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.
For colleagues and blog followers in the UK, the Architects for Social Housing (ASH) collective take up residence in London’s ICA Upper Galleries. ASH are exhibiting their designs and work, including a map of London’s existing estate regenerations, at public open days on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 August, and they host informal discussions about different aspects of the housing crisis every evening of the week. As an ongoing presence, the group embodies the application of cultural practice within social activism. Established in 2015, ASH is a working collective of architects, urban designers, engineers, surveyors, planners, filmmakers, photographers, web designers, artists, writers and housing campaigners operating with developing ideas under set principles.
With the dramatic increase in economic disparity across the UK, there is a heightened need to find sustainable solutions to the housing ‘crisis’. ASH’s work responds to a lack of support for social housing and the communities they home. First among the principles they work to is the conviction that increasing the housing capacity on existing council estates, rather than redeveloping them as luxury apartments, is a more sustainable solution to London’s housing needs than the demolition of social housing, enabling the continued existence of the communities they house.
The residency runs from August 15th to 20th. For further info please visit the ICA website.
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.
I’m undecided which way to vote and need to consider to what extent the EU provides opportunities I can personally take advantage of. In theory, access to Europe and the freedom of movement is great but a rise in far right politics, nationalism, Islamophobia and continued discrimination, particularly against ethnic groups, doesn’t encourage me to think we are closer to practicing the harmonious union of nation states our leaders advocate. Many groups consider it difficult enough in the UK so will Europe, with all its challenges, be any easier for citizens with non-European origins to move freely? It’s all about perspective.
For most people, the Brexit issue didn’t appear life threatening but with the vote less than a month away, Brits are now considering the benefits of staying in. Despite the scaremongering and poor performance of leading politicians explaining the issues, we do need to consider if benefits of lower prices, more jobs and increased trade will be at stake.
The UK economy is undoubtedly strong and has benefited from being in Europe. Whilst the ‘Out Campaigners’ argue Britain is the fifth largest economy and can survive on its own, we should consider whether its economic ranking is a direct consequence of having preferential access and influence on the EU trading block comprising of half a billion people. We also need to consider the view of the Bank of England and IMF who provide an overview of the UK’s likely performance as a consequence of exiting. There remains a belief by many that Britain is in a position to command the same political and economic clout as it did at the peak of is colonial empire but this simply isn’t true, particularly with the rise of new global economic blocks and their growing influence on the political sphere. There are so many things to consider such as what is right for businesses, particularly small enterprises and how will they compete on a world market?
So what does this mean for the UK Arts sector?
In theory, being in the European market opens up opportunities for its creative industries. European Union funding nourishes and protects innovation in the UK and it is hoped such benefits will continue. Arts funding has historically been one of the first areas to be cut by UK Governments in periods of austerity so would a UK Government exiting the EU act differently during what may be a financially turbulent time?
The vibrancy of our arts sector is one of Britain’s great qualities. It is an arts superpower and home to recognised artists, musicians, filmmakers and theatrical impresarios. The UK is apparently the second-largest exporter of television in the world, worth £1.2bn in 2012 and home to the second-largest design sector on the planet, worth £131m in exports in 2011. The EU is Britain’s second-largest export market for music. Approximately 1.6 million people in the UK are employed in the creative sector, pumping out £71.4bn in gross value added. Of course, this is the result of the talent and drive of individuals in the British arts sector but there is no doubt that EU membership and funding from the EU’s Creative Europe initiative has and will continue to be been a contributing factor.
So Yes or No?
I’ll be the first to say the EU is not at all perfect and I do have my concerns about how the UK handles immigration and its economy. Is it right for Britain to throw away 40 years membership of one of the most lucrative markets on its doorstep, not to mention once again jeopardize the continuation of the union of the UK with a possible second Scottish referendum? What will all this mean for the creative industries? I’d love to hear your views. It’s time for UK arts professionals to speak up and vote!
As my exhibition comes to an end I’ve been taking time to check out a number of exhibitions and events currently available to see. Two very interesting exhibitions are at New York’s Schomburg Centre in Harlem.
The centre celebrates the 75th anniversary of our renowned American Negro Theatre (ANT). Known to the locals as “The Harlem Library Little Theatre,” the ANT was founded in 1940 as a community space for thespians to work in productions that illustrated the diversity of black life. This exhibition is taken entirely from the Schomburg Collections and highlights the ANT’s stage productions from 1940 through 1949 with photographs, posters, playbills, and news clippings. Images include scenes from successful plays such as Anna Lucasta, studio workshops, and radio broadcasts featuring prominent talent like Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier and Lofton Mitchell, whose careers began at the ANT.
The second show is Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination Curated by artist John Jennings and Reynaldo Anderson,this exhibition includes artifacts from the Schomburg collections that are connected to Afrofuturism, black speculative imagination and Diasporan cultural production. Offering a fresh perspective on the power of speculative imagination and the struggle for various freedoms of expression in popular culture, Unveiling Visions showcases illustrations and other graphics that highlight those popularly found in science fiction, magical realism and fantasy.
Both shows run until December 31st so if you’re in the city please visit. The exhibition galleries are open Monday – Saturday, 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. For further info please visit http://www.nypl.org/events/exhibitions
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!