By: Tina Smith-Brown
Do you remember the scene in the movie “Pride,” you know the one, where each of the swimmers, as they climbed aboard the diving board, stood proudly, pointed at their coach and yelled: “THIS IS MY HOUSE, COACH!” Well that’s what I felt like doing at Art Sanctuary after “The Black Creative,” a public conversation with visual arts rock star Theaster Gates and Chicago Museum of Contemporary art curator Naomi Beckwith held at the University of the Arts Caplan Center for the Performing Arts. Life lesson for me, for you: Growing from Good to Great, Art Sanctuary’s theme this year, means not just growing the organization, but also growing the board, the staff, and the essential relationship with the community. I got it, last night, at this event.
Growing from good to great means creating change through art and voice, creating the internal building process where once nothing existed, and growing, growing so damn good and so hard through the process of listening. I listened as Theaster Gates explained the controversial name of ceramics he designed at the Kohler factory in honor of the artist, poet, and slave, Dave the Potter.
Then, when I saw Theaster surrounded by members of our community, pride filled my mouth, like silver, saturating the cavities of fear and separatism, and creating a beautiful white Niggerware smile that I wore with pride. Pride, pride, yes, in Theaster’s talent, his uniquely individual sense of purpose and reasoning , his thinking that artistic talent does not only reveal itself in MFA programs, but that it lives and thrives on a continuum in our neighborhood waiting for someone like him, some midwife like Art Sanctuary to help bring it into existence. This moment happened because the community that came had been built, conversation-by-conversation, into the artistic structure where we could come to share. This wasn’t no fairytale. This is My House, Coach!
It felt like a house where Theaster, Nikki, Tina, and Mookie from three doors down and across the street, could find sanctuary not just in the art, but also in the conversation. It was a communion of sorts, this breaking of bread (okay, crackers), and this sharing of wine, even for us non- drinkers, and the hope of idealism, the wisdom of realism and, yes, Niggerware sounding like poetry to my ears.
This is my house, where Mayors stop by to tip Billy Penn’s cap, and Chinese artists come to rap.
Gay becomes God, and The Music Liberation Orchestra is able to fill their children with pride. This house is where Growing from Good to Great actually allows abused kids to escape—into wild African beats, and red, plush, plushy orchestra seats.
It is where J. California Cooper is queen, and Solomon Jones teaches boys how to be King.
Everybody lifts every voice and sings—this is my house. It’s where we’d shave our heads, just get straight up get bald, if that’s what it took to include all. It’s where Cary still scrubs bathroom floors and wonderful college interns greet you at the door. Here, little is large and large is small, and foundations help to create new halls.
Damnit, this is my house. It’s where Temple is not just a place where you worship, but where you make choices about taking free writing courses.
This is Art Sanctuary’s 28th Annual Celebration of Black Writing.
This is My House.
This is Our House.
This is Your House.
And baby, the rent is due!