Counter Narrative is the TRUTH

The Detroit Idea Lab, Though…

If you didn’t already know, the IDEA LAB is hands down my favorite thing about GIA Conferences. (If there’s any doubt, just see my previous conference blog posts.) No shade to the sessions, which undoubtedly convene a stellar array of peoples and perspectives, creating space for needed critical learning and dialog. The morning blessing that is the Idea Lab, though, situates us all in an artist-centered, artist-led ecology.

So, Detroit artists are woke AF. But, you already knew. Home grown brilliance all around. And, they ain’t playing. Their call to action is like no other – as unique as the city that was home to revolutionary activist Grace Lee Boggs, and that spawned Motown and Techno music. This morning’s plenary ushered in the likes of Taylor Renee Aldridge whose work as a writer and curator exists in “direct response to the misnomers that do not consider Black people.” Accompanied by a masked drummer, Bryce Detroit brought a Detroit-style Afrocentric essence to the stage, speaking on “actualizing justice” as anathema to the idea of funders who parachute resources into a community without context, relationship or an understanding of a people’s readiness in the face persistent injustice. Jenny Lee, Allied Media Conference’s fearless leader, organizes through a confluence of arts/culture/community. I literally get chills when I watch AMC’s promo video including artists and organizers that are POC, indigenous, Muslim, intergenerational, intersectional… the list goes so beautifully on. Swoon!

The arrows in the each of these artists’ quiver aims true. They are forging relationships, centering healing from structural violence, and evoking MLK’s notion of a beloved community, which as far as I can tell, is how they authentically live, engage, and create. The charge in the room was clear, “How will philanthropy change itself to change the world… to model the world we need?” A sentiment that guides Jenny Lee’s process, reframed as a call to action for the arts funding community.

Desegregating the American Dream: Storytelling and Social Change

GIA does not play when it comes to its sessions, either. Case in point, a panel facilitated by adrienne maree brown, featuring artists who are disrupting the status quo, and creating new narratives through science fiction, engaging with campaigns, and storytelling. Artists representing a rich array of racial, ethnic, class and undocumented immigrant experiences woven into counter narratives that honor where we come from, and the full potential of where can go, collectively.

brown framed the culture of this work as follows, “We are engaged in the imagination struggle,” one that requires brave and bold articulations of a present and future beyond the notion of an American Dream rooted in concepts such as nation-states and meritocracies. Panelists shared their ideals for “undocumented stories for undocumented peoples; exit poll metrics in campaigns for the cultural work that artists do, beyond what so often seen as ephemeral; dreaming and building a literary landscape that reflects all of us.” Best practice models like the Emergent Fund were referenced, examples that engage activist-led advisories to drive resources to organizing efforts in imaginative and impactful ways.

The conversation was next level – like, literally, outside of any dominant narrative framework. This isn’t surprising, given that these artists are already part of communities that have been dreaming the future through our ancestors to this present moment and beyond.

As jessica Care moore stated during the lunchtime performance about Detroit, its roots and possibilities, “We are our ancestors’ wildest wishes.” I couldn’t agree more.