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The Arts' Black I

By Kathy Y. Wilson · September 6th, 2001 · Your Negro Tour Guide
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People want a lot from CityBeat, myself included. Readers selfishly look to these pages for reflection, not so much an intellectual or pensive thoughtfulness but more a mirror image.

It's the people who aren't represented in the city's other rags who come to our doorstep looking for themselves -- gay, bisexual, loud-mouthed freaks, black, female, single parents, environmentalists, organic eaters, world travelers and all-out set-asides.

If I had a buck for each time someone walked up to me and started a conversation with, "What you ought to do a story on...," or "How come you guys write about the same shit all the time?," I wouldn't have to work for a living. I could live off residuals from disgruntled readers.

Well, I'm a disgruntled reader now.

I could go into how hard we all work here to make sure everyone's voice is heard, how we beat the bushes to ensure equal representation. I myself have made a concerted effort to write about every imaginable aspect of black life and to get those stories on the cover. Yep, I've got an agenda.

But last week's cover describing "The State of the Arts" (issue of Aug. 30-Sept. 5) was as enlightening as it was predictable, which made it disheartening. Point blank: Of the folks listed in our "25 Most Influential People in Cincinnati Arts," there are no black arts administrators in this city doing any work worth mentioning.

And it's not like we didn't want to include blacks. But there's only so long you can keep listing the same Negroes for the sake of inclusion before people grow suspicious.

Used to be Dhana Bradley-Morton of the bastard stepchild that's the Arts Consortium once ranked, but she's failed to yank the organization along. The place remains shoved into an antiquated space in what used to be a dated, crumbling strip mall.

Aesthetics aside, the Arts Consortium, as a whole, has lost much of its social and political oomph. It is, sadly, a remnant, a shadow of its former self and an anticlimactic space in which to display.

Not to blame Bradley-Morton, but she's a prime example of how black administrators here lack the ability or the cajones to marry the politics of art with the administration of art. Further, the Arts Consortium didn't arrive at its rest stop under her watch alone. It takes years to grind an organization into nothingness.

You gotta run with the big dogs to get the funding, the recognition and, most important, the respect necessary to make your organization viable. Especially now, as we sit smoldering from the violence that vomited all over us in the wake of Timothy Thomas' death.

In a perfect world, there would have been all kinds of programming from April on at the Arts Consortium. The doors should have been open and open often to the youngsters in the West End.

Let's face it, the arts -- singing, dancing, painting, sculpting, photography and writing -- is one arena historically where blacks excel. So why is it that we must constantly rely on white handouts before we can do our dance?

Like the reasons for the riots themselves, there's enough accountability for all of us. There are FUBU-like, For Us/By Us organizations whose sole purpose is to advance some black cause that doesn't reach out to black artists.

The Urban League, for one, could stand to shed its country club mystique and create arts programming or partner with the Arts Consortium to sponsor programming. Why, with its building in the very heart of black Avondale, is there never any local black art hanging in its bourgeoisie lobby?

Some black alleged big ballers -- like Ross Love or Vice Mayor Minette Cooper (could you tell she's vice mayor, by the way?) -- don't stand for much but they could, at the very least, work to see young black artists do something with themselves besides mimic each other to death.

I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that the few Negroes in Cincinnati who are connected don't want the rest of us to know whom they know or where the money is.

There are even black musicians here who make their living playing every genre of music. They could each mentor a young black musician.

Meanwhile, there exists a narrow and shallow pool of black artists recognized as much by the stroke of their brushes as by the utterance of their names -- Tom Phelps, Jimi Jones, Brian Joiner and Thom Shaw, among them. Then there artists like Letitia Waller and Shawn Smith -- otherworldly painters whose sublime anguish harks back to the Harlem Renaissance -- whose work goes largely unnoticed.

So it is that within the spectrum of a nearly undetectable black presence in the visual arts there's disparity and disenfranchisement.

I know what you're thinking. Never satisfied; it's always something with Negroes. You're right. Because if we ever do become satisfied, then CityBeat's list of those most influential people in the arts will continue to resemble most everything else in Cincinnati: white and, with few exceptions, male.

And anyway, fuck the list. We need to build on our own strengths without regard to white standards, even disregarding the standards of those like CityBeat who want to invite us to the party but cannot because we ain't ready.

 
 
 
 

 

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