Music venues shouldn’t be white spaces. Not even accidentally.

What is the responsibility of venue bookers, music promoters, club owners, and festival organizers to create a platform for artists of color? It’s a tricky conversation to introduce, because there are so many issues — ticket sales, popularity, potential tokenism — but I think it’s more important to have the conversation than to be graceful about it.

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Photo by Jorge Salgado from this year’s Neon Desert Festival

So I’ll start here: Asheville, where I live, is a predominantly white town with a nationally recognized music scene and a high per-capita number of excellent concert halls and listening rooms. But peruse the lineup of at least three of the most popular venues in town and you’re lucky to find one person-of-color-led act in any given month. I recently browsed the calendar for one such music hall that lists no artists of color from September through December. Continue reading

Arts, equity, and the whitewashing of Riddle Fest

I learned something this week: There are no artists of color performing at the upcoming Riddle Festival, an annual event celebrating Lesley Riddle. What you need to know here is that Riddle was an African-American musician from Burnsville who greatly influenced the Carter Family. So think about that for a minute: The first family of country music has a black musician to thank.

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Lesley “Esley” Riddle, right, with guitarist Brownie McGhee.

This is not the only story where mountain, Appalachian, country, folk and roots music — much of which seems so of the domain of white folks — is actually closely tied to and even originating from the creative efforts of people of color. But because the white narrative has long been the dominant narrative, people of color tend to be diminished or overlooked or left out altogether. Or not invited to participate in a festival commemorating a person who looks like them and represents the history, hopes, talents, and ingenuity of their community.

I don’t think the organizers behind Riddle Fest intended any harm or slight, but I do think these kind of oversights pile up, one on top of the next, until we really can’t see past them anymore. Words like “appropriation” get bandied about — for good reason — but I see a greater harm. Yes, when white musicians record and profit from the songs of unrecognized musicians of color, it’s plagiarism and Continue reading

Weekly reading 7

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“Skull House, Mississippi, 2014,” by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

You guys. I love Junot Díaz and really love both this writer’s use of a Díaz quote and just where he’s coming from in general.

• “Dragons Are for White Kids with Money: On the Friction of Geekdom and Race” by Daniel Jose Ruiz in The Millions: “There is progress; we now have an unapologetically black super hero series in Luke Cage. There is BlerDCon (Black Nerd), and Blerds (the term is typically inclusive of any non-white nerd) even get a shout-out in a song (thanks Childish Gambino).”

• “The Loneliness of Donald Trump” by Rebecca Solnit at lithub.com: “Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he became fortune’s fool.”

• “Let’s Play: Intuition, Imagination, and Black Creativity” by Maggie Millner at PW.org: “There’s a diversity within the black arts community that we don’t always acknowledge. … There’s no one way to be black or to celebrate our lives.”

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The post is late but the material is still worth a read…

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• “University Students Want Free Tuition For Blacks As Reparations For Slavery” by David Krayden in dailycaller.com: “The Western Kentucky University student government passed a resolution, 19-10, that advocates the recognition of slavery as a “debt that will never be paid” and offer free tuition to black students as compensation.”

• “This Mother’s Day, Black Lives Matter Activists Will Give More Than 30 Women Their Freedom” by Dani McClain at The Nation: “Black people didn’t wait for an Emancipation Proclamation or the end of the Civil War to act on their own behalf. … Instead, they sometimes bought their own and each other’s freedom, and in doing so left a blueprint for how to directly challenge mass criminalization today, even as policy battles are in progress.”

• “This racial justice jam, or White folks trying to figure it out” by Shay Stewart-Bouley on her blog, black girl in maine: “Racism in this country is largely a white problem, but white people solving it alone won’t work.”

• “How Watermelons Became a Racist Trope” by William Black in The Atlantic: “These symbols have roots in real historical struggles—specifically, in the case of the watermelon, white people’s fear of the emancipated black body.”

THINK ABOUT IT:
“A lot of times equality can feel like oppression for those who are losing their advantage, but that’s not a reason we shouldn’t fight for equality.” — Western Kentucky University student senator Lily Nellans

Collaborative chapbook

Last week I was part of an art show/performance that was the end result of an 11-day collaborative challenge. The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design selected 11 artists (a combination of writers, crafters and visual artists) to team up and create work based on the CCCD’s exhibition, The Good Making of Good Things: Craft Horizon’s Magazine, 1941-1979.

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I was paired with weaver Danielle Burke who’s focus in Appalachian coverlets. We were both inspired by a February, 1974 issue of Craft Horizons in which writers were tasked with creating prose around the art of long-dead makers whose works had outlived any knowledge of the ancient artists who made the work. Continue reading

Weekly reading 3

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• “Reclaiming Our Roots: The Story of Tamishan” by Melissa Henry in The Urban News: “The stories of how these African Muslims had succeeded in preserving key elements of culture, some even convincing their owners to set them free and allow them to return to their native lands, amazed and inspired me.”

• London-based spoken word artist Kate Tempest performing on World Cafe. Holy crap. Continue reading