Tag Archives: Art

Charlottesville: One Year Later

In the year since the deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, there has been a growing awareness that public art is about public memory. It matters whose story is told in public spaces. From Maryland to Texas, Confederate monuments have been taken down. It took Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh three days to send the Confederate monuments in “Charm City” packing.

confederate-monuments-baltimore6-ap-mem-170816_4x3_992

Conversations about public memory and symbols of hate were also held “Up South.” The Pittsburgh Art Commission voted to remove the monument to Stephen Foster, the “Father of American Music,” who is memorialized with a barefoot slave seated at his feet.

Stephen Foster
A task force appointed by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the removal of the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, who operated on enslaved African American women to develop advances in gynecological surgery.

#FrankRizzo - Dr. J. Marion Sims2

In Philadelphia, calls grew louder for Mayor Jim Kenney to remove the monument memorializing Frank Rizzo, a former mayor. As police commissioner, Rizzo presided over a police department whose practice of beatings “shocks the conscience.” That was the finding of the U.S. Justice Department which, in 1979, filed an unprecedented civil lawsuit against the city over its abusive policing tactics.

#FrankRizzo - Justice Department Collage

On the eve of the first anniversary of Charlottesville, Kenney did an about-face and said the Rizzo monument would stay at the gateway to municipal services for at least two to three years. The Mayor claims he is concerned about “incurring additional costs” of $200,000 $100,000. Truth be told, the police department will likely spend at least $100,000 quarterly protecting a monument to police brutality, racial bigotry and misogyny.

Frank Rizzo Statue Surrounded by Police and Barricades

But get this: Kenney presides over a city government that spent $5 million on a computer system and has nothing to show for it. Also, City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart recently reported the city cannot account for a whopping $33 million in taxpayers’ money.

The Philadelphia Inquirer called out Kenney on his flip-flop:

Mayor Kenney has taken pains to publicly underscore the value of our city as welcoming and diverse. That’s a message undercut by the delay in moving the controversial statue that for some stands for oppression. That it was confirmed so near the anniversary of Charlottesville is sadly tone-deaf — especially at a time when better listening is critical.

Meanwhile, Frank Rizzo Jr. said that if his father’s statue is removed, “there’s going to be a fight.” Listen up, Junior: It’s on.

Art, Jazz and Activism in North Philadelphia

Jazz musicians were about intersectionality before the term was coined. During 2018 Jazz Appreciation Month, I moderated a conversation on art, jazz and activism, curated by Black Quantum Futurism and Icebox Project Space.

Blue Note Salon

The panel discussion and community forum featured artists/activists Josh Graupera,  Stormy Kelsey, Michael O’Bryan and Tieshka K. Smith. The audio is now available on Artblog Radio.

Blue Note Salon

On December 8, 1956, the Miles Davis Quintet, featuring Miles Davis (trumpet), John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) performed at the Blue Note. The set was featured on the Mutual Network live remote radio broadcast, Bandstand, U.S.A.

That same night, the police raided “the town’s swankiest jazz emporium.” The Blue Note was a “black and tan” club, an integrated nightspot where blacks and whites socialized on an equal basis. As such, it was the target of police harassment.

Philadelphia Tribune - Dec. 11, 1956

From the beginning, jazz was a tool for social change. Jazz musicians’ unbowed comportment created a cultural identity that was a steppingstone to the Civil Rights Movement. In remarks to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said jazz is “triumphant music”:

Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.

This is triumphant music.

Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.

It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.

Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.

On April 21, 2018, All That Philly Jazz and Black Quantum Futurism will present the “Blue Note Salon” which pays homage to jazz musicians’ legacy of resistance. The community discussion will feature creative change makers who work on social justice issues. Their work is at the intersection of art, community engagement and social change.

Blue Note Salon

The event is free and open to the public. To RSVP, go here.

Presidents’ Day 2018

I am a museum lover. Before the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery was my favorite Smithsonian museum. It’s now my second museum. When Barack Obama won the 2008 election, I thought that he will be included in the pantheon of American Presidents.

President Obama’s portrait was unveiled last week.

Barack Obama - NPG

In an email, Obama wrote:

Today, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald became the first black artists to create official, Smithsonian-commissioned portraits of a former President and First Lady.

And Michelle and I joined our distinguished predecessors and thousands of our fellow Americans on the walls of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery.

To call this experience humbling would be an understatement.

That’s because, as a former president, when you choose an artist to describe your likeness, you have the opportunity to shape, quite literally, how someone sees the office of the American presidency. And how they might see themselves in that presidency.

[…]

The arts have always been central to the American experience. They provoke thought, challenge our assumptions, and shape how we define our narrative as a country.

Thanks to Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, generations of Americans — and young people from all around the world — will visit the National Portrait Gallery and see this country through a new lens. These works upend the notion that there are worlds where African Americans belong and worlds where we don’t. And that’s something Michelle and I hope we contributed to over the eight years we were so privileged to serve you from the White House.

Michelle Obama’s portrait will join the collection of First Ladies.

Michelle Obama - NPG

In case you missed it, check out “Obama Portrait Unveiling at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.”

Paint Day: John Coltrane Mural

Philadelphia is the City of Murals. The murals celebrate events, as well as residents who have made a difference. Few are more celebrated than John Coltrane who moved to Philadelphia in 1943. Coltrane resided in an apartment in Yorktown before buying a house in Strawberry Mansion in 1952. The house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

Coltrane kicked his heroin habit and composed “Giant Steps” in that house.

In 2002, the Strawberry Mansion community, in collaboration with the Mural Arts Program, honored their former neighbor. The Pennrose Company demolished the Tribute to John Coltrane mural in 2014.

Tribute to John Coltrane Collage

To be sure, murals come and go. However, there is too much love for Trane to let the demolition go unnoticed. It has taken a while but a new mural celebrating the life and legacy of the jazz innovator will soon be dedicated. The community is invited to add a brushstroke at a public paint day on Saturday, August 19 from 1-3 p.m., at Fairmount Park’s Hatfield House, located at 33rd Street and Girard Avenue.

So get up for the down brushstroke. Everybody get up and join the Mural Arts Philadelphia, Fairmount Park Conservancy, Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee and All That Philly Jazz.

For more info, visit Mural Arts Philadelphia.