My Foundation is A Legacy of Liberation

Configurations in Motion 2015

This writing was recently published as a part of the Configurations in Motion: Performance Curation and Communities of Color symposium. This gathering of presenters, performers, scholars, curators, and managers examined how our work can focus on the involvement, investment, and creative growth of people of color. The symposium was convened by Thomas F. DeFrantz, Jane Gabriels, and Dasha A. Chapman and hosted by SLIPPAGE: Performance, Culture, Technology in residence at Duke University (Durham, North Carolina) as well as the African and African American Studies Department and the Franklin Humanities Center at Duke University this past June. Other participants include Paloma McGregor, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Rasu Jilani, Andrea E. Woods Valdés, and Jaamil Kosoko, among others.

Read the full publication HERE.

I am…
the daughter of a mother who performed pregnant
the granddaughter of a teacher who saved all her extra materials to make sure her grandkids had summer activities
the granddaughter of an art teacher who trained art teachers
the daughter-student of Terrie Ajile Axam – founder of the Mojah technique and cultivator of smart dancers – dancer-doctors, dancer-lawyers, dancer-administrators, dancer-choreographers, dancer-people
the daughter-student of Dawn Axam who has built a company of choreographers creating work in a multigenerational methodology

I have collaborated with…
Adia Whitaker who creates worlds that tell the stories of people of African descent through dance, music, costume, props, makeup, spirit
Marjani Forté-Saunders who always reminds me to ask WHY
Paloma McGregor who constantly invites me to interrogate and deepen my practice as both artist and human
Jesse Phillips Fein, a white woman born and bred in Brooklyn who is constantly questioning her privilege through art making, and who is never afraid to get it wrong, learn from it, and dig deeper

PURPOSE Productions has collaborated with…
651 ARTS who centers and creates spaces for art by African diasporic peoples even when they themselves might be feeling a bit off balance
Dancing While Black in supporting the manifestation of creative spaces that celebrate the Blackness that is the foundation of this dance we do
Camille A. Brown who continues to investigate her role and her voice as a “successful” dance artist

I move among the legacy of…
Jawole Zollar and the leaders known as Urban Bush Women who are building nations and pushing boundaries across the globe

I am…
Sister to a FAITH-full environmental scientist interior designer with the sarcasm to slash a snail (if you met her you’d understand)
Mama-Auntie…
of Yaaxche, who said to me while watching a dance performance, “I think she should listen to the drums. I think she should feel the rhythm and do what the drums are saying.” (mind you, she’s 3)
of Eko who roars like a young lion but also asked to paint his toenails
of Ehze who seems to approach everything with a (soft) touch and Asali who is not afraid to hit back
Caretaker…
of Anaïs who gets her little shoulders bouncing when the Roots play on Pandora
of Naima who rocks her hips anytime she hears Janelle Monae
Godmother…
of Olayinka who is mesmerized by dancing and drumming and ready to eat up the world (literally)

These are just a few layers in my legacy.

I also attended NYU and worked at the Brooklyn Arts Exchange and started my own business got a research fellowship with dance USAwhoop de do bazzlebut THAT LEGACY is my foundation – my roots, my trunk, and my long reaching branches. It builds my artistic (and human) stamina, as Jane Gabriels described it.

“…the middle men – presenters, managers, gatekeepers – well, many of them are like overseers on a plantation. They don’t own it, they ain’t workin it, but they tellin errbody what to do.”

Now that research fellowship, well that might just be another reason I’m here. See I had to (yes, HAD to) investigate the relationship between the nonprofit model and dance through 25 interviews with artists, administrators, and historians (NOT presenters, NOT funders, NOT writers/critics). I can still hear Dr. Brenda Dixon Gottschild in my head saying “art is a measure of culture, a barometer of society,” and Tommy Defrantz (who I am so grateful to for organizing this space) who told me quite simply that the middle men – presenters, managers, gatekeepers – well, many of them are like overseers on a plantation. They don’t own it, and they ain’t workin it, but they tellin errrrrrrbody what to do. Those aren’t his exact words, but rather my ATL-ien interpretation.

And the more I listened to these interviews and tried to write some sort of reflection – the more I felt like I was on the plantation. And that legacy, all them folks that I called out, they ain’t about a plantation lifestyle. They’re about a liberation lifestyle.

You know what my research showed me – my soul ain’t from round these parts…ain’t no business model, no presenting model, no lifestyle model supported by the power structures in this country that supports what we do.

My liberation begins with acknowledging this legacy. With understanding that people have BEEN presenting art “differently” and centering the voices of people of color, Black women, our children. We BEEN shifting the narrative and that’s why we’re all sitting here. So how do we continue to build resources that support our shifting? How do we hold each other up so we don’t get sick and tired? You know what my research showed me – my soul ain’t from round these parts. Looking and listening around the room we can’t even name ourselves and our work because the titles don’t quite fit. Nonprofit, for profit, none of that matters to me and to many of the folks I know. We’re about the doing. The digging. The excavation and the liberation. And ain’t no business model, no presenting model, no lifestyle model supported by the power structures in this country that supports what we do. That’s why we’re constantly creating spaces, building nations, pushing boundaries. Letting go of these structures that have been placed upon us is one of many first steps (Healing and self-care is another important one. I celebrate Nicole Martin and her vision of curation as radical care.) – from business, to cultural commodification, to even this academic space we stand in. Can we pull resources from it? Sure. Do we need it, eh, debatable.

So many of us are already working independently. Marýa wrote about working within and outside of orgs. Jaamil posed the question of coexisting with an organization versus self-production. Shifting the model requires shifting our thinking and our being – as Adia would say, finding the intersection between your circular and your linear self. And it sounds nice to some folk, but it ain’t comfortable.

You WILL NOT be invited into some spaces.
And you HAVE TO be ok with that.

I am also honored to be the life partner of an amazing brotha (who is also the Associate Director of PURPOSE Productions) who offered this reflection when I shared my thoughts with him:

What would it mean for more organizations to make that kind of shift in methodology to match an African Diasporic ideology? What would it mean for scholars and supporting businesses? What would that world look like? How do we create and fund and sustain methods of presentation/distribution of our work to the communities that need it? Art is healing work as much as it is cultural work, and our people are hurting. And now, they are inundated with a constant barrage of the devaluing of Black life while simultaneously demanding and asserting that Black Lives Matter, and are looking for actions and options and solutions. But we also need art to envision a world where that is true, and to help us heal enough to live in it and have it be enough. To allow ourselves to be enough. What is the role of a presenting organizational community in that? How do we eliminate “competition” and foster collaboration and community? How do we help artists whose work thinks beyond this system (like Adia) reach our communities?”

And amongst all this, I have chosen to do my work through PURPOSE Productions, supporting artists and activists organizers in the manifestation of PURPOSE-full work that seeks to unify and develop our world community. It is my way of living in service. And with my growing staff I am cultivating people who will be able to support the vision that every artist has a support structure aligned to their identity and vision, one that is rooted in the facets of communities of color.

So I will continue questioning, studying, digging, in hopes that I too manifest this legacy of liberation.