At the beginning of this year, on Feb. 1, the first Art-Part'heid talk took place at the 2640 Space in Charles Village. There was a huge turnout—more than 100 artists, organizers, activists, gallerists, arts administrators, and others came together to hear leaders (including Sheila Gaskins, Ashley Minner, Hoesy Corona and Ada Pinkston of LabBodies, Mia Loving, Talbolt Johnson, Abdu Ali, and others) talk about their experiences with barriers and inequity in the arts scene in Baltimore. Topics included accessibility of funding, microaggressions, and the straight-up basic necessity of diversity in the scene.
These conversations exposed inequity within the arts community as a microcosm of Baltimore itself, which became exponentially more apparent a few months later, after Freddie Gray died in police custody and citizens rose up in defiance and protest—of yet another black person's death at the hands of the police, but also of the numerous systemic problems (education, job opportunities, affordable/decent housing, to name only a few) that make life much harder for black Baltimoreans.
Some art events and shows that happened following those events were motivated by a need for healing and coming together. In early May, at Melani Douglass' "Love on the Line," a showcase of performance art, sculpture, and music, I saw an overwhelming display of love and positivity. "I'd rather talk about how to move past that trauma," Douglass said to me a few days later, "and use artists to celebrate redemption and make something beautiful out of something tragic."
Malaika Aminata also made a documentary, "Not About a Riot," to show what the mainstream media didn't cover during the uprising. From the documentary's website: "Through music, movement, and art, spirits are stirred, shackles are unchained, and a community comes together."
After such a pivotal year for Baltimore, it's important to look at how artists have responded. Last week, Artforum published a piece by local curator Marcus Civin, where he takes stock of some of the art that has come out since April. It's always good to see writing about Baltimore in a national or international publication that's sensitive to what's actually going on here (hi, local perspectives are always important), especially in the arts, which some nonlocals don't know anything about at all.
In his piece, Civin cites a number of artists/collaborators here that are making work that's either tied directly to the April unrest or, otherwise, more abstractly addresses issues that fueled the uprising. A few of those include: Paul Rucker's "Rewind" exhibition at Creative Alliance (and the Baltimore Museum of Art, for the Baker Artist Awards show), Young Moose and Martina Lynch's song 'No SunShine' (which we named 2015's Best Song), performance artist Bobby English Jr.'s work with Labbodies, Sondheim finalist Zoë Charlton, Sondheim winners Wickerham & Lomax, along with quotes from Sheila Gaskins—one of the Art-Part'heid organizers who, for our State of the Arts issue, penned an open letter to Baltimore's art scene to be more welcoming and actively inclusive. "Mix it up," she wrote, "if everyone looks like you, you always get the same old things."
After the first Art-Part'heid talk, organizers set up a Facebook group to share art events, info sessions for grants, open calls for entry, and other artist opportunities with anyone who wants to join the group. It's a pretty active and informative page, but it's hard to measure our arts community's progress toward making things better and more equitable without regularly checking in to make sure that we do more than just talk about what's wrong.
So tonight, at the second Art-Part'heid meeting, held at EMP Collective (307 W. Baltimore St.) at 6 p.m., I look forward to a conversation about this year and how things have changed and how we can do more.