I wanted to share this poem by a C4 Atlanta Hatch artist, Latanya Hardaway. Latanya shared this poem with us during Hatch a few weeks ago. Prior to her reading this poem, we had lengthy and weighty discussions about race, white supremacy culture, privilege and considerations for artists working with community. I have to say, I admire the heck out of this cohort. Each person in that class listens intently to one another. They also provide amazing support to one another. Latanya is no exception. I have been fortunate to get to know her more, along with her son, Earl. Both are part of the C4 family.
I asked Latanya if she would allow me to share her poem. I hope you enjoy it.
Like a Southern Whisper By Latanya Hardaway
I walked in the circle of change.
I bend over and picked the flowers from the garden newly planted.
I felt the breeze and listened quietly as the birds chirped.
I saw things that I’d never seen here.
Here where Sunday dinners were at Mom and Dad’s house.
I saw organic coffee shops, neighborhood gardens.
The air’s not really better from how dad sees it.
Looking through dad’s eyes, he’s painted a picture of pain.
Looking through dad’s eyes, I see anger and feel the fear of his 70 plus years.
Looking through dad’s eyes I see the change made by the “green”. Looking through Dad’s eyes, I see the alien takeover: making nothing look like home.
Then I see in his eyes a question, “Will there be a place for me?” And like a southern whisper of a word you dare not say out loud; a green organic alien speaks to him and says,” Bless your heart. Of course there will be a place for you.”
In March, C4 Atlanta wrapped up a 6 month long pilot of our newest educational program, Hatch. This program is designed to help educate artists in the “soft” skills needed to perform art within a community context.
Recently, we at C4 Atlanta have heard of awesome new projects being created by our pilot Hatch cohort. As we are able, we would like to feature their stories of work within community.
Charmaine Minniefield is a visual artist in Atlanta who’s work centers around the African and African American ritual from a feminist perspective. She has also been an arts administrator in and around Atlanta nearly 20 years. Charmaine recently completed a mural project, in conjuction with a team of local artists, in Old Fourth Ward after the end of Hatch. Here is the story of her project, in her own words:
Painting for the Moment: Visual artist Charmaine Minniefield reflects on diversity and equity with her recent public art project in the King Historic District
I was recently granted the honor of being invited to paint a mural in the King Historic District for the Not A Crime campaign. This social justice campaign uses street art in cities around the world to bring attention to modern day Apartheid. The campaign recently made its debut here in Atlanta with the intention of making a direct connection to the Civil Rights history of the American south by inviting three Atlanta artists to create murals on a single building on Edgewood Avenue. I was one of those artists.
The invitation came from fellow artist, Joe “King ATL” Dreher. Joe’s tagname speaks to his creative mission to uplift and reflect his hope for Atlanta. He sees our city through eyes of admiration and appreciation. His work, which is inspired by everyday folks walking the streets, has an element of hopefulness for our city and for our time. It was a great honor to have been invited by Joe King ATL to be a part of this project.
To sweeten the moment even more, Fabian Williams joined us as the third artist. Ok, see, I am a BIG fan of both Fabian’s artwork -which offers critical social commentary in the form of “contraptions” as of late- and his community work in the field to enable the artists of this city with his famous Art Battle events and other creative projects throughout the years. So, as you can see, participating with these two incredible artists, for this important cause, in the King Historic District, all meant so much to me.
When planning, the question of subject gave me pause. From my days as a producer with the National Black Arts Festival when we launched a Next Generation series and focused on the artist as activist; to my work with Hands On Atlanta and the King Center as the producer of King Holiday activities throughout the District for over 10 years; to more recently my own role in such social justice movements as Black Lives Matter and now the Not A Crime campaign, I knew that this was a chance to make my mark on the city as an artist activist.
The moment was right to counsel with my elders. I reached out and invited Civil Rights photographer, Dr. Doris Derby -an elder, mentor, and shero- to select the image. Her iconic work in the 1960s captured the importance of women in the Civil Rights Movement. Given my own artistic focus on the power of women throughout history, the King District mural gave me the chance to realize my dream to collaborate with Dr. Derby.
Now the players were in place and the city was my stage.
I need to be clear about the state of the stage. The city had recently undergone a full overhaul of public art policies in response to the outcry of a community that felt disenfranchised by well-meaning artists and arts organizations. Our mural was in fact the first to go through the newly required rigorous process of community approval. Commissioned by the Baha’i Community Center, a longstanding faith and Civil Rights institution in the District, we were pleased that we were approved.
We began the work. I painted alongside Joe and Fabian for most hours of every day for a week to finish the murals. It was pretty cool as we weighed in and even painted on each other’s walls working together as collaborators. What was most amazing for me was painting in the King Historic District as an African-American artist, painting from a Civil Rights image taken by an elder and Civil Rights activist icon. I was intentional about these elements, given the recent changes in the District.
Once known as the hub of the African-American intelligentsia, the hotbed of the Civil Rights Movement and home to the birthplace, church, and final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the District was now known for its party scene and amazing public art, but also predatory investors with scrupulous practices of gentrification. I was in the middle of the area’s controversial efforts of urban renewal at, what some would argue, the cost of some of the most precious elements of African-American history and identity: civil rights, business and entrepreneurship, political participation, and land ownership.
NOW, I can’t say by any means that I have not enjoyed a dance step or two in the O4W. I too have enjoyed Beltline springtime walks and the prospect of a thriving economic district versus a dying one. But there is something alarming about the changes that I see in our city that are in some cases at the hands of the arts, that I could not ignore when given the opportunity to represent in the District with this mural.
My work, my presence, my choice of a Civil Rights image, wedged between two iconic images all within a stone’s throw from Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, commissioned by a community whose founding members built the original edifice so that folks of all races could pray together – I knew my work needed to speak to the moment.
So I painted an image of everyday folk in Mound Bayou, MS (an all Black town) who took matters into their own hands to ensure their education in a Jim Crow south. I hoped to invoke their bravery and wisdom. I hoped their gazes would extend beyond the wall into our changing city, onto the landscape of development, welcoming newcomers with a reminder of struggles and victories passed, warning them of the importance of inclusion, remembrance, and respect as they celebrate hope and embrace a new diversity, breaking antiquated barriers of race, class, and gender divides, much like the Civil Rights and faith leaders before.
You see, I took this moment to return to the King Historic District not as a producer, but as an artist activist -to stand present as an African-American woman pushing back against the wave of erasure and development by remembering our history and paying respect to our ancestors by preserving, celebrating, and reclaiming their space and their stories.
I am grateful to the campaign for doing the good work of making sure the content of these murals gave an opportunity for equity to Atlanta artists whose works can ignite discussion and engage the community -past and present- in which the murals reside. I am thankful that the faces of the artists resemble the community and a hope for a united future, and that each image can encourage education and enlightenment, critical discussion, and endurance for those who reside in the King Historic District and beyond at a moment when we are reminded that not only Black Lives Matter, but Black Land Matters as well.
Look at the second example: “movements to empower the poor.”
You see, I struggle with this word but most of all, I struggle with how this word has been used by my organization. Or how this word is used by the arts community. Yesterday, I read a thoughtful piece by Margy Waller about the word, “help.” Margy asserts that our intentions to “help” a community can come from a place of privilege. We want to help, to make better, to clean up, to unshackle…to make more like “us.”
Empower. I have tried to remove this word from my lexicon. I still see it pop up in descriptions of our services (note to self: talk to the staff about this). Empower automatically denotes a tension in status. The one who empowers has the power to share–the one who is empowered is powerless, or at least he/she lacks enough power to accomplish a specific goal.
We (C4) don’t empower artists. We provide tools. We facilitate. We provide services.
Just a detour: I have been speaking with an adviser (for lack of a better term) who has reminded me on a few occasions that elected officials need us (voters, citizens, etc.) more than we need them. However, it is often that power dynamic that keeps us from civic engagement or from rightfully petitioning our government and its civil servants. We have the power. Do you know who else has power, ideas, thoughts, solutions, experience, knowledge and history: the very communities we believe we empower. Our audience is mainly artists. They have power. You have power. I don’t give you that. I can listen. I can share ideas. Together we can combine our assets. Together we can affect change.
As an artist, the power over your career is your own. And understanding the weight that the power you wield carries is important to your success. Understanding that often the entities you work with also need you more than you need them is important. We don’t always accept that the power dynamic works in our favor, but often it does.
I don’t have a solution that all of a sudden restructures centuries of colonial language. For my part, I will try to examine my perspective and challenge myself to be more thoughtful about not just language but intention. After all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
For these two classes, we ask the artists to reflect on the following thoughts:
Session #2 – Themes to consider:
depositing information vs. sharing information through dialogue
artists coming from a place of privilege
managing expectations through all aspects of working with community and with all of the stakeholders involved.
Session #3 – Themes and questions to consider:
What are the assets offer by the arts community of Atlanta?
What assets are available to you?
What are your personal assets?
What are the reflections that you had after the discussion about doing with the community (vs. for, or to) based on your own personal experiences?
We hope you enjoy their thoughtful responses!
These past two Hatch sessions focused on active methods of engaging community and gave us artists a lot of concrete examples of how to do so, either through experiencing methods as a group, or through the breakdown of other projects that had been effective or not. Through this process, we learned about mistakes that can be made and were given a chance to examine our own work through the lens of this learning.
I was able to reaffirm something I have known about my work: that it doesn’t truly and deeply enter the realm of community work, mine is, thus far, a social practice. This is okay, but my ultimate goal is to develop a practice which also works with the communities I care about and am invested in. What I understand better through these lessons is how to approach that goal. What is seems to involve most is trust, because you have to let go of so very much control if you actually want to work with people, not dictate to them or for them. That requires trust given to them, and building trust in them of you (a herculean task of time effort, energy, and consistency).
The main letting go is of false expectations, which I call “shoulds.” These are process focused methods, the process is where the art is, and the product, or the should, is secondary. I have a mentor who talks a lot of about the fallacy of “should” and this session also reinforced that idea. It may be cliche to say, but in life “should” is a lie we tell ourselves which really only hurts us, and this is as true for art practices as it is for anything. We make the best decisions we can in every moment, everyone who is present are the best people for that conversation, and everything that is said is what needed to be said. When we worry so much about shoulds we do damage, because we are trying to predict something that is unreal and it feels inherently negative because it assumes we somehow did less in the reality of what has actually taken place. That “should” deems less valuable the actual work being done. The asset based community development work we did in the session speaks strongly towards acknowledging only what actually exists, focusing on the reality of what we know, what we can do, and how we can use it to create positive, powerful, solution oriented conversations and I pretty much adore that idea.
As much as I love these ideas, I struggle to apply them to my own life, and I certainly believe that how we engage our communities should be equally reflected in how we work and care for ourselves. So it’s scary to know I am so bad at believing in the reality of what I can do, of what I am capable, and yet to expect myself to use all of these tools to work with others.
by Jessica Caldas
Asset Based Community Development = Looking at the “Haves,” Piling the Bounty
I work in art. Because I always have worked in art. Growing up in rural Georgia: Art, storytelling, puppetry were my solo means of personal fulfillment.
Ironically I kept thinking of this as McKenzie Wren facilitated Hatch Session #3…
My art growing up always began with looking at a pile. A pile of…fur, craft supplies, paints, whatever! And then saying, “Okay, what can I create?”
Asset Based Community Development is that. Collectively looking at the “pile.” The skills, resources, and offers of individuals to better a community as a whole…”Okay, what can we create?”
By utilizing the Community’s bounty, their “pile,” the community is intrinsically involved at the core. It is theirs. The project or mission doesn’t exist without the community. The “pile” of assets doesn’t exist without them.
We as artists hold the ability to actualize, curate, and help the community utilize the assets to the fullest.
“Okay Community, what should we create?”