Art needs to be talked about. Discussed. Verbalized. Felt through words. Mareia Quintero Rivera stresses that the joy and complexity of cultural production, and of the need to catalogue and study the framework and infrastructure of art in Puerto Rico, should be - must be - addressed and seriously covered in the media in Puerto Rico.
Nono never imagined that name would cross seas and languages, and that the beloved granddaughters - mapenzi and mulowayi - would forever espouse this unconditional surrender to the familial.
From the images of a crowd attending a show at a soon-to-be-closed Rio Piedras movie theater to the photographs of drowning Puerto Ricans, scholar Frances Negron-Muntaner probes the uncomfortable definitions of the end of an era and of the start of another in troubled times.
This session spoke to me deeply from my own experience deployed this year in my local public health department’s Covid-19 vaccination campaign. Whether it was being yelled at by angry people during the early days of limited supply and restricted eligibility, the unrelenting and thankless demands of countering disinformation and overcoming distrust, the highs of contributing to saving lives, the lows of confronting your own personal and institutional shortcomings, and the destructive self and interpersonal dynamics that can emerge under extreme stress…I got a small taste of the demands facing healthcare providers, demands that were heightened by the Covid crisis.
Two things jumped out at me the most from this workshop. The first was the set of sharp and wise recommendations for guiding organizational change and sectoral change during uncertain times from the ArtsEd Response Collective, which was convened by Ingenuity to address the immediate challenges of COVID-19 and the police murders of Black people. And the second was the deeper dive into dance as an educational tool uniquely well-suited for engaging children and youth around issues of anti-racism and racial justice.
The ARC Final Report presents a plethora of resources for arts educators and organizations, schools, and equity practitioners in adapting and innovating new strategies and best practices that are responsive to the challenges of remote learning and pandemic conditions. The report lifts up what I think is one of the most important principles for any sector during these times of rapid change and volatility—to commit to open source knowledge sharing and learning, which is part of recognizing that we must engage in building anew and that “experimentation is now a part of the new operating norms for every industry…in order to do important work in an uncertain landscape.”
Community-based art from my vantage point sounds a lot like community organizing.
The projects described by artists Chemi Rosado Seijo, Jesús ‘Bubu’ Negrón, and Edgardo Larregui make me think of the possibilities that emerge at the edges between creative disciplines, in service and collaboration with communities. These art projects were incubated by professional artists in dynamic partnership with residents, democratizing the arts among marginalized communities, uplifting and nourishing community life, and sparking the possibility for new solutions small and large.
I love traditional and folk art for its intimacy. My most treasured art, the only ones I have in my home, are a pair of Oaxacan tapestries I bought from a family of Indigenous weavers in the village of Teotitlan del Valle. We sat together in their home—which was also their workroom with wooden looms and stone mortars and pestles for grinding indigo and cochineal dyes—and spoke of the symbolic meanings of designs representing the elements of earth, water, fire and water, and the cycle of birth and death. In house after house in this village, Zapotec families maintain their way of life and sustain their local economy with weaving and selling their art.
Years later, these tapestries adorn my altar and are beloved companions of my spiritual practice. They are an intimate, daily reminder of the connective power of cultural and traditional arts. As Maribel Alvarez said, these are “practices, rituals, and ordinary overlooked aesthetics that have to do at the end of the day with living in beauty.”
An elevator. Train tracks. These two settings were sites of profound trauma and historical significance in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The elevator where a young black man bumped into a white woman one hundred years ago in Greenwood, setting off events that became the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The train tracks dividing the Black part of town from the white, that were also the path Greenwood’s survivors followed on foot to escape the killing of hundreds of residents and the burning and destruction of their district known as Black Wall Street.
In 2021, the elevator and the train tracks also became art. They were both art installation and storytelling projects that emerged from the Greenwood Art Project. The initiative, funded through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge, was a partnership of Bloomberg with the City of Tulsa and the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission to add a cultural component to the centennial commemoration.
Centering Indigenous self-determination, power building and movement leadership is an experience of deep learning and humility. Because of the enduring mythos of America that centers the settlers and the immigrants, and the Western worldview dominating this country’s systems, entering into Indigenous worldviews is one of the most radical shifts possible into what it means to reparate the wrongs of the past and present, and to build a regenerative, just future.
I was grateful for the invitation to listen at the roundtable talk of three powerful and wise teachers: Tina Kuckkahn (Ojibwe), director of grantmaking at NDN Collective; Gaby Strong (Dakota), managing director at NDN Collective; and Quita Sullivan (Montaukett/Shinnecock), program director at New England Foundation for the Arts.
This session began with a song of welcome from cultural practitioner and filmmaker Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu (Native Hawaiian, Kanaka Maoli) that opened up a space for radical imagination and relationship. Artists from the 2021 cohort of NDN Collective’s Radical Imagination Grant shared their work from the project, which invests in Indigenous artists’ community-based expressions of “a radically imagined, more just and equitable future.”
Engaging with this work—whether it be taking in fine art photography and film, hearing Native languages spoken and sung, or learning about specific customs and ceremonial practices within the context of decolonization—is about experiencing the gift of centering Indigenous worldviews and knowledge.