Preservation, Care, Librarianship: Keeping Local Memory Alive

What is the value of care in librarianship? How are libraries defining and supporting their communities? In collaboration with the District of Columbia Public Library at the NOMA Fab Lab Pop-Up, we explored the ways libraries are integral to the community and cultural ecosystems, and the current challenges with maintaining accessibility to their local communities.

“Preservation, Care, Librarianship: Keeping Local Memory Alive” featured a discussion among cultural practitioners doing the work of “radical librarianship,” workshops, and a local artist. Watch the discussion and see highlights from the event below.

The event also featured DIRT DMV, Smithsonian Hirshhorn‘s ArtLab and the Handgames Project. See highlights below!

Live beat-making with the Handgames Project.

Performances by the Hirshhorn’s ARTLAB+ Teens.

Dirt DMV’s live archiving station—visitors items were documented and archived on site.

Panel discussion with (L to R) Alison Beshai, Desireé Venn Frederic, Maryann James-Daley, Nicole Ivy and artist Dulcina Abreu.

a body of work: artist talks + tours (Transformer)

In our latest project, we’re exploring “Citation & Memory,” through art, community and dialogue. In our second installment, we hosted tours through Transformer‘s exhibition, “E15: A Body to Follow.” Highlighting the practices of citation and memory in the exhibit, the tours offered a fresh perspective on textile and fiber arts. Often secluded to the realm of craft and feminine arts, these tours highlighted four fiber works and their relevance within this exhibit as well as within contemporary art and the Washington, DC arts community. 

E15: A Body to Follow focused on fiber and textile as medium, history, and a means of survival. Considering the concept of the ‘survival thread’, artists Aliana Grace Bailey, Rachel Schechtman, Dulcina Abreu, and Alanna Reeves explore issues surrounding the body, security, identity, and connection to nature and family. See below for highlights from the exhibition and the public program!

E15 artists (from left to right) Aliana Grace Bailey, Rachel Schechtman, Dulcina Abreu, and Alanna Reeves

Little Jamaican-American Girl, Alanna Reeves 

My body is deserving of all the loving I can give, Aliana Grace Bailey

Untitled, Rachel Schechtman

Is there Such a Thing as, FUTURE?, Dulcina Abreu

E15: A Body to Follow is part of Transformer’s annual Exercises For Emerging Artists, a peer critique & mentorship program created to support a selected group of DC based emerging artists each year who are at critical points or crossroads in their professional growth and creative development. Learn more here.

Check us out in xoNecole!

Ravon and I are super excited to share an interview we did with Jamee A. Swift of xoNecole! We loved the questions she posed, and getting to share our mission with an even wider audience. Jamee wrote,

Although BGMB is only three years old, the organization has quickly become a go-to scholarly, professional, and community hub for the artistic curiosities, liberatory messages, progressive imaginations and praxis, and feminist entanglements of women of color artists across borders and boundaries.

Please go check out the final interview at the link above, or keep reading here for more content from our conversation.

Continue…

Vote for Us in the BEACON Grant Program Community Voting Round!

With the launch of our project, Brown Art Ink, BGMB is excited to recognize and support women artists, culture workers, and communities of color throughout the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area, through programming, cultivating dialogue, and providing funding.
We recently applied for the BEACON Grant Program, an organization to support women-founders, and made it to the community voting round! Find the guidelines for voting below:
1) Visit bit.ly/beacongrantvote to register and access the voting platform. You will be prompted to confirm your email after submitting. Once confirmed, you may log-in and cast your vote.
2) Each registrant has four votes and can cast one vote per category and one per application.
The categories align with BEACON’s four pillars, you can find us in the category: Providing Resources and Support for Women Entrepreneurs.
*Votes will not re-set; meaning, you may not cast one vote per day. Rather, each registrant is allocated four votes for the full voting period. Please note that the system will prevent you from allocating all four of your votes to a singular application.
3) The voting portal is equipped with keyword search functions to make it easy to locate your project of interest. Search for us at “Brown Art Ink”!

Brown Girls On the Radio

Just when you thought we couldn’t get any more cross-platform, we found a new medium to dip our toes into! Last week, Ravon and I were featured on the Maryland Humanities Podcast, and aired on WYPR  Baltimore. You can check out our episode, in which we discuss our mission to advocate for inclusion in cultural institutions, by clicking here or by hitting play beneath the cut.

Continue…

ICYMI: Ravon Ruffin and Lanae Spruce in The Lily!

It’s been a week — actually, it’s been a year. And in the spirit of celebrating when we can, I wanted to make sure to re-share an article that was all over my twitter feed last week, for good reason.

For their amazing work strategizing social media for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Lanae Spruce and BGMB’s own Ravon Ruffin were profiled in The Lily! Check out the article (including Ravon shouting out one of my all-time favorite books The Sovereignty of Quiet) here.

Beyond the Walls: Building the Capacity for Community

Last week we had the pleasure of being the keynote speakers for the 2017 Small Museum Association Annual Conference. Needless to say, we were honored to have the opportunity and were excited to share in the importance of small museum institutions to the future of museums. Below is a brief––very brief––overview of our keynote presentation. As always connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to continue the discussion.

If what we want for the future of museums is community-oriented public service, small museums should be our major model. Small museums have expansive ecosystems, the ideal location, and the richness of specificity that make up the new direction of the field.

 

When we say ecosystem, what we mean is the way an institution functions as a whole unit, thanks to the individual contributions of the people who work there. Ecosystem does not describe the building’s four walls or the items in the collection. Descriptions like “fast-moving, heavily bureaucratic, or community-run,” speak to the working environment of the organization. We are describing the work done by the people at those institutions, their goals and the ways in which they are enabled to or prevented from achieving them.

Some aspects of an ecosystem will always be specific to a single museum, but there are trends that occur across similar organizations. The question is not how to make small museum ecosystems more closely resemble the practices of large institutions; the question is: how can we make this ecosystem scalable at every size?

Black art incubator and the National Museum of Women in the Arts are perfect examples of what we think the ideal small museum ecosystem can look like.

The Black Art Incubator was a project created by four black women––Kim Drew (Black Contemporary Art Tumblr blog) , Jessica Lynne and Taylor Aldridge (creators of arts.black) and art historian and writer, Jessica Bell Brown  that took place over the course of the summer of 2016.

The Black Art Incubator so beautifully exemplified the boundless opportunities for collaboration when we tap into a multitude of resources toward a holistic goal and aim to be accessible. They took advantage of an intimate approach to create a community that could interact on an individual level toward a goal: to improve the arts and culture ecosystem for underrepresented and marginalized folks.

So what if we all were an active intervention in our spaces?

The National Museum for Women in the Art is such an example of an intervention being made by a museum. The museum launched a program, Women, Arts, and Social Change.

Through a host of panel and audience curated dialogue, the museum acts as a catalyst for their community of women on gender parity. Similarly, this project brings the community in but the planning of this program highlights the importance of each member of the museum working towards bettering the ecosystem.

One part of what makes the small museum ecosystem so able to be community-focused is the physical location of these institutions. Small museums are often located very close to, if not located within, the neighborhoods that make up their major audiences. Proximity is a powerful tool for organizations that seek to serve a local community rather than a national audience. Instead of representing global culture in a local location, small museums have the opportunity to represent their local communities and demonstrate their global significance.

Spatial proximity is a huge advantage when it comes to earning the trust of local communities, who may have never felt like a museum, large or small, can belong to them. After all, threshold fear, as Nina Simon calls it, is easier to overcome when it involves your neighbor’s door.

Workshops we put on at the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, and the community engagement of the Anacostia Community Museum demonstrate the power of this kind of local access.

We recently had an opportunity to work with the Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia, in conducting workshops with the museum’s visitors. Read about that full experience here

This particular workshop had spurred participants into a conversation about their own awareness of others in their communities that extended beyond their day-to-day, and were part of a larger geography. Here is where small museums can be empowered! You play a large role as an entryway for a new population into the rich history and culture of your communities and while also uplifting the narratives of those local to your areas.

The Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum does this well––being a direct line to their community and bridging those stories for the masses. They are also the inspiration for the context for us being here today. It was during the American Alliance for Museums Conference, on a panel titled around “Community Museums,” and we couldn’t help but think but aren’t all museums community museums?

The museum remains closely identified with its community through exhibition and programming initiatives to address the concerns of their changing neighborhoods, and being a direct line for opportunities for students and young adults.

The specificity of small museums is a direct result of their close proximity to the communities they serve, but on the national and international scale, these local stories often seem like niche interests.

This specificity is often talked about as a limitation, something for smaller organizations to overcome so that they too can play on the same international stage — but what needs to change in this framework is not the reach of the museums, but rather the way that we understand specificity. The mission of small museums is to demonstrate that specificity can be generative rather than limiting.

Rather than feeling the need to broadly represent history, art, or culture within their walls, these organizations can instead hone in on the unique details of materials in their collections, and exhibit them in their local neighborhoods.

Crosslines, put on by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, did just that.

The Asian Pacific American Center is another entity within the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution, and like the Anacostia Community Museum specificity to their neighborhood, they have their own specific cultural mission. Additionally, the center does not actually have a physical location. However, they experiment a lot in ways to let specificity be generative rather than limiting––by including and creating new archives.

CrossLines demonstrated that specific viewpoints do not need to be discarded, but can instead showcase the fact that every identity has unique aspects that must be encouraged to be shared. By understanding and empathizing with the performance of specific ways of being in the world, environments, atmospheres, geographies, and even institutions can become safer places for people with unique experiences of their own. By being interested in and supportive of the full depth of viewpoints outside of the merely visual display of diversity, intersectionality is prioritized over inclusion.

Conclusion

Small museums have many advantages when it comes to representing public arts, history, culture, and the sciences. Their ecosystems, geographic proximity, and ability to delve into specifics put them in the prime position to be the future of museum work — community-focused, employee proving grounds that don’t sacrifice their unique positions in the attempt to appeal to all possible audiences and points of view.

It is not that small museums have an equally small reach, impact, or scope — it is that these organizations have become the test-labs for the new direction of the field as a whole. The work being done by these institutions proves that small museums do big work, and this framework must be extended to all museums, of all sizes.

Last Words in Old Conversations: Redefining DC Art

As 2016 comes to a close, we inevitably find ourselves in a state of reflection––on the course of the year, the recent election, and looking toward the future.

We were honored to be invited to join a conversation hosted by ArtTable DC, State of Art 3, that would allow us to do this contemplation around the changing state of DC art. It is an event dedicated to sharing what those in the field are doing to support the arts or foresee as possibilities to sustain the art ecosystem, and we were excited to be listed alongside an array of creatives. It was a moment, on and off the stage, that both acknowledged the importance of such conversations and why we have to continue to have them.

State of Art requires speakers to put together a brief presentation of six minutes and forty seconds with twenty seconds per slide, a format known as PechaKucha style. It is an opportunity to spark dialogue among the speakers and the audience in order to further the ideas presented. Our presentation sought to showcase our approach to museums, their collections, and the exhaustion that brought us to this work.

img_0079

We intentionally selected excerpts from Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric to illuminate these moments of racism, oppression and microaggression that occur repetitiously, often enacted through passive day-to-day occurrences. Texts were interwoven between the 15th century painting The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli, and Misty Cropland photographed as Edgar Degas’s Little Dancer for Harpers Bazaar (Feb 2016). The imagery in relationship to Rankine’s eloquent words, provided an avenue into how we steer that frustration toward new interpretations of art in order to make room for other narratives and critical thought. In looking at Venus, how can we explore racial myths? How does Misty Copeland as the Little Dancer reveal or shift the narrative of the original subject of Degas’s work?

We expected it to be a lot for the audience to absorb in six minutes and forty seconds, especially if you are unfamiliar with our work, however we had faith that the two larger themes would marry.

img_0080

Of course not everyone was pleased, and resulted in this thread of tweets as an immediate release of my frustration:

 

img_6159screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-10-53-41-pm

If the post-election has taught us anything (and oh, oh so much), we’ve uncovered the desire for order at the overwhelming expense (and silence) of others that is the project of oppressive systems, vested in whiteness. One older white woman frankly told me that we “should focus on the positive” as she turned to walk away, and another woman, in a backhanded compliment let me know our “talk didn’t work” in the style we chose and offered her help. *sigh*

These women aren’t one of a kind. But more importantly, despite being tired––and I’m tired ya’ll––they exemplify the reason why we have to disrupt in order to push forward, and create space for new conversations on art and equity. A statement I constantly make, and made a point to do so in this presentation:

Decolonizing the institution is difficult work, but that’s how you know you’re moving in the right direction.

The truth hurts, especially when it means you have to experience some discomfort. Our presentation was meant to startle, and maybe even make people feel uneasy, because inclusion and intersectionality happen when people are willing to give up their seat to make room for others at the table––and history tells us sometimes you have to bring your own chair.

Radical Acts of Self-Preservation

When I was invited to speak at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) for their Digital Dialogue series, I had previously been thinking more on the use of social and digital media platforms as sites of radical archiving, as alternatives pushing the bounds on traditional notions of archives. Here are some brief highlights from my talk:

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-10-12-28-pm

Traditional archives on marginalized groups are projects on omissions within the archive––not a new issue for understudied and underarchived histories. We have always had to ask: where can we find these stories and how can we fill the gaps when we seek to study or archive communities that are often isolated from time and space?

Archives have traditionally been relegated to institutional gatekeepers, limited by documentation sources, and perceived as presenting a unified history. Within a radical tradition, to consider the politics, function, and act of archiving, strive to reflect community, intersectionality, and acknowledge the power entrenched in the archive.

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-10-12-48-pm

Our blog obviously lives online through our site, which is one way we archive. However, I am particularly drawn to Instagram as not only an extension of our site, but also as an act of self-curation to express a radical politic.

From our inception we created an archive, tagging ourselves as brown, and in relationship to museums in a very particular way––”brown” encapsulating the institutions asserts a privilege that we brown folk are rarely afforded, preserving our voice in the caption (similar to a museum label), and increasing the flow of discourse between the institution, us, and our audience.

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-10-13-07-pm

If Brown Girls Museum Blog represents asserting the space in the archive, @YoungThugAsPaintings represents asserting the relationship within the archive–– to renegotiate the terms and their relationship to one another, how we think about our sources, and as a critical site of intersectional dialogue.

The student who created the Instagram profile remains anonymous, and gives no indication of what course or subject matter the page relates. As a result the archive created here becomes legible through many lenses, allowing us to engage via social media, art history, African American studies, etc. We are forced to rethink such terms as “thug” and “art” as they are put in dialogue. This archive reflects the simultaneous collision and divergence of narratives that is constant with the archive.

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-10-13-40-pm

We’ve seen music archives with record labels or a particular sub-segment of music, such as Folk. But what of a music archive that does not preserve a specific sound but reflects an identity. What does it mean to have Fetty Wap and Aretha Franklin in the same Archive?

Here, I zeroed in on two particular entities, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center (APAC), a migratory institution, and the Black Art Incubator (BAI), a social sculpture created by Taylor Renee Aldridge, Jessica Lynne, Kim Drew, and Jessica Bell Brown.

These examples offered an opportunity to explore the significance, especially for institutions, on creating intimacy in the archive through engaging accessible spaces, and reconsiders the archival material to change the discourse. Here, music acts as an entry point to examine collective identity, race, history and more.

How else do we explain why President Obama almost broke the internet with his summer playlist?

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-10-14-07-pm

As we move to imagine the future of archives, we remember collections are not innocent, and they breed meaning. And if we are to truly do the work of inclusion and intersectionality within the archive, we must restructure and renegotiate across galleries, libraries, archives, and museums.

Additionally, I offer a resource page of sites and projects that influence how I think through radical archives such as The Very Black Project, Latina Rebels, Phila Print, Museum Hue, DocNow… These archives shift the narrative of who we understand as existing and as viable within and across our institutions.

To watch the talk in full, visit the MITH website here. Tweet us your thoughts @2brwngirls.