Monday, February 16, 2015

How Goes Mississippi, So Goes the Nation...

As I sit and wait for my very delayed flight in the Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport, I have time to reflect on the previous day’s activities here in Jackson, Mississippi. The fact that I was invited to go to Jackson on the exact week South Dallas Cultural Center opens Jonathan Norton’s “Mississippi Goddamn”, a play that examines the complexity of Black life in Jackson during the height of the civil rights battles, is not just ironic, but uncanny. It’s uncanny because the topic of the meeting I was invited to attend i.e. the challenge Southern performing artists face mounting work for the stage has everything to do with the failure of the civil rights movement to eliminate the historical impediments to cultural equity. This failure lies at the root of the challenge where artists of color are concerned. Carlton Turner, Executive Director of Alternate Roots the host organization for this convening, eloquently laid out the history of Mississippi’s failure to thrive, citing some damning facts about the state’s national standing in areas like health care, education, economic development and arts funding. He opened our discussion by stating that if we are to see substantive change in our country, it needs to start in Mississippi because if Mississippi can come up, the whole country can. With this as our start point, we began a day of exploration into how to make shifts in the current modus operandi where arts/cultural support is concerned. We explored it from the standpoint of how presenters see the problem, how disenfranchised artists view it and how major funders see it. We revisited the Culture Wars and their affect on the country’s commitment to support for culture & the arts. It was, however, pretty much agreed that although these attacks on the NEA were a devastating blow to the arts in this country, the reality was that most organizations of color never received substantial support from this agency. So the net effect on their bottom lines due to the reduction in NEA funding was negligible. We talked about how organizations like NPN/VAN, NALAC, and South Arts are working to reduce the inequities by developing programs that directly address these inequities. One participant who wasn’t a part of an arts organization but represented an agency involved in social justice work made a telling comment when she observed that we couldn’t expect the ruling majority to respect our culture when there is no respect for our very humanity. Of course, the current #BlackLivesMatter movement is putting a spotlight on this reality like no other since the Anti-Lynching Movement of the early 1900s. The gathering of participants was multi-generational, multi-racial and multi-disciplinary so many viewpoints were expressed. The dialog was robust and honest and at no time did I feel like I was wasting time talking about a topic I often avoid these days because so much time is wasted talking about it but too little time spent on finding workable solutions. The Mellon Foundation and New England Foundation for the Arts were the major national funding organizations in attendance (they actually underwrote our attendance) and I was impressed with their willingness to just listen and absorb rather than dominate the dialog. I was equally impressed with the white participants doing the same thing when the participants of color told their stories. The often-stultifying habit of whites trying to explain racist practices or at least their role in eradicating it as a way of distancing themselves from the privilege they derive from the system was not in evidence at this convening. Everyone acknowledged that a lot of work must be done before we see any real equity but at least those in the room committed to influence their own sectors to get on board with the effort to make substantive changes in how southern artists/organizations in general and southern artists/organizations of color in particular are invited to the table both regarding policy making as well as receiving grants/funding. My hat goes off to Alternate Roots, Turner World Around Productions, Mellon Foundation and New England Foundation for the Arts for making this convening happen and all the other work they are engaged in to make cultural equity a reality rather than an on-going conversation.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

"Stagger Lee", dope for a true theater junkie!

I consider myself one of the blessed ones when it comes to knowing my history. I grew up in a home where Black History was readily available on the shelves of my parents’ library, a library that we Meek kids utilized constantly for our reports at school, presentations during Black History Week (yes it was once only a week!) and just to argue a point with our friends, many of who knew nothing of our history. In addition to having a wealth of information at home, my parents made a point of exposing us to Black artists in all the arts disciplines. We experienced musical, theatrical, dance and literary performances regularly, so the tradition of attending live arts performances was instilled in me at a very early age. I grew up seeing the Negro Ensemble Company, which set the stage for my theater snobbery, a condition for which I offer no apology! Their performances were a must see in my household. Douglas Turner Ward pretty much walked on water as far as I was concerned! So it is not without a strong basis of historical context that I am writing about Will Power’s latest piece “Stagger Lee’ and placing it among my all time favorite theater works. There are so many things about this piece that moved me starting with the narrative that continues the Black theater tradition of exploring the Black family seen in the seminal “Raisin in the Sun” by Lorraine Hansberry, continued in the powerful “No Place To Be Somebody” by Charles Gordone, twisted a bit but still clear in “Jelly’s Last Jam” by George C. Wolfe and totally explored in the 10 cycle plays of August Wilson. Power takes us through our historical battle to maintain dignity and continuity right up until the present. That he uses music as the vehicle to move us through the history seems particularly appropriate given the role music has played in keeping Black life vibrant and resilient. I have never been a big fan of musical theater, mainly because I don’t like trying to follow a sung story line. But the lyrics and music in “Stagger Lee’ are crisp and unpretentious, making it easy to keep track of the dialog so I never felt like I was being entertained solely for the purpose of entertainment. Each song pumped more urgency in the message and the actors performing them seemed to understand that. We had no showboating on their part, something that can easily happen in a musical presentation, but only a straightforward delivery of the lyric with the right amount of emotion for the scene portrayed. I was privileged to have seen the first staged reading of “Stagger Lee” and unfortunately missed the second one but was eager to see how the work progressed. I am a sucker for the process involved in art-making so I love that Dallas had an opportunity to witness “The Making of Stagger Lee” because it allowed some of us to see Will Power’s process and appreciate his creative journey on this piece. I was familiar with Power’s previous work after being introduced to him when he presented as the keynote for a National Performance Network Annual Meeting many years ago. I was intrigued by the dynamic young speaker and made it a point to research his work. This is a playwright/poet/activist/lyricist who approaches storytelling with a truthfulness that is refreshing given the amount of light-weight stuff I’ve seen presented by too many Black writers. That he manages to convincingly compress 400 years of Black life into a 105-minute production is a testament to his commitment to telling our story with authenticity no matter how brief the storytelling session. The fact that he does it in song and dance without ever conjuring up a sense of trivialization speaks volumes about how seriously he takes his job as storyteller. An even more impressive fact is Will Power’s ability to take several Black folk stories, weave them together in such a way that never has us feeling like they aren’t every much a part of today’s narrative as conscious rap is, also speaks volumes about how deeply committed to telling the truth Will Power is in his “Stagger Lee” tale. However, the thing that convinced me that “Stagger Lee” has the “stuff” needed to qualify as excellent theater is the fact that I cried in the second act, probably just as heartily as I laughed in the first act because the truth of Black Life as we see it being played out today was never so real as the scene of all those actors beating that wall of Black struggle. The final stroke of genius was that fleeting “Long Lost John” figure appearing as a hoodied youth with his hands raised in the now iconic gesture of today's #BlackLifeMatters movement; it took me out; I was done. Someone asked me if I thought that figure needed to be on stage longer and I told her absolutely not! The fact that he played like a side-eyed image that you weren’t quite sure you saw, you know, like that glimpse of someone as you’re walking down the street, out of the corner of your eye you think you spotted someone but when you turn to verify it, they’re not there? That’s what our current situation feels like to me. We made some progress over the 400 years, but in the time it takes for a glimpse, it can be gone. I thank Will Power for “Stagger Lee”. I thank Patricia MacGregor for her clear-eyed direction. I thank Camille Brown for her brilliant choreography. I thank Kevin Moriarty for knowing this work needed to be mounted by a major Dallas theater and I thank all the actors in “Stagger Lee’ for bringing Will’s vision to such perfect fruition. A luta continua...

Friday, January 9, 2015

SELMA: the movie

I often go to the movies alone. I enjoy having a solitary experience in a theater, not feeling a need to discuss what I’ve seen with anyone else. Last night I went by myself to see “Selma”. Although I met friends there who had also come on this first night of the screening in Dallas, I was essentially having a typical movie viewing experience, watching a story unfold on that big screen, a story I knew well because of my family’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. I knew this story so nothing about it came as a surprise. What I was seeing was a compressed but no less effective recount of a period of the Movement that was violently bloody, nerve-wracking, pivotal and historic. But somehow, even knowing the narrative and how it would play out didn’t minimize the emotional response it evoked. From the first scene of the 16th Street Baptist Street Church bombing to the brutal attacks on the peacefully assembled marchers on that “Bloody Sunday”, Ava DuVernay never let’s us forget that this was a war we Black people were in, a war against racism, one that would ultimately leave many casualties, a war that persists. I am not going to do a review of the film here because I am not objective about this movie. As a Black woman who grew up with the Civil Rights Movement as a daily part of her life, I can’t be objective. I am a cheerleader for Black filmmakers who tell our story and tell it honestly and this story captured everything important we need to know about the complexity of the times, the people involved in the movement, and the politicians who factored into its success and/or demise. What I am going to do is relate my reaction to “Selma” because even I couldn’t have predicted it. I was numb at the close of the film, numb because I was once again reminded as the tags went up describing who some of the major characters were and what they went on to do, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was only 36 years old at the time this film is depicting and James Bevel and John Lewis were in their twenties. King constantly referred to John Lewis and James Forman as youngsters but the reality is, he was himself a youngster. I can say that as a 64 year old woman who thinks of 36 as our Next Gen group. I got exactly one block from the Angelika when the sobbing began. I couldn’t stop myself. I sobbed all the way back to my house where I called my baby sister Roberta who had, just a few weeks prior, called me in the same state of distress after the Eric Garner decision came down, and I wailed uncontrollably until she talked me back to calmness. All I could think about as the tears began to flow was my parents, and my uncle Ted who committed suicide after his stint in Selma, and my grandparents and all those people I so admired who worked tirelessly fighting racial injustice in this country. I cried because I realize we are in a very bad place in America, we who believe in freedom, we who believe in justice. America has sunk back into its putrid history only now so many of our young people have no understanding of how dangerous this reversion is to their future. The government-sanctioned murders of Black people today are no different than the murders of innocent marchers by Sheriff Jim Clark or Bull Connor in the 60s. The rolling back of all the legislation aimed at securing voting rights for Black people tells me that we haven’t “stayed woke”; we haven’t drilled into our kids heads as it was drilled into mine that you never take your eye off the prize because the moment you do, the evil carny worker aka white supremacist will steal it back from you. I hope that every young Black person sees this film so they can understand that you never give up your vote, no matter how bleak the situation looks, because one thing they should realize is white supremacists would not be working so hard to deprive you of your vote if it was just a meaningless gesture! Young people, as you organize around issues of police brutality, recognize that all these systems are tied together, all meant to cement the future of white supremacy. You can’t separate them so they must all be attacked. As Dr. King explains to John Lewis about the non-violent strategy, it’s a multi-layered approach that must be employed at all times and sometimes that’s at the risk of your life. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes. A luta continua…

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Meanwhile in the Dallas Arts World… by Vicki Meek

Let me set the stage for all you’re about to read so that everyone is clear about why my frustration level is off the charts. I am a 64-year-old African American female artist/activist who has made Dallas my home since 1980. I’ve raised my children to adulthood here. I’ve given my blood, sweat and tears to the arts community here. I have not made my art career here. Last week was a very trying one for me. In the span of 4 days I experienced more examples of white privilege than I could stomach. Let’s start with the first incident. I decided to take my Paul Quinn College class to see the wonderful Archibald Motley exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum because we’re studying, among other things, The Harlem Renaissance as it relates to the development of “The Black Aesthetic in the Visual Arts”. I arrived earlier than the bus-riding students because I chose to drive my car. As I’m standing in the lobby area waiting for my students, the young white male visitor desk attendant asks can he help me. I tell him that I am waiting for my class to arrive and that we’ll be visiting the Motley exhibit. He asks what I teach and I tell him that it’s a course I developed called the black aesthetic in the visual arts. I guess this didn’t register with him because he then proceeds to try to school me on Archibald Motley and what his work is all about. I let him talk for a few minutes and when he starts to tell me about how similar Motley and Robert Colescott’s work is, I decide to put the skids on his misinformed conversation by first letting him know that Bob Colescott and I knew each other and no, Colescott’s take on the black experience had nothing to do with Motley’s despite what he might think. I then gave him some info on Motley and Colescott that he obviously hadn’t heard in his “docent training”. Now here’s the thing. When someone tells me they are teaching a class on a particular subject, it never occurs to me that I should try to school them on that subject. I can honestly say that the only time this has happened to me has been with white people trying to prove how much they know about Black culture/subject matter. For some reason, some white people can’t get comfortable with not being in control of a conversation when a Black person is in it. They can’t just accept that they don’t necessarily have all the information needed to hold an intelligent conversation and maybe, just maybe, they should shut up and listen! Annoyance level on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being thoroughly pissed off: 7. Move on to the weekend and my planned attendance at Theatre 3’s production of “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark". I was looking forward to seeing friends Yolonda Williams and Stormi Demerson in Lynn Nottage’s complicated play that explores racism in Hollywood and so much more. I knew that, as is true of most of Nottage’s work, I was in for an interesting afternoon of theater. I went with my bestie/sister Marion Marshall and I have to say the production, although not perfect, was very well done and deserves a more diverse audience than the one we were a part of (maybe 5-6 Blacks and a whole lot of over 60 white folks!) When the performance was over, we thought we’d grab a bite at the Thai place next door and chat about what we just saw. Well, in walks another cast member Raven Garcia who did a bang-up job in her role so we applauded her as she entered. As we started to chat about the play, a white woman I’m guessing about my age or maybe a few years younger, walks up and exclaims “oh my, you women were just fabulous in that play!” to which I responded “I wasn’t in that play.” Marion’s mouth dropped open and Raven just looked confused. The white woman was visibly embarrassed and moved back to wherever she came from. Raven, who is probably in her 20s looked at us and said, “Oh my God, did that just happen? Is that not what this play is about, our invisibility?” to which Marion and I said practically in unison “Yep, the more things change the more they stay the same!” Here was a white woman who just watched a play about how stereotyped Black actors were in the 30s and 40s and how they struggled with their invisibility in Hollywood and she walks up to 3 Black women only one of who was in the play and the other 2 who look NOTHING like the other Black actors in the play, and says “oh my, you women were just fabulous in that play!” Really lady? You really thought we were the same women you just saw onstage even though there is no resemblance physically? Annoyance level- 9 The next day I look to see how the reviews were for the play and pull up DMN Culture Map’s piece on, yes you guessed it, the only white women in the play and that about did it for me! How do you do an exclusive on a play about a Black woman and not think it makes sense to showcase the star of the play? The excuse can’t be used that it’s because the white woman was a local girl because Yolonda Williams doesn’t get any more local with her 3rd generation Dallas-self! Annoyance level- +10 These experiences would be enough for me to revisit my recurring installation work entitled “I Could Be Angry All the Time If I Think Too Hard” but I still had one more in store. A long-time white visual arts supporter & former gallery owner made her first visit to South Dallas Cultural Center’s gallery this week. She apologized for not coming sooner and wanted to write a piece on the center for her website. She also expressed delight in seeing the young artist whose show was closing, Philmore Peterson, and wanted to write something about him too. In the midst of our conversation, she mentioned that she and a prominent university dean were writing a book on Texas contemporary artists. When I asked who was going to be in it she hesitated and then said “well I’m ashamed to say there are no African American artists in it” to which I said “you’re joking, right?” She went on to explain that she wanted to include Trenton Doyle Hancock but didn’t have anyone else in mind. I rattled off more than a dozen names of prominent Texas Black artists none of whom she knew. I showed her some work done by a few of these artists since my Performing Arts Coordinator and I have collected some work by those who've shown in our Arthello Beck Gallery. I then asked if any Latino artists were included in her list and she named one but said she hadn’t been able to get a return phone call so maybe she needed to pick another one. At this point I said to her “_____ (name withheld to protect the guilty!) I really hope I don’t see another book written on Texas artists that excludes the many black & brown artists making excellent work in our state and just to make sure I will send you a list of artists I know for you to check out their websites.” The email I got in response to mine was not at all encouraging so we’ll see what happens with this upcoming book. Annoyance level- Off the charts! So I have decided that the only way I’m going to keep myself from having a coronary before I retire from the arts administrative world in Dallas is to keep focused on supporting the many “Vera Starks” in this community and showcasing as many Black artists as I can because truly, the more things change, the more they stay the same…

Monday, November 25, 2013

When Black Theater Gets it Right, It's a Halleljuah Moment!

Yesterday afternoon I witnessed the rebirth of a theater company that years ago gave me hope for Black theater in Dallas. Soul Rep Theatre's The Freedman's production made my heart palpitate throughout its run, from the careful selection of the vintage images to the choice of musical fabric, everything screamed "we are back and we ain't playing!" When I arrived in Dallas in 1980, the only Black theater in this town was being done on an amateur basis, albeit some of it very professionally presented. I heard that Dallas Minority Repertory Theater had folded and Afro-American Artist Alliance was struggling to maintain. Curtis King was presenting plays under the mantle of The Third World Players and an occasional one person production could be seen. So when Tisha Crear with Guinea Bennett, and Anyika McMillan launched Soul Nation, things began to look up for Black theater/performance art because we finally saw some young people who seemed committed to creating original work that had an African sensibility and that vowed to speak with authenticity. The demise of Soul Nation might have dealt another death blow to Black Theater in Dallas were it not for the rise of Soul Rep Theatre Company that Guinea and Anyika started and into which they pumped all their energy and spirit. I watched them struggle to mount full productions of their inspired writing and rejoiced when they made it to COP status with the Office of Cultural Affairs. It was a very sad day when they decided to shut it all down because they couldn't maintain the rigorous schedule on the limited budgets they always worked under. As a mother/artist however, I sympathized and empathized with my younger sisters when they chose to concentrate on raising their young families and securing their homesteads. Although I secretly prayed that they would make a comeback, I knew they had to do what they had to do. So this rebirth, this triumphant comeback is such a sweet full circle for me because I have always felt that theater is an essential art form for a people whose legacy has been rooted in the spoken word and performance. Black theater for me is so much more than entertainment but instead a confirmation of our existence as a communal people in a society that never much valued community. The writing in The Freedman's is poetic and profound. Keith Price, who can spit a rhyme as effectively as he can pen a verse, gives us powerful testimony to the everyday trauma experienced by the Black Male in America, the text written by Anyika's multi-talented husband Chris Herod. The soliloquy delivered so poignantly by Monique Ridge (an actor who I confess has always made me shake my head in amazement!) is nothing short of brilliant. And what can I say about Anyika McMillan-Herod that won't have you thinking she paid me to say it, but that her writing, performance and commitment to excellence is an inspiration to an elder who values these qualities more than any other in a Black artist. I applaud all the former and new members of Soul Rep Theatre Company and vow to support all their future efforts as I hope everyone who loves theater and Black community empowerment will do as well! Bravo, Ashe and Hallelujah! Photo credit: Mona Reeder/Dallas Morning News staff Photographer

Friday, November 22, 2013

Erasure & Omission: The New Racism (or is it new?)

On Saturday evening of November 9, I learned just how easy it is for your personal history to be revised simply by the omission of your name from a narrative by someone in a position to do so. When Peter Doroschenko chose not to include me in the 35 year history of D-Art/Dallas Contemporary history, he effectively erased a part of my personal history in Dallas Texas. When I first learned of this erasure I was a bit hurt but after a few days of reflection, I moved from hurt to outrage! My outrage was based on several factors not the least of which was how dare this man come to "my town" and make a decision not to acknowledge something I worked hard to acquire i.e. a legacy of helping Dallas artists in a city that doesn't particularly value them. So some context for those who don't know my history in the visual arts in Dallas. In 1986, when Patricia Meadows asked me to leave my position as Supervisor of Community Arts Development at the Division of Cultural Affairs (Jerry Allen had not yet turned it into a Department) to assume the Executive Director position at D'Art Visual Arts Center (it had not yet been rebranded as D-Art) she didn't consider what a major shift in the Dallas arts narrative this invitation represented. Dallas had never had an African American lead a non-ethnic specific arts institution, male or female. The fact that Patricia didn't even consider this is a testament to her character but the fact that this was a major shift was not lost on me. As someone who had to, in 1977, kick the door down at the Connecticut Commission on the Arts to enter the arts administration field in something other than a designated "ethnic specific" position, I was no stranger to the latent racism that existed in the American arts world. I was well prepared for it having gone to art schools where I was often only one of a handful of Black students, often creating in a hostile environment. I knew that all eyes would be on me as I worked to move D'Art to another level of service to Dallas visual artists. I realize now that Patricia's selection marked a shift in not only the direction that this institution that Mary Ward,Judy Hearst and she had birthed, but a shift in how race in the Dallas arts community would play out. My presence at D-Art meant some major changes were going to happen around race because heretofore, the organization was pretty much all white and largely comprised of hobbyists. I knew that I not only had to attract the visual art professionals but I was also going to have to introduce Dallas to the many visual artists of color. I am proud to say that I was the first in Dallas to show Hung Lui's work, now internationally acclaimed, to showcase Barsamian and Dennis Gonzalez installations, Letitia Huerta's gorgeous paintings, Lahib Jaddo's provocative work and Jean Lacy's renderings for her St. Luke UMC windows, to name a few of the ethnic artists I presented.
I also introduced performance art to D-Art commissioning artists like Laney Yarber & Philip Lamb's X-Static, a work that even today has few rivals. So my contribution to the narrative of D-Art/Dallas Contemporary is by no means minor. In fact, if I hadn't moved the D-Art needle far over to the professional level, there would be no Dallas Contemporary! If this situation were an isolated incident caused by a stupid man who didn't think anyone would notice, I might let it go. But having the time to think about it, I know this is not the case. A number of years ago my friend Martha Jackson-Jarvis, nationally known artist in DC, recounted a story that mirrored mine. She was sitting in an audience at a conference listening to a white woman art historian give a lecture on a groundbreaking exhibition that Martha had curated and was in, only to witness her role not mentioned nor her worked showcased. She told me it was "like watching myself being erased from my own history!". The practice of erasing Black accomplishments is nothing new. It's been the nature of our historical exclusion since we arrived on these shores. What is new is whites in today's world of technology and social media thinking they can get away with it. Peter must have realized that 1. I would get wind of this omission and 2. I wouldn't be silent about my outrage on being omitted. Surely, if nothing else, I have gained a reputation in this town as someone who never backs down from saying what's right, no matter the consequences. But what would he know of what this town knows since he's invested so little time here! But I digress... I wish I could say this is the first time anyone has pulled this kind of crap but unfortunately it isn't. A while back, I commissioned artist Dave Herman to create an exhibition that explored his Gullah roots. He created "Etched in the Eyes" one of the most moving and beautiful body of photographs I've ever seen. A few years later, he was asked to remount the show at Brookhaven College and to my surprise and chagrin, David Newman the curator of the gallery program there, was representing David as an artist that he "discovered" and there was no mention of South Dallas Cultural Center as the commissioner of the exhibit anywhere in the material written up on it. I hit the roof and made sure he knew I didn't appreciate the omission of my institution in Dave's bio nor the inference that Newman had "discovered" him. So fast forward to this year and I experience the same kind of omission when I read Letitia Huckaby's exhibition record online at Liliana Bloch's new gallery website and no where is it mentioned that she showed in the Arthello Beck Gallery at the South Dallas Cultural Center, oh by the way, the first place to show her work as a solo artist. When I asked Liliana in an email why we were omitted, she never answered me but instead asked Letitia to respond. Of course Letitia was appalled that this had been done and in no way condoned it but to date, it still remains a MIA entry. Only if you drill into Letitia's CV link can you see South Dallas Cultural Center mentioned. What's interesting about this is that any artist knows that solo shows are far more significant in one's career than group shows. What's also interesting is that Hung Lui still lists South Dallas Cultural Center and D-Art on her gallery's website even though given how long ago these shows were, I wouldn't fault her if she dropped them now! The erasure or omission of African American accomplishments from American History is legendary. The omission of my Dallas history is beginning to follow this same legend. The difference is I don't plan to go silently into night, bemoaning this slight! Before DART Director of PR Sue Bauman retired, she made it her business to set the record straight about how the DART Art Program came into being and I am forever grateful to her for giving me credit for its design. It's not hard to change the narrative of any organization or institution after the people who know the real story are gone. Lucky for me I have an incredible personal archive that chronicles the work I've done both as an administrator and as an artist because the one thing I know for sure is that if Black people don't tell their own story, it likely will be erased from the American narrative. As we prepare for the Facing Race National Conference 2014, let this be a lesson in how Dallas needs to face race because although I am tired of talking about it, I will never tire of fighting against racism. A luta continua...

Friday, July 26, 2013

Black & Blue: A Cultural Oasis in the Hills

After researching for months and then working on the artwork for more months, I am finally relieved that the work is done and off to the fabricators. Since the Nasher Sculpture Center is planning a kick-off event for this commissioned site specific installation, I won't steal their thunder by describing the work. In fact, what I want to write about in this post has little to do with the finished work and more to do with the impetus behind the creation of the work. I have for over 35 years spent my creative energies reclaiming African American history in installations that both invoke memory and emotion. I have researched my community's past hurts and slights, its horrors and abominations, its beauty marks and its warts, all with the purpose of making my audience face history without apology. This latest project will help Dallas, particularly Black Dallas, face the truth about one aspect of Bishop College's history, and hopefully place Bishop at the center of Black cultural development, a place it has rightfully earned. So often when things don't play out the way we want them to, we tend to file away the experience in the "dead zone" file, hoping not to have to revisit the disappointing episodes of our failure. We either dismiss the experience or we reinvent it as something it never was. Such is the case with Bishop College. When I arrived in Dallas in 1980, I knew nothing of this little private HBCU nestled deep in South Oak Cliff. Bishop was on its last leg back then, limping along and trying to just hang on until some miraculous opportunity to revitalize its ailing body occurred. I heard sad stories about the administrative corruption and mismanagement of funds that plagued so many like institutions and having taught at a HBCU that had similar woes, I felt the pain of those bemoaners. My image of Bishop was colored by the constant barrage of newspaper articles that harped on and on about the bad financial health of the school and this image wasn't helped by the recent experience I had when arriving and attending the National Conference of Artists annual meeting hosted by Bishop and the Museum of African American Life and Culture. My first impression of the campus was "Oh my God, what bomb was dropped on this place!" The fact that the college was ill-prepared to host this body of artists from around the African Diaspora was undeniable. Unfortunately, the college didn't realize that by not having the necessary amenities to successfully host NCA, it made a lasting impression on the attendees that wasn't complimentary. In fact, the disastrous meeting only served to solidify in my mind what a sad state of affairs this Bishop College was in. But as is true of any institutional decline, the Bishop story at its end was hardly the full Bishop story. No one looks at the Fall of the Roman Empire as the definition of Rome's contribution to world culture. To discount the years of triumph simply because in the end it crashed and burned is to render history irrelevant. Well in the case of Bishop College, Dallas has rendered its history irrelevant. It has allowed the end to define the beginning. It has wiped the slate clean as far as what Bishop meant to our city and its Black population is concerned. When Bishop moved from Marshall, TX to Dallas in 1961, one of the Dallas Citizens Council leaders stated that Bishop was one of the most significant institutions to come to Dallas in a long time. Others lauded the city for attracting such a prestigious school to our community. Bishop was impressive enough to attract a $1.5 million Ford Foundation grant, one of the largest given to a HBCU back in the early 1970s. That Bishop's president, Dr. Milton Curry, Jr. saw fit to use a good portion of that money to enrich both the cultural offerings on the campus while simultaneously developing outreach programs to the community speaks highly of his visionary ideas about the role of a college in a community. Dr. Curry knew that for most HBCUs, their role extended well beyond simply educating students. Their role, by necessity, had to include uplifting the African American communities within which they dwelt. Make no mistake about it, Dr. Milton Curry, Jr. was a visionary. He foresaw a college that not only provided exemplary education but that gave Dallas its first glimpse of nationally prominent African/African American/Caribbean cultural luminaries. Bishop introduced Dallas to the likes of Maya Angelou (long before she became "famous"), Alex Haley (pre-ROOTS fame), Eleo Pomare (banned in some cities for his revolutionary choreography!), Nikki Giovanni (young, fiery poet), Alvin Ailey (now well known in Dallas, but not then), Ruby Dee & Ossie Davis (theater & film artists and activists), Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Brooks, South African poet/activist Kgotsitsile, and so many more. Its Fine Arts Lyceum Series under the leadership of Rev. Rhett James brought notable lecturers to the city who enlivened the intellectual offerings of a segregated city and helped Black Dallas join the national discourse on topics such as race, social justice, and cultural equity. Bishop, thanks to the vision of Dr. Curry, spawned two of our most influential African American cultural institutions, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the African American Museum, formerly the Museum of African American Life and Culture. So many of the musicians we all take for granted in the Dallas music scene, musicians like Roger Boykin, Norman Fisher, Dean Hill, Wendell Sneed, Linda Searight, Glenda Cole Clay, Joyce Lofton, to name a few, are the products of Bishop College. The late Dr. Thelma Thompson Daniels, former Dean of Humanities at Bishop,inspired many Bishopites and non-Bishopites to embrace African American literature. One of my most prized possessions is the anthology Dr. Daniels gave me of African American literature dating back to the first known publication of a Black writer. Bishop College; this little treasure on the hill, this institution of higher learning, this cultural fount deserves to be remembered for the things it did to invigorate the cultural development of Dallas, black and white, and the legacy of cultural excellence that is carried onward today by the many Bishop alumni both here in Dallas and across the nation. Good Ole Bishop Blue, a Black institution that made an indelible mark on Good Ole Big-D. Lest we forget...