industries. As a white actor for whom race has never been a personal barrier, I was shocked by much of what my BIPOC friends and colleagues were sharing — but my shock gave way to shame as I realized just how rampant this invisible enemy has been within the performing arts, and how often I’d surely witnessed (and likely, unwittingly participated in) racist actions and attitudes without even recognizing them, let alone calling them out for what they were. My silence had been compliance.

To better understand and expose what really goes on behind the scenes, I reached out to five influential and outspoken actors of color — Mark St. Cyr (“High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” on Disney+), Toccarra Cash (Broadway’s “The Play That Goes Wrong”), Chauncy Thomas (Bay Street Theater’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Of Mice and Men” and “A Raisin in the Sun”), Cynthia Nesbit (ATC’s “She Persisted”), and Brandon Curry (“L&O: SVU,” and the upcoming “Protector of the Gods”) — who graciously agreed to share their insider-info on how systemic racism has surreptitiously seeped into every facet of show business.

Brandon Curry

Q: How has racism within the entertainment industry impacted your artistic journey?
St. Cyr:
The primary racist attitude that’s affected my journey as a Black actor is the implicit idea that there is “only so much room” for BIPOC in entertainment. Most popular TV shows when I was growing up kept BIPOC in sidekick or supporting roles, and rarely had their own storylines unless the show was explicitly about race.
Curry: I’ve often been told I should be grateful for opportunities that white artists take for granted. As part of my conditioning as a Black man in America, I’ve had to frame many prejudices and injustices against me as obstacles to overcome. For example: the audition process at universities, when several thousand prospective students audition for their favorite conservatories and BFA programs each year. My white counterparts suggested that the only reason I was accepted into some of those programs was because of “diversity” — but the truth was, my dream school had “already filled their Black male quota” before I auditioned.
Cash: Honestly, I could fill an entire book with my personal experiences of racism in the industry. It’s so embedded into every stage of the process. In audition rooms, I’m told things like, “Give us that sassy attitude — you know what we’re talking about,” or “Be more urban!”
Curry: I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked to make my voice sound “more urban.” An urban sound is … a car horn.
Cash: Even when I was playing the only Black, female role in David Mamet’s “Race” at Florida Studio Theatre, my thoughts on my character were consistently dismissed by the white, male director. But these situations are seldom acknowledged or remedied by white theater-makers, because taking accountability would mean upending the stories they’ve told themselves about how liberal or “not racist” they are. And should a Black actor speak up, we risk being labeled as “threatening,” or “the angry Black woman/man.” The gaslighting is endless.
Nesbit: On my first national tour, I was one of only two Black people in the company —naturally, we’d been assigned as roommates. I began to notice that our notoriously genteel production manager was reticent and discreet when giving performance notes to my cast mates but consistently nasty and publicly critical of me to the extent that the entire cast regularly joked about it. Behind her back they called her racist. Six months into my contract I was fighting back tears before every performance.
I called a meeting with management. As I nervously read from a statement I’d written about the ways she had singled me out, our company manager interjected, “That’s a serious accusation about MY staff — do you really want to go there?” Tag-teamed and intimidated, I let it go. Two days later, I was told by HR that she had filed a formal complaint against me due to my behavior in the “disciplinary meeting” I’d apparently been “called in” for. Thankfully, I had proof in writing that I’d been the one to call the meeting, and explained to HR why I had, but HR did nothing. When I told my mom, she said, “This is corporate America, that’s how it works.” Now, I just try to keep my head down.
Curry: I think in general when people are speaking about racism in the industry, they want to hear about actionable offenses, but the truth is, the institution of entertainment works off of the pain of people of color; from the roles that we play, to the roles we’re not allowed to play, to the lack of concern in regards to hair and make-up for BIPOC.
Thomas: If there is a diverse cast, and the design team is all-white, it is imperative that someone understands Black hair. I’ve seen too many Black women be expected to do impossible things with their hair.

Cynthia Nesbit

Q: How has your experience playing roles intended for actors of color differed from playing non-racially specific roles?
St. Cyr:
There are pros and cons to both. I feel great fulfillment playing roles specifically written for Black men, if the role has been written with awareness, compassion, and three-dimensional humanity; but, too often, they’re stereotypical and surface-level. Whereas a benefit of non-racially specific roles is that the character is written without any preconceived judgements. But whenever you cast a person of color, their race becomes a given circumstance of the story, even if your story isn’t about race. If a racial minority gets cast as a series-lead, it’s okay if their race isn’t acknowledged immediately — but if that character goes multiple seasons without their race or culture being acknowledged, it can feel like erasure.
Curry: I can think of once in my whole career when I was asked to audition for a role that wasn’t specifically written for a Black man. Audiences struggle to embrace Black actors in roles that were “not intended” for them. Audra McDonald as Lizzie in “110 in the Shade”? People got so confused. And KeKe Palmer as Broadway’s first Black Cinderella was a big to-do. I’ll never understand how we can be fine watching a conversation between Elphaba the wicked witch and Dr. Dillamond the goat, but somehow, a non-white Ann Darrow in “King Kong” is unimaginable.
Thomas: The person who wrote my favorite play was a white guy with many accolades and an impressive body of work, but I don’t believe he ever wrote a part for a Black character. When I was living in St. Louis, a small theater company there was doing one of his plays. I wanted to audition, but didn’t know if they were open to casting actors of color. Many auditions claim that all races and ethnicities are encouraged to audition, but my skepticism of that is often buttressed when I see the final cast.
This audition notice made no mention of race or ethnicity. Normally I’d have sat it out, but I desperately wanted a chance to speak this playwright’s words. I arrived to the audition and saw no people of color; I wasn’t surprised. A colleague of mine seemed to be working for the company. When he spotted me and — with combination of happy-to-see-you and blunt confusion — said, “Chauncy, what are you doing here?” I was immediately demoralized. It was as if the idea that a POC could be cast in this show never occurred to him. I didn’t want to show my emotional defeat, so with as much excitement as I could muster, I said, “I’m here to audition!” And then I auditioned for a part I knew I wouldn’t get.
I’ve never made that mistake again. Unless I’m specifically told casting is looking for actors of color, I’m not showing up.
Nesbit: I was in a popular kids’ show about puppies, and I played the only Black-specified character: the chocolate Labrador.

Chauncy Thomas

Q: What have you found to be the biggest difference between working with diverse vs. non-diverse casts and creative teams?
Cash:
When most of the creative team has been Black, I’ve been treated with a respect and specificity that allows me the freedom to be my most creative, authentic self. When the creative team is white, I’ve often found myself navigating their generalizations, stereotyping, and assumptions, which of course impedes my creativity.
When I performed in “Measure for Measure” for the Public Theatre’s Mobile Unit last fall, with an all-Black, female cast and Black creative team, it was the first time I’d ever felt confident doing Shakespeare. With white casts and creative teams, I’ve second-guessed myself due to the implication that I, as a Black actor, was less of a “cultural authority” on Shakespeare. But in the Public production, I thought, “Wow, this must be how white actors get to feel all the time when performing Shakespeare.”
Curry: It’s extremely challenging to truthfully spill your guts for a creative team who inherently cannot understand your point of view. I’ve been in situations where a white director tells me that a choice is wrong, or doesn’t make sense in the reality of the world. But how can you judge the reality of my world when you don’t live in it? When you don’t know how it feels to be a person full of joy and light, but folks still cross the street so they don’t have to walk on the same side as you? Or to not be able to hail a taxi cab in your own neighborhood?
St. Cyr: On sets that are more diverse, I find the leaders are better listeners, and usually have a desire to make a film or TV show with a higher level of inclusion and understanding for all their characters.
Nesbit: It’s especially magical to work with other female Black creatives who can facilitate and encourage a safe space for our artistry and our humanity. Those experiences are nothing short of sacred.
Thomas: People are people; you can form the same bonds and camaraderie with any cast. But majority Black casts feel more comfortable talking about racism in theater or in general — often because, if the cast is primarily Black, the play likely deals with racial themes — but also because we live in a racist world, so it feels as common to discuss as the weather. A unique situation occurs though when a theater that has little-to-no experience producing plays with diverse casts decides to put one on. Many actors of color, myself included, can feel an added pressure that if our production isn’t successful, that theater may never produce a play with so many actors of color again.

Mark St. Cyr

Q: How do you feel about the roles that have been/are being written for actors of color? What sorts of BIPOC characters and storylines would you like to see more or less of?
St. Cyr:
I’d like to see more Black men in roles for gay and trans characters. When “Moonlight” came out, there was a lot of hate from parts of the Black community who felt that Hollywood was trying to emasculate Black men and present us as weak; but gay Black men can be masculine and strong, too. It’s unfortunate that much of the Black community feels more comfortable watching Black male characters murder each than kiss each other.
Thomas: I certainly think roles for people of color are improving, but there is a long way to go. I recently had the realization that six of the last 14 women to win Best Supporting Actress Oscars were Black. That’s wonderful progress. But before those six, there were only two winners: Hattie McDaniel and Whoopi Goldberg. Black women certainly didn’t all of a sudden learn to master the craft. Finally, roles worthy of their talents are being written, and more importantly, greenlighted.
Cash: With more female BIPOC writers, the roles for Black women are becoming more nuanced, complex, and ever-so-slightly more numerous — but white stories and roles are still the vast default, especially in theater. Personally, I want to see more central Black characters in future-based stories. I also really want to see sweeping, epic, big-budget projects centering on BIPOC in pre-enslavement or pre-colonialism eras — like the Queen of Sheba, and Mansa Musa, which I hear might be in the works — and hell, can we finally get an accurate depiction of Cleopatra, not played by a white woman?!
St. Cyr: I also want to see East Asian/South Asian men in leading roles — particularly romantic/sexy roles — because there’s been a history of desexualizing and emasculating Asian men in American culture. I feel Hollywood has just plain overlooked the need to support and develop our Asian/Latinx/Native American/MENASA [Middle East, North Africa and South Asia] talent.
Thomas: Yes! And Indian men need roles beyond doctors. We also need far better roles for Latinx actors.
Also, we need more diverse body types. On TV, the physical standard has always been higher for Black men. How many Black men on TV between 20 and 40 can you name who don’t have a six-pack? I realized if I wanted a better chance to succeed, I had to be in better shape than white men my age — so, four years ago, I altered my diet and exercise and basically put on 25 pounds of muscle. I get so much more work now.
Nesbit: For a while, I was seriously considering plastic surgery, because I’d look at these TV actresses who I almost looked like, and think: how can I look more like them? What nose shape, what cheekbone height, what hair texture would be “acceptable” in order for me to succeed as an actress…?
Cash: In the wake of the current racial awakening, we need stories that reflect the reality of what Black people are dealing with when it comes to the police. Too often, stories portray the officers struggling and conflicted with their violence, or the officer who kills a Black person will also be non-white. No. Tell the truth: the officers who perpetrate these crimes on Black people are rarely remorseful, and almost always white. America needs to see the truth without sugarcoating.
Curry: One of the reasons I love “Insecure” on HBO so much is because it is simply a narrative where the people happen to be Black. That means that we naturally learn about the Black experience by way of these characters that we love. Playwrights like Michael R. Jackson, who just won the Pulitzer Prize for “A Strange Loop,” or Jeremy O’Harris who wrote “Slave Play” to critical acclaim — these are people who are introducing work that not only informs audiences, but esteems the BIPOC telling the stories and using their skills with pride.
St. Cyr: I feel optimistic about the BIPOC roles being created in TV and film right now. After “Black Panther,” Marvel has doubled down with some of the most diverse casts ever; and because Marvel produces some of the biggest blockbusters of all time, their commitment to championing diversity can impact our world in a major way.

Toccarra Cash

Q: What changes can artists and arts organizations be making to actively combat the problem of racism in the arts?
Cash:
Equity starts with the leadership. So more Black people need to be in leadership positions. Period.
Curry: A lot of the issue when it comes to network television specifically is that there’s all of these people in charge who have to approve everything — so if the board is comprised of a million old white guys who don’t want to see stories about Black families, then it’s not going to happen.
St. Cyr: “Grey’s Anatomy” would’ve been a mostly white cast if Shonda Rhimes didn’t have showrunner power. Look at the Academy Awards: in 2012, the Academy members were 94-percent white. They’ve since diversified with more women, BIPOC, and youth, and I’m hopeful that’ll be a helpful step toward changing the culture of Hollywood.
We need to be honest about what our industry situation is and start aggressively fixing it. We have a scarcity of minority movie stars, and we need to cultivate them. And as much as Hollywood has work to do, Broadway seems to me to be even more behind the curve than Hollywood. Thankfully, TV networks all have diversity talent showcases where each year they intentionally seek out new undiscovered talent and give them a platform to be introduced to the industry. The ABC Diversity Talent Showcase set me on the career path I’m on today. I wish there were more of those kinds of programs, and that theaters and publishers offered similar opportunities to showcase diverse and underrepresented talent.
Nesbit: I think that every production which tackles racial issues should have a cultural dramaturg. I’m also a big proponent of colorblind casting. Whenever a project is non-racially specific, I wish they’d just put every different race in a hat and shake it up and let that decide what parts are what color, because diverse casting shouldn’t be a big deal. Theater is all make believe!
Cash: I want to see us Black artists and creatives continue to speak up as a united front, like we have with the recent “Dear White American Theatre: We See You” movement, without fear that it’ll affect our ability to be hired. I also want more Black artists charting our own paths by starting our own production companies, distribution companies and theaters. But we need white artists and creatives to join in these fights and be true allies by educating themselves on how to be actively anti-racist. These “official statements” from predominately-white companies mean nothing until they are followed up with real, measurable action.

Q: This is an East End newspaper, so I wanted to hear from actors of color who hail from the Hamptons — but I couldn’t think of a single one. That’s… not great. Have you ever gotten to visit or work on the South Fork?
Thomas: I’ve performed in four productions at Bay Street Theater for their Literature Live program. I’ve been able to perform two of my dream roles there, so it’s been artistically fulfilling, and actually most of the work I’ve gotten on the East Coast occurred because of a connection I’ve made at Bay Street. In terms of the area, I’m from the Midwest, and still enjoy peace and quiet, so having a fall show in the Hamptons has been an incredible blessing.
St. Cyr: I was very fortunate to film an independent movie called “Modern Persuasion” in the Hamptons in the summer 2018. The film is a modernized adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” and there are several great scenes in the Hamptons.
Curry: I’ve visited the Hamptons on a few occasions — once, to see a wonderful production of “Equus” at Guild Hall — but I’ve never felt comfortable out there. You ever been to a place where every single person does a double-take when you walk by? Like, I know I’m beautiful, but I’m not Beyoncé.
Cash: I’ve been to the Hamptons once in my life. I remember saying to my friend I was there with, “Wow, not many of us out here, huh?” She said, “Nope; not besides the historically Black Hamptons enclaves, but those are now being gentrified.” That led to a whole conversation about how systemic racism has had a hand in the creation and preservation of the Hamptons.

Q: Will you be celebrating the Fourth of July this year?
Nesbit:
The Fourth of July is canceled. America has never been free. This July Fourth, I —like many BIPOC — will be wearing all black, to remind people of our overlooked exclusion. No shopping, no cookouts; we are celebrating Juneteenth. Once our humanity is acknowledged, then we can acknowledge the Fourth of July — but Independence Day has never meant a thing to African captives in this country.
Cash: I’ve always had an issue with the Fourth of July — for Black Americans, the entire idea behind the holiday is a gigantic slap in the face. As the country was celebrating its independence from Britain, my ancestors were all still enslaved. Juneteenth is our Independence Day; June 19, 1865 commemorates when the last enslaved Black people were told they were free. I hope people get honest about Independence Day, and work on dismantling the rose-colored myth of America’s freedom.
Curry: I like to celebrate the American holidays regardless of their foundation, but I think we can interpret them in a much better way moving forward. I’ve often called Columbus Day the Indigenous Peoples day, it has now officially been changed. Over time, I think we can take these outdated landmarks and transform them into something to be proud of.

Q: Do you believe art has the power to heal?
St. Cyr:
I think art can be a catalyst for healing. A lot of pain in this world is caused by people who misunderstand each other on an empathetic level. I think great storytelling can help us empathize with each other.
Curry: The thing I love most about theater in particular is that you can see yourself reflected onstage in the embodiment of someone else. Watching someone handle a circumstance you’ve struggled with before being able to step outside of yourself and see the truth right in front of you, can heal.
Cash: I believe art is absolutely one of the most vital methods of healing, and this pandemic has shown us that. How in the world would we be getting through this mess without music, movies, television, literature, and artistic expression?

Q: What’s next for you — artistically, or otherwise?
St. Cyr:
I’m about to release a short film called “Everything is Fine” that I wrote, directed, and acted in during quarantine, and using the online premiere on June 18th to raise money for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Nesbit: Currently, I’m working on dismantling capitalist white supremacy; that’s my new artistic endeavor. Black people have always been devastated when one of us is killed by the police, but before the pandemic, we’ve had bills to pay and no time to grieve. Now, you take away all the busyness, and underneath you find this impact; this availability for liberation.
Curry: This time has been challenging, but it’s also reminded me that there’s more to life than fancy opening nights. A lot of people are angry right now — and they should be. I’m glad more people are getting angry, and I hope their anger helps pave way for change. But anger is just one way to protest. I protest with my joy. No one can take my joy away from me.
I just hope white Americans start to understand the ways that racism has benefited them. When my ancestors were released from the plantation they’d worked on for their entire lives, where they hadn’t been allowed to learn to read or write or cultivate any skills apart from producing profit for their white owners, they were expected to suddenly, magically catch up to all of the wealth and prosperity that already existed in the country. So I say to you, as a community of people who live in one of the wealthiest beach towns in the world: I hope you’ll consider how events of the past have made it possible for you to sit in the comfort that you do today, and how to best use your positions of privilege to amplify the voices of those of us still calling for equality and justice.

#BlackLivesMatter

@markstcyr
@toccarracash
@chauncythomas
@cynthiaforthepeople
@brandonlashawn
@georgiawarnerrr

Comments

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Remove statues in Brum with ‘murderous’ links to slavery call

Birmingham is ‘littered’ with the statues of men with ‘murderous links with slavery’, an online petition has claimed as it calls for them to be removed and buildings to be renamed.

Organisers the Birmingham Anti-Racist Campaign (BARC) have called for such statues to be taken from display and put into museums, while also asking the council to rename the buildings across the city with links to Britain’s colonial past.

Last month a wave of Black Lives Matter protests swept the country in the wake of the death of George Floyd in America, with 4,000 people taking to the streets of Birmingham in mid-June.

These protests have also seen statues and memorials considered to have links to colonialism and racism targeted by protesters, with the Edward Colston statue in Bristol torn down last month.

Lord Horatio Nelson in the Bull Ring.

And now residents in Birmingham are calling for the council to take similar action in regards to Birmingham monuments and buildings.

The petition calls for the removal or renaming of several iconic Birmingham statues and buildings, including:

  • The Boer War memorial in Canon Hill Park
  • Horatio Nelson’s statue outside the Bullring
  • James Watt memorials (including James Watt school)
  • Matthew Boulton memorials ( Including Oasis Boulton School)
  • Birmingham Curzon Street Station and the Curzon Building (BCU)
  • Memorials named after Joseph Chamberlain (Six Form College, Square and Clock Tower)

“Birmingham Anti-Racist Campaign (BARC) is a group of anti-racist campaigners in Birmingham,” a statement said.

One of the fathers of the modern industrial age, James Watt statue in Chamberlain square in December 2012.

“Our members include teachers, doctors, artists, academics, students and trade unionists. We have started a petition to ask Birmingham City Council to consider removing several statues connected to the slave trade or colonial history.

“We would like to see them placed in a museum similar to the Liverpool’s ‘Slavery Museum’, where people and in particular the next generation can learn the horrors of slavery and colonialism so that we never make the same mistakes.

“We know that young people in our city are also questioning the history taught to them and last week a letter was sent from current and former students to the Headteacher of Camp Hill School for Girls.


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“Birmingham is one of the most diverse cities in the UK and we must ensure that this is reflected in the way we tell the stories of the past and how we create a more equal and inclusive future.

“Whilst removing symbols glorifying the horrors connected to slavery and colonialism is important – our fight does not end there. It is for this reason that our petition also asks Birmingham City Council to tackle the structural and systematic racism in our city which is leading to health, housing, employment and educational inequalities faced by Black, Asian and ethnic minority communities in our city.

“We need concrete material improvement.”

The Chamberlain clock tower in the Jewellery Quarter.
The Chamberlain clock tower in the Jewellery Quarter.

The petition also asks that the council work with schools to “ensure school children in Birmingham are taught history from an anti-colonial perspective”, while also asking the council to “commit to tackling structural and systemic racism which is leading to inequalities in health, housing, employment and educational, etc within our city.”

Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias C is a local historian of philosophy, and has been a member of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign since 2015.

And, reflecting on the petition, he said that it is time that Birmingham stopped teaching its history through the lens of ‘dead white men’.

“Birmingham has a habit of telling its own history through the prism of the life of an individual ‘Dead White Man’,” he said.

“Take James Watt, whose home was Heathfield House in Handsworth. The associated conference at the University of Birmingham didn’t even have a paper on Watt and slavery. The associated exhibition at the Library of Birmingham didn’t even mention that Watt was a human trafficker of black children, or that his father paid for his apprenticeship in engineering – education that enabled him to steam power the industrial revolution—with blood money from trading goods produced by the enslaved.

“It’s an addiction we’ve got to quit. The history of Birmingham is so much more that the (whitewashed) stories of those Dead White Men’s lives. So much more!

“In 2018, Liverpool University Press published what they call the ‘first major history of Birmingham since the 1970s’, in other words, the first official history written since the Race Relations Act 1976, which was supposed to protect us from racial discrimination. But this official history book is racially discriminatory.

Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias C

“It mentions the British Empire only four times and is 100 per cent written by a monopoly of 13 historians all racialised as white. Yet, fewer than 60 per cent of the population of Birmingham is racialised as white; the remaining 40+ per cent are here because of British Empire.

“As the year approaches in which Birmingham will host what used to be called the British Empire Games, we’ve got to have a civic conversation and ask ourselves: Why don’t our historians get to contribute to writing the official history of Birmingham?”

And the campaign has also been backed by local Northfield Councillor Olly Armstrong (Lab), who said: “Over my first two years as Northfield ward councillor we have had to ask to have Nazi badges taken down and white supremacy stickers removed from Victoria common.

Northfield Labour councillor Olly Armstrong
Northfield Labour councillor Olly Armstrong

“Racism must be challenged where ever we see it. I stand by and with those asking us to dig deeper into the history of statues, street names and spaces that may celebrate people who profited from slavery.

“This is not about the removing of history, rather the opening up and revealing of the actual, often stark, truth of our colonial past. I hope we listen to this petition, and that it builds on the work of many black artists, activists, politicians, who have asked for change for decades.”

In response to the petition Cllr John Cotton, Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion, Community Safety and Equalities, said: “The voice of Birmingham citizens has been clearly heard after the peaceful protests last week. We have long been proud of Birmingham’s history of tolerance and diversity, and will work with our communities to make sure that spaces in the city reflects this.

“We understand the significance that statues, and other things such as street names and buildings, have and we are at a point at which to reflect on what they say about our city.”

You can find the petition here: https://bit.ly/31B8t4a

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

After race riots in Harlem, William Johnson painted the pain

Art is always expressing things people don’t want to say into megaphones. It gives voice to inner life and ambivalence, and provides an outlet for people feeling pressure to be on the same page as everyone else. (Being “like-minded,” in my experience, is a state to which the best artists are constitutionally averse.)

William Henry Johnson, a celebrated African American artist who was born in Florence, S.C., in 1901, must have been feeling all kinds of pressure in 1943 when he began painting “Moon Over Harlem.” (The painting and a study for it are both owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Johnson had spent most of the 1930s in Scandinavia, having married Holcha Krake, a Danish textile artist 16 years his senior. As war approached, Johnson’s brother-in-law, the German artist Christoph Voll, was fired from his teaching position. The Nazis had labeled Voll a “degenerate artist.” As a black artist who worked in a knowingly modernist idiom and had married a Nordic woman, Johnson saw the writing on the wall. He returned with Krake to the United States in 1938.

So many African Americans who traveled to Europe seemed to come back with a profoundly altered perspective. Johnson, who had two lengthy spells in Europe, was no different.

He soon found work as a teacher at the Harlem Community Art Center, and he resolved to celebrate black culture in urban settings. He was prolific.

But at the end of 1942, a week after Johnson and his wife had moved to a studio apartment in Greenwich Village, their building caught fire and he lost a great deal of work, along with his art supplies. Krake was then diagnosed with breast cancer.

So Johnson must have been in a bleak frame of mind when he painted “Moon Over Harlem.” It was a response to the race riots that broke out in Harlem in the summer of ’43.

The riots had begun when Robert Bandy, an African American soldier, tried to intervene when he saw police arresting a black woman for disorderly conduct. The police, who said Bandy assaulted them, shot him as he tried to flee. When some people falsely reported that Bandy had died in the hospital (he survived), there was an outcry and two days of rioting ensued.

What’s strange and poignant about “Moon Over Harlem,” which Johnson painted as his wife was dying, is that the policemen are all African American. To me, it looks as if they’re trying to mop up after the riots, which Johnson shows not in their throes, but as the desperate aftermath of a binge of drunken mayhem.

Johnson was intimately familiar with the pain that gave rise to the riots. The proximate cause was police brutality against blacks. But there were plenty of others: wartime food shortages (which were felt with extra acuteness in Harlem), segregation in the military, political disenfranchisement, a long and terrible history of oppression. All this pain was the result of racism, pure and simple.

But Johnson was an artist, so what he painted was not pure and simple: it was complex and ambivalent and it recognized that things needed to change. It was a scene both of pathos (the liquor bottles strewn all over the ground attest to that) and — could it be? — something like tenderness. The style is deliberately crude and folksy, so it’s hard to be sure, but look at the arms of the shortest policeman, toward the right. He is concerned, solicitous. The three black cops in the middle, too, are not “dismembering” the woman in the patterned yellow dress, as one wall label I read proposed. They’re trying to lift her away from her ruin.

Was Johnson painting a dream — an all-African-American police force concerned for its exhausted and abject citizenry? I really don’t know. But if he were dreaming, no one would blame him.

Sebastian Smee is a Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic at The Washington Post and the author of “The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals and Breakthroughs in Modern Art.” He has worked at the Boston Globe, and in London and Sydney for the Daily Telegraph (U.K.), the Guardian, the Spectator, and the Sydney Morning Herald.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

The Association of Black Artists is changing conventions of art through fellowship

ABA’s current Vice President, junior visual arts major Manal Murangi created this visually striking piece.

Community. That’s the word that comes to mind when hearing the members of the Association of Black Artists (ABA) speak on the heart of their organization. The group officially joined the ranks of UMBC’s 250 plus student organizations in the spring of 2020 with rising junior Media and Communications and Dance double major Joshua Gray serving as President.

“The Association of Black Artists is really a student organization that gathers artists from the different disciplines, so we have performing artists and visual artists,” said Gray, “[The group focuses on] three different things: The first being fellowship, the second being collaborative projects, and the third being engaging in intentional dialogue about the intersectionality between being Black and being an artist.”

As to what inspired him to start the organization, Gray said that creating a space where Black student artists can celebrate and uplift the cultural foundations that inspire their art is important. He added that one of the catalysts for his starting the organization was looking around and realizing that there was no space like ABA in place.

Gray was excited by the prospect of such a group because “when brilliant and talented people get together there’s nothing but the possibility for greatness.” He thought about how that could lead to professional opportunities for development, fellowships and jobs.

When he spoke to peers about his idea, there was immediate excitement and one word came to mind: Finally. Initially Gray actually did not envision himself as leading the organization. He saw himself as the person with the idea but was happy to see someone else bring it to fruition, especially since the work was so important to him while he has many other obligations.

However, eventually, he realized that with such a strong team and initiative to set a standard of accountability with the other leaders of the organization, he could serve as the president and work to make his vision a reality.

The young and ambitious student group has goals to launch a mentorship program wherein ABA’s members can go to high schools and community centers to share their knowledge and enhance what younger people are already doing.

“I always say that being a college student is coming from this amazing place of privilege,” Gray said, “and being able to use that privilege to then feed back to somebody else is very rewarding, and it’s important.”

Though the group already has some ideas in place, beacause it is so new, the spring semester was largely dedicated to setting a tone for the group as well as identifying what the space should be. Monroe Eartha, a rising junior Media and Communications Studies major, was one of the founding members of the organization, serving as Vice President for the spring semester before switching to general membership.

Eartha spoke of ABA’s early meetings as setting expectations for what the organization should be, describing it as “a safe haven to express ourselves and to share our work and collaborate. It’s good to know that you have an expert that you can call and they will support you without judgement.”

She also spoke of the group as a way to change conventions of what black art can be, stating “We came to the conclusion that your work doesn’t have to be about being Black. Because you are Black it is going to be Black art anyway.”

Eartha hopes that the group will encourage artists to explore the range of their experiences as people, expanding the sometimes limited view of Black identity because “there are tons of slavery movies and we don’t need more of that. We can be more than mammies, we can be more than slaves, we need to see that we are more than that. One day we hope to not have to call ourselves black artists and just be artists.”

Like Gray, Eartha spoke of the planned mentorship program as an important part of ABA’s work, citing the impact of art in her own life while she grew up in downtown Baltimore. She recalled art serving as an outlet for her emotions and believes it will be good for kids like her to see that “you can do something that you enjoy and make money from it and inspire others.”

As of now, one of the group’s main goals is to get word out about the organization and get people interested. The organization hopes to spread their influence to other universities in the area, so that the students of institutions like Towson University, Goucher College and Morgan State University know about the space that has been created at UMBC and can develop their own localized spaces for Black artists.

While ABA works to put down their roots and establish themselves, they want people to know that when things return to a semblance of normalcy, there will be a space for creativity to thrive. However, they say that just because there is a physical distance between people, that does not mean that the community of artists stops.

In fact, Gray and Eartha agreed that art can be an important part of responding to times of crisis such as those we face now. They have two messages for artists at the moment. The first is that whoever you are, your art matters. The second is that there are opportunities to use everything at your disposal, including your art, to respond to and even change the world if it is not the way you want it to be.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment