Beyond the Fair

written by Michelle Ivette Gomez

🎶”We have come this far, and we won’t turn around, we’ll flood the streets with justice, we are freedom bound” 🎶

…this was the song that Ebony Noelle Golden beautifully lead with our group in the panel “Beyond the Fair: Aesthetics and Socially-Engaged Art”.

I joined the Commonfield Convening this past Saturday morning expecting to roll my eyes with the first panel on gentrification and sustaining neighborhoods. This panel inspired me to be brutally honest in my talk for “Taking Collaborative Action”. There, I spoke about why I collaborate with communities in a Eurocentric art world, and how being home made me realize that the “communities” I worked with in Baltimore somehow paralleled me and my family before entering an elitist arts education that uprooted me. We talked about the term community which is oftentimes used to identify “other” large groups of faceless people of color, when in fact, these communities are my friends! These groups I worked with are mothers, fathers, business owners, and more. I discussed the differences between working horizontally vs. vertically, collaboration vs. outreach, addressing wants vs. needs (well because who needs an art exhibition when you are busy running a business full time to feed your family?). Here, I learned that being so honest is important, and creates more genuine connection in an art world that prioritizes professionalism and respectability politics.

I also had the pleasure of co-organizing and moderating, “Beyond the Fair: Aesthetics and Socially-Engaged Art” breakout that ended in conversation about the tensions of making political or socially engaged work in the “art world”. We heard about the work of The Silent Barn and the importance of creating a safe space for inclusion and honest feedback, followed by a presentation by Rosa Naday Garmendia who discussed her “Cuba postcard project”, “Rituals of Commemoration” project, and the importance of solidarity and standing up for what you believe in through art making. Finally, Ebony Noelle Golden from Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative, LLC facilitated the following activities: we named groups and artists who make important socially engaged work, sang a freedom song, and made an installation out of chairs to express words of love. Ebony reminded us that when we are making in this social praxis, we must 1. Name our teachers. 2. Recognize how to build a practice with your people, your home. 3. Build from what you know and what you want to learn and most importantly, learn with your heart. “The art world can come if they want to.” :snaps fingers:

Thank you Common Field for allowing me to participate and lead! Thanks for your help in co-organizing Michelle Lisa Polissaint and Ashley Ford! Thanks for the pics Chat Travieso and Cherry Galette.