Hoping you’re well and having an enjoyable week so far. Moving away from the arts for a minute, I would like to draw your attention to the continued efforts of the JAGS Foundation based in London. Over the last couple of years I’ve befriended its CEO Tracy Ford, who is a strong, persistant and determined individual I’ve come to admire and respect.
It has been 10 years since Tracey’s son, James Andre Smartt Ford, was fatally shot in Streatham ice skating rink. Since then JAGS was born, an acronym of his name, to campaign in reducing youth on youth violence on the streets of London. Since its start, JAGS has reached thousands with its message, from conferences to schools to universities to workshops. The organisation has campaigned in a number of youth violence specialisms, such as restorative justice, joint enterprise, female offending and supporting families of lost lives. JAGS has won multiple awards for its efforts and continues to support, educate and empower those affected by youth violence. The JAGS Foundation has its Gala Dinner at London’s City Hall on Friday 17th November and invites you to attend. If you are in London in November please join us for a night of inspiration where friends and supporters will come together to help mark the 10th Anniversary of what has become a catalyst organisation of change for young people in London.
A colleague was kind enough to forward me the attached link on a project featuring the work of artist Neequaye Dreph Dsane. This British-Ghanaian artist is painting huge, beautiful murals of ordinary black women on London’s streets. Please take a look.
Unfortunately, despite the quality of art, I’ve found the subject of painting only black women is making headlines for the wrong reasons. It seems Dreph‘s work has come under scrutiny with claims on social media that the work is racist and unnecessary in a modern society. I disagree entirely with those who feel such work in the public realm is wrong and I would champion other underrepresented groups to do the same, provided it is executed with the aim of creating aesthetically pleasing, therapeutic and social benefits to public spaces . There are many artists painting work which is publicly displayed that does not include people of colour but I wouldn’t claim such work to be racist. However, maybe I should?
Disappointingly, some people remain ignorant and naive regarding the disproportional levels of black female representation in the media and have not questioned the mechanisms that sustain this flaw. The artist’s work appears to address this and balance an issue that undermines the very idea of equality or equal representation in a modern democratised society. He is celebrating his cultural heritage proudly as he should. When we explore mainstream art and media, we should note that the most underrepresented groups of people are black women and the physically disabled. You just have to look at British television to see that the representation is still falling short and its depiction of BMEs remains stereotypical in the main. In modern British society, the depiction of people of colour, their cultures and contributions remain marginalised or even trivialised.
Most art galleries in art hubs in cities such as London and New York are primarily owned or managed by white proprietors. The feeling amongst many groups is they tend to showcase work by white or European artists for predominantly white audiences. Perhaps this perception is wrong but it remains a perception. Yes, there are shows and exhibitions that showcase the work of other demographics and prominent artists of colour but are these isolated cases, where the decisions to exhibit are linked to minimal levels of financial risk for curators, galleries or museums with expected commercial returns? This I guess is a reflection of the sector, its market and interest of those investing in art, which is something I’d like to address later.
Black women on our screens, magazines and billboards may have improved over the last twenty years, just like employment figures, but significant steps towards change must be made. In this day and age, it is disappointing to know that significant players, for example in advertising and media, feel certain ‘looks’ and ‘features’ don’t sell or exhibit the wrong image unless you’ve got the ‘Beyonce or Rihanna look’ which is seen as more palatable. If people in positions of authority are able to reflect society, exhibit a broader church of representation, to celebrate differences and embrace ‘multiculturalism’ we wouldn’t need to go down this road of discussion. Such excellent work, like others around London would be seen for what they are- works of art! However, as it is art so it will also provoke discussion, like, dislike and controversy. If anyone feels voiceless and underrepresented, is it right to ignore it and wrong to challenge it?
Whilst I’ve focused on the wrongs of some who contribute to the status quo, the blame cannot lay solely with them. Disenfranchised groups and communities who do not see a balance of representation must address this by investing in, championing and promoting art that reflects them. Moving forward, if they do not see it, like Dreph, they must support and independently create platforms which allow them to. This includes art on our streets, buildings and anywhere within the public realm, bringing art to the masses. There are some things you will not value if you cannot see. Moreover, there are some things others will not value until they see more of it. In conclusion, this isn’t so much about Dreph’s choice of subject but more a reflection of how damaged our society is and what we must do collectively to fix it. What do you think? I’d be happy to hear views and opinions.
As you may know, I’m currently preparing for another show at Chelsea’s Amsterdam Whitney gallery. I’m particularly looking forward to the possibility of supporting the work of CAMBA by donating 10% of sales from my work. I’ve been a supporter of the charity for a couple of years now and would like to see this organisation achieve its objectives to help many of New Yorkers who are facing a variety of hardships.
Joanne Oplustil, President & CEO, CAMBA / CAMBA Housing Ventures was kind enough to provide answers to some questions I posed to her regarding the agency, it’s mission and future.
Q- Can you provide a summary of the organisations origins and it’s vision?
CAMBA was founded in 1977 as a merchant association in Flatbush to reduce crime and beautify the community. CAMBA’s leadership quickly recognized that commercial revitalization was impossible without creating paths to opportunity for residents, particularly the burgeoning population of immigrants and refugees. CAMBA grew in direct response to community needs, and today we reach 45,000 New Yorkers annually with 160 programs delivered from 70 locations throughout the five boroughs.
Provides for Basic Needs: This year, CAMBA provided shelter to more than 4,500 people, permanent supportive housing for more than 1,110 individuals and families with special needs, and 45,000 pantry bags to hungry Brooklynites.
Develops Human Capital: Annually, 9,000 youth attend CAMBA educational and enrichment programs, and 2,000 adults engage in job training, English or adult literacy classes.
Prevents Harm: CAMBA’s services are designed to help families and individuals avoid an array of societal ills, from preventable hospitalizations, to family violence, to eviction or deportation. Last year, we prevented more than 3,186 families from being evicted.
Remediates: CAMBA helps stabilize New Yorkers with drug addiction or mental illness, reconnect youth who have left school, and settle refugees who have suffered trauma in their home countries.
What sets us apart from peer organizations is CAMBA’s holistic approach to transforming lives. We know that children succeed only as part of families and communities, so we invest in parenting, education, job training and health in addition to providing safe, sustainable and affordable housing. CAMBA provides essential services to improve client outcomes and help residents attain self-sufficiency. By providing holistic support to help individuals and families gain stability, we fortify the neighborhoods we serve, having community-level and City-wide impact and driving local economic growth.
Q- According to published figures, you’ve helped over 45,000 people in the city. In which areas and issues have you been most effective and why?
We help 45,000 New Yorkers every year! Each of our programs has distinct outcomes we are trying to achieve, but we have an excellent track record of accomplishing what we set out to do. I am particularly proud of our development of more than 1,500 units of permanent affordable housing, in just the first 10 years of developing housing.
We view affordable housing as a platform for individual and family stability and economic success, as well as a cornerstone for community revitalization. Through dedication to design excellence through contextual buildings, attractive façades and durable finishes, CAMBA Housing Ventures’ buildings demonstrate that affordable and supportive housing is a community asset and provides dignity for tenants. Our dedication to design excellence and proactive property management oversight have shifted expectations about what affordable housing looks like, removing the stigma associated with affordable housing and elevating design standards. CAMBA’s developments bring over a half-billion dollars in public/private investment into some of New York City’s most impoverished neighborhoods, bringing much–needed affordable housing, jobs and social services.
CAMBA provides permanent housing and onsite support services to more than 1,100 formerly homeless families and adults, including those struggling with mental illness or HIV/AIDS, at 18 residences throughout New York City. Through financial literacy, healthcare, access to employment, education/job training, independent living skills, and support groups, we help people who have been in and out of hospitals, jail and homeless shelters become stable and make meaningful contributions to their communities.
Q- Growing on the last 35 years of successfully helping communities, where do you see the organisation in the next 30 years?
CAMBA has been growing and responding to change for 38 years. And I believe that’s what we will continue to do – expanding our role in community based health care, creating and preserving safe and affordable housing for New Yorkers in needs, and helping the next generation of young people break the cycle of poverty and gain the skills they need to succeed in education, careers and families. We will continue lift up communities where the needs are more dire by taking a holistic approach to individuals, families and neighborhoods. And I hope I am around to see it!
This week I’ve been reminded to look out for Article 25’s 10×10 project 2014. 10 x10 is a project which divides an area of London into a 10 x 10 grid, with the resulting squares being allocated to 100 prominent architects, designers and artists, who come together in the summer to create 100 pieces of work, giving 100 perspectives of London.10×10 creates a unique snapshot of London and raises money for Article 25, the UK’s leading architectural and construction aid charity. Details of the 2014 event will be released shortly but here’s last year’s video of what it’s all about. This is definitely a great initiative for a worthy cause.
Some of you may already know I’ve worked for and supported a number of charities and charitable causes. This includes the World Stroke Organisation’s World Stroke Day.
In 2010, the WSO and its members worldwide launched the “1 in 6” campaign. The theme was identified to mirror the reality that one in six people worldwide will have a stroke in their lifetime. With the fight against stroke at a crossroads, WSO members and partners around the world joined in solidarity to put forth a simple life-saving message on this day, which is not to take chances. One in six people will have a stroke. It could be you or someone you know.
The World Stroke Campaign aims to disseminate essential life-saving information and share knowledge about actions and lifestyle behaviors that could avert the assault of stroke. The campaign will also identify opportunities to improve and educate the lay public on the fundamental need for appropriate and quality long-term care and support for stroke survivors, including the empowerment of stroke care-providers.
The facts remain:
Stroke can be prevented.
Stroke can be treated.
Stroke can be managed in the long-term.
1 in 6 people will have a stroke in their lifetime.
Every 6 seconds stroke kills someone.
Every other second stroke attacks a person, regardless of age or gender.
15 million people experience a stroke each year, 6 million of them do not survive.
About 30 million people have had a stroke – most have residual disabilities
For further information on the campaign please visit the WSO website. If you are in the UK you can also visit the Stroke Association for further information on help and support. Equally if you are in the US please visit the US Stroke Association.
The UK Stroke Association is one of my chosen charities you can support when purchasing art from my online shop. If you would like to donate a % of the purchase price to another charity supporting stroke survivors and their families please let me know on your order form.
I have been invited to be part of the design team renovating Shaftesbury Hall, a 19th century building in Haringey, north London. The design proposal includes a mural to visually enhance the exterior of the building which is an asset to the local community.
North London Samaritans (NLS) own the ‘Tin Tabermacle’ and intend to use part of the facility to support local community members, particularly those who find themselves in a state of distress, despair or even suicidal. North London Samaritans also intend to renovate the hall for community use.
The concept proposals show how the hall can be retained and rejuvenated to modern standards of building performance, whilst retaining the qualities that have made the hall a cherished local building.
The methods and construction materials originally used were not intended to either be robust or to offer much in the way of insulation. Asbestos, now known to be very deleterious to health, is used on the roof. The walls, profiled ‘tin’ sheet externally, timber board cladding on the internal is uninsulated, no longer weather tight and beyond practical maintenance. Initial surveys indicate that the core structure is intact and could be refurbished. It is therefore proposed that the retained structure be clad with modern insulated profiled metal sheeting on both the walls and the roof.
The colour and profile will evoke the spirit of the original. Internally the structure would remain exposed as it is currently, walls will be painted boards and the floor a suspended real timber floor. Providing very much the feel and ambience of the original 19th century hall but in an envelope that has 21st century performance.
The defensive scale fencing is to be replaced with walling that suits the residential setting, with landscaping that is domestic in scale and easy to maintain.
At the rear of the hall the NLS will build a purpose facility, physically connected to the hall but distinctly separate visually and in operation, allowing the hall to function as a community facility without interference with the work of the NLS volunteers.The purpose built facility provides opportunity for a further community benefit in the form of a community mural/ art installation. This I very much support as it provides an opportunity for wider engagement and local ownership, particularly amongst local youth and school children who can be given the opportunity to participate in the making of a community landmark.
NLS want to work with everyone who is interested from the local community to create a Tin Tabernacle for the 21st century. I will join the NLS and Paul Fletcher of Through Architecture in presenting the proposal at a community consultation at 19.30 on 10th July at Bounds Green School (Lower Junior Hall) For further information please visit www.northlondonsamaritans.org.uk
You may have seen my video entitled ‘The Conversation” featuring the talented singer songwriter Lifford David Shillingford. Lifford is one of the UK’s most talented singer songwriters and I’m excited to see him on the verge of releasing a new EP and album later this year. ‘Sinking Swimming’ is the first release from Lifford’s down tempo solo project called Blue Dye – Soul Sessions.
His first release ,aged just 17, was a collaboration with MC Mushtaq on a track called ‘Take You Home’ which fuelled his new passion leading him to become the front man in a group called Public Demand. Public Demand was signed to ZTT through a development deal. During a writing trip in America the group penned a song that captured the interest of Trevor Horn who duly took the track into the studio. ‘Invisible’ was critically acclaimed as a breakthrough single and considered brave, mature and ahead of its time.
Lifford’s success continued with his collaboration with the Artful Dodger, most notably on the track ‘Please don’t turn me on!” He recently took time out of his busy schedule to have a chat about life and his chosen art form.
DEN: Congratulations on your track and forthcoming album. Tell me about your promotional schedule for the coming months?
LS: Thank you David, we have a busy few months in store with the release of an EP in the summer and an album later on in the year. My priority this year is to get some Soul music out for people to get into. Plans are taking place for a promotional tour in the summer to work along side the release of the EP with a launch party in July. Dates and times will be confirmed very soon. We’re just testing the water with this material to see how it’s received.
DEN: You gained success as the front man for Public Demand but you’re synonymous with the Artful Dodger and the tune “ Please Don’t Turn me on.’ What impact has it had on your career to date and has it been easy to follow on with equally successful songs?
LS: Yes Public Demand was a great time for me as was the Artful Dodger song. It gave me huge exposure and a great platform to work from which is still working for me today. It’s always hard to follow a massive tune with something equally as good. The group Artful Dodger was of its time and was the most successful Garage act with a platinum selling album. I’m happy with my writing now and have some gems to drop this year that I’m really looking forward to.
DEN: It’s been a few years now but are you in touch with the Artful D?
LS: Yes I’m touch with them all; they’re all doing different things but everyone’s well.
DEN: You’re a talented singer and songwriter. For me, your work reflects a truly sincere expression of feelings and emotions. Where do you gain your inspiration to produce material?
LS: Thanks David, I write about my life and the people around me, conversations I have and thoughts I process. I try to be as honest as possible about music and words. I find this so much easier than trying to create something I can’t relate to. I have to create honest music.
DEN: You’re open to discuss your experiences in dealing with depression. Would you mind talking about this and some of the charities you’re working with to help raise awareness of depression and mental illnesses?
LS: I’ve been suffering from depression since I was a child and its something that I’ve finally learned to deal with over the last few years. It’s a part of my life, sometimes more prominent than others. Depression has taken me to some dark places, questioning my self worth and my existence as seen on my blog but it has also helped to make me stronger, realizing and appreciating all that is good about my life too. I make a conscious effort to count my blessings and be around people who I feel good around. I have to keep an eye out for my triggers, the things which could make me take a fall or throw me off track but generally I’m managing it. Time to change have posted my blog up and have been really supportive as have been mental health charity ‘Mind.’ I’m also doing some speaking for some non-profit organisations for the youth, singing and sharing my experiences with mental health.
DEN: What have been the biggest obstacles if any in your career as an artist?
LS: The biggest obstacles for me as an artist would be funding without a doubt. Just getting someone to inject some cash into my projects is a lot harder than it was when I first started in this game.
DEN: You’ve collaborated with a number of recognised artists including Chaka Khan, Jocelyn Brown, Bluey (Incognito) Charlene Anderson and Omar. Are there any artists in particular who inspire you?
LS: I’m inspired by Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Nina Simone, Miguel, Antony Hamilton. Anyone who gives their all on and off stage.
DEN: Who ideally would you like to collaborate with?
LS: I’d love to work with Miguel, Antony Hamilton, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Al green, Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, Bob Marley… anyone I could learn from .. Ooo could go on for days ..
I wish Lifford the greatest success and good fortune!