upcoming grant deadline: 05/15/2018

upcoming grant deadline: 05/15/2018

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Leeway @ 25: Interview with Sara Zia Ebrahimi

Who are you?
I usually define myself in terms of food, because it's what I love most. My cultural heritage is kebab and grits and kale—I was born in Iran and raised in the US South by hippies. I'm a digital media maker and community curator who is dedicated to centering the voices of women, immigrants and people of color. I'm also a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy and recently have been focused on producing films more in these genres. When I'm not running the grants and residency programs at Leeway, I'm usually involved in some fantastical storyline playing pretend with my 4-year-old, reading comic books, or watching sports games. I'm also an amateur DJ, spinning mostly music from the SWANA (South West Asia and North African) region.

How would you define your relationship with Leeway's community?
At Leeway, I feel like I'm part of a big experiment. I was raised by a scientist, so I often approach things in life with questions and openness which is important to any research process. For my mom, that is what kept life interesting for her when she was alive; she described life as a big mystery novel and each day was an opportunity to turn more pages and unveil more of the story. Even though I am in arts and culture, I see myself as still carrying on her approach. Leeway is this rare place where we get to experiment with questions about money, power and community, tangibly. Like, what happens when a family walks away from its wealth and fully releases their power to the community? What happens when we bring different people together in a consensus process to decide on the grants while also building community and trust with each other in the process? What would it look like if we valued artists' work outside of a capitalist or post-colonial framework of marketability or museum exhibitions? Artist/activist adrienne marie brown talks about modeling at the microlevel the kind of world we want at large, and Leeway is a place where we get to do that. It's not always perfect, but it's not about perfection. It's about continuing to show up, observe, and grow. And so that's what I'm doing everyday, together with the Leeway community-at-large; it's a mystery novel about liberation, and I'm excited to see where the story goes.

What role has Leeway played in your own evolution?
Before working here, my relationship with Leeway started as an applicant. As an artist, I was originally only making work from the heart and emotional level. The process of applying for Leeway grants (and sometimes not getting them!) required me to define more about why I do the creative work I do and think more strategically about it. Doing work to process personal trauma and address the lack of representation in the media is super important, but I really credit my experience applying to Leeway for pushing it beyond that to see how it connects with a larger picture. It helped me make the connection like, for example, it’s not just that I was isolated and depressed when I was younger, it is that I was raised with conflicting images of what it meant to come from a Middle Eastern country and what it meant to "belong." Experiencing the work of other Leeway artists inspired me to take those personal experiences to a mindset where I was thinking about it more systemically from issues of media ownership to foreign policy and war profiteering.

Leeway artists and staff also helped realize that I was part of something larger. It can be hard as a community based artist because you can easily put yourself down and think you’re just making these piddly little underfunded films or hosting small screenings, what change are they going to make?! But now, for example, you see all the conversations that are happening in Hollywood and television. No one person is responsible for that, but it is a result of decades of work by independent filmmakers and curators, which I feel excited to have been a part of.

If Leeway was a playlist, what song would it be?
Janet Jackon's Rhythm Nation. "This is the test/No struggle no progress."


Announcing the February 2018 WOO Grantees

Our Window of Opportunity (WOO) Grant launched last year as a means to fund time-sensitive opportunities that support the art for social change practices of Leeway grantees.

We are happy to announce February's WOO grantees:

Lela Aisha Jones (LTA '15) will participate in a week-long residency with multiple public and community-based components in Minnesota's Twin Cities. She will perform Native Portals as part of an evening curated by St. Paul's Brownbody, an original repertory whose mission is to build artistic experiences that disrupt biased narratives and prompts audiences to engage as active participants in the journey. 

Yinka Orafidiya (ACG '10) will exhibit her most recent body of work, Freedom Cups, during the 2018 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) Conference in Pittsburgh, PA. The conference, which runs March 14-17, 2018, will attract an estimated 5,000 ceramic artists, collectors, and curators from around the world. 

Leeway @ 25: Interview with Sara Milly (formerly Sara Becker)

In 2018, Leeway Foundation celebrates twenty-five years of grantmaking and community building among Philadelphia-based artists, cultural producers and organizers. To celebrate, we're highlighting some of the change makers and visionaries within Leeway's community who have helped to set the course for Leeway's own transformation.

Who are you?

In relation to Leeway, I’m the daughter of the founder, and I was at one point board chair. I am trained as a writer (I’m not currently writing but that’s part of who I am). In my more recent years, I have come to think about art, for me– not so much as identifying as this kind of artist or that kind of artist, or as having a particular kind of artistic training, but in my own life, there is no boundary between art and my deepest sense of expressing who I am. I am not a dancer, but I love dancing, so the way art most actively operates for me is as a way of being most fully human. As far as my communities, I am definitely aware of being privileged in just about every possible way, and I guess that’s part of my history with Leeway. I am a straight, rich, white lady!

Can you tell the Leeway story from your perspective? How do you see your role in the Leeway community and family?

I don’t really think I can tell much of the story from after I left, so I wouldn’t presume to tell any of that. And I can only tell my point of view. So, the part that I would tell: my mother started Leeway because she wanted to do something for women and the arts. And there’s a history in our family, like with her parents, of generosity – some impulse to give back in some sort of way. She wanted to do something for women in the arts because she identifies as a woman artist. So, she started this foundation as a one-member family foundation, I think partly out of family history. And she brought on a lawyer and an accountant and I think a friend or two, and me because I was her daughter. So, I was not really interested at the beginning – I was sort of like, “whatever, my mom’s doing this thing!”

And then two things happened, one was the executive director at the time put me in touch with Bread and Roses, maybe in the hope of keeping me more interested in what was going on? [Laughs] And, at another point, somewhat later, my mother asked me if I would be president, and I felt like it was sort of my obligation because of having benefitted from being my mother’s daughter. But it wasn’t clear how what I cared about and what Leeway was doing were going to match for me – that was my main concern. There was a bunch of strategic planning, and what was articulated was that, really at the heart of both my mother’s drive and my interest was this sense that injustice around gender and the desire for inclusion really mattered to my mother and me. So, we started to look at it more in terms of social justice, or whatever else you want to call that. And that was something that, if I hadn’t been connected to Bread and Roses and, at that time, Spiral Q Puppet Theater, I wouldn’t even have known how to remotely think about, let alone how to articulate, that work.

So, we started to look at grants in terms of what was happening, if people actually had financial need, what was the need of people getting grants, and then there were changes. It was not an easy transition. My mother decided to have me become president – I guess she had a vision for me! But otherwise, I wasn’t necessarily an obvious choice. There was the question of, how do we as a group – none of us had thought deeply about social justice or community stuff – so how do we, coming from different places, where none of us have thought about this, suddenly do this? And as part of all this, there was basically a total turnover of staff – and that was major, and often painful.

Barbara Silzle was executive director during most of the transition during the time I was there. She was a huge part of what made me able to function as board chair. She was completely behind helping Leeway realize the new vision, and she really helped get the board to a place where they were willing to trust and engage in the change process. At Bread and Roses, Denise became someone I was close with because I was working with the community funding board, and she was doing work with that board. And she and Matty Hart from Spiral Q really helped us move through something that basically no one on the board had any real experience with. And then new staff came on, and they were all amazing in their own ways, and it was a complicated mix of people.

I had a great desire for justice, and a lot of confusion and ignorance and guilt – and because Leeway needed to do this stuff, there were all of these trainings, I got to learn more, which I felt was amazing. And of course, learning is always a process, but it was amazing. A lot of personal transformation happened for the people on the board.

Denise was kind of standing behind during the time I was there, but obviously has emerged since then! But if Denise hadn’t talked to me individually during the final stages of the anti-racism training, then I think everything might have fallen apart. I mean, she was really able to see beyond what people there at the time were doing and have conversations that other people couldn’t have.

Also, doing this interview and thinking about Leeway’s anniversary, I can’t help feeling deeply about [former Leeway board member] Jennie Sike’s profound contribution, and her very recent death and want to express how very present she is in my heart.

So, it sounds like those moments and those trainings were really transformational for you. What happened for you at this point, in terms of being in a position of leadership at Leeway?

I feel like what happened to me in having found myself the president of Leeway was probably an extremely unusual situation to begin with. I mean, utterly not wanting to lead, but feeling a sense of obligation – I didn’t really have leadership skills, and I didn’t make the money, so I didn’t have money-making skills at all, so I was just this person from a family with money who found themselves president of this foundation. That was weird--and fortunate in a way, because I never wanted to hold on to any kind of power, I always felt I was the wrong person to have it. I mean that was sort of in line with my mother’s thinking, but it wasn’t structured that way. It was really just a question of, like, how do you make the transition to having the people who Leeway is designed to benefit be the same people who lead? And then, you know, even if you do have that clear intention, there’s the question of “are you guys really sincere?” And then beyond that, there was still a lot buried history: even if you’re completely sincere, there’s the foundational beliefs and structures of power that the foundation grew out of, so even if it’s moving there’s still this history.

Conceptually, it wasn’t hard for me or my mother [to let go of the money and decision-making power]. We’re both control freaks, it’s true, but control freaks about our personal space, not about the world. [Laughs.] I think we both have a lot of experiences of helplessness and oppression of ourselves, even though we’re both super privileged. It’s always been really important to both of us to make sure that we each do as much as we can to lessen that, (though it’s not as if we don’t also perpetuate it with our ignorance)! But when it came to the money, there wasn’t a lot to talk about! I mean the transition with the board and staff, that was super, super hard. You know, because you have this idea, but then there are all of these amazing people who are trying to work through this difficult transition and it brings up everybody’s conscious and unconscious stuff. So, there were some interpersonal challenges. I wasn’t there for that whole transition, but I felt like it was hard for the facilitation team to hold the dynamics in the room. All of the people in the room were not necessarily feeling safe or able to express themselves.

At what point did you feel like you could look at Leeway and say, I feel good handing off this organization?

I mean, I think Denise had a huge amount to do with that. In that moment, Denise was the only person who was able to speak to everybody. This is my view, but I felt that Denise was the only person who could talk to everyone. So, I felt like we were moving in the right direction, and that my being there was making things harder. It wasn’t helping for me to stay at that point.

How would you see Leeway playing a role in your own personal transformation?

It was huge, it was just huge. I so didn’t want any part of it, and it sort of like put my life into a crazy place, but everything that I love the most right now is because I went through that! I can’t even imagine what my life would be like without that experience. Because I had had this desire for rightness or justice or love, but I had absolutely no analysis of what that was or how that related to anything in the world. I was pretty much like, “let’s just all be nice to each other,” and Leeway gave me an opportunity to have really difficult conversations with people who were different than myself, begin to think systemically, and question just about everything about who I thought I was and what I valued.

What would you like to see in the next 25 years for Leeway?

You know, I’m just thrilled to think about the people who are here now, asking those questions. I think back to fifteen years ago and who was asking then, and the people asking now are people I only had the foggiest vision of fifteen years ago. I feel like there is an intention to continue to cultivate inclusiveness and justice and art – you know, art in the sense of broadly defined expressions of creativity and humanity. I see that as evolving and deepening and expanding, not in the sense of getting unfocused, but as it is lived and as people who are currently holding that charge. Because, who you are and where you all come from – it’s like a river of people! It’s not like there’s one group of people, and then bam, another group of people, but it’s like a flow of people, and that flow of people is embodying and holding – this flow will bring it to the next stage in a really beautiful way.

If Leeway were a playlist, what song would you be?

There’s this song – I think its origins are African, I don’t actually know beyond where I encountered it, but it was really helpful for me in the space I was in [when I worked with Leeway]. I went to Alternate Roots – that was my favorite conference I ever went to when I was at Leeway. They were singing this song – the version of it that moved me went: “We are going/ Heaven knows where we are going/ But we know within/ And we’ll get there/ Heaven knows how we will get there/ But we know we will.” (the song is Woyaya written by Ghanaian drummer Sol Amarifio), It really moved me because I had a feeling that something was possible, but I had no idea how to do it, and knew we were not the people to do it – but it was like, “let’s just aim ourselves in this direction, and see what happens.”

Leeway @ 25: Celena Morrison

Leeway @ 25: Interview with Celena Morrison

In 2018, Leeway Foundation celebrates twenty-five years of grantmaking and community building among Philadelphia-based artists, cultural producers and organizers. To celebrate, we're highlighting some of the change makers and visionaries within Leeway's community who have helped to set the course for Leeway's own transformation.

Who are you?

I am a very down-to-earth country girl that came to the city. I was a little uneducated about the community that I was actually a part of, due to being from the south. I rose above the barriers that continued to marginalize me, and now I am the woman I knew I had the potential to be. That’s an advocate, sometimes an activist (occasionally), an educator, a sister, a mother figure to some. I guess in a nutshell, I never really know who the day is going to call for me to be, and I try to conform to what is needed because I tend to feel the need to want to please, and to want to help, and to want to satisfy, and to want to put a smile on people’s faces, and so there are times I can be very catering. That causes me sometimes to be a sort of shape-shifter.

How did you come to do the advocacy work that you do today?

Well, a lot of people don’t know this, but I was working for a trucking company before I started doing this work. And doing that work I dealt with a lot of sexualization – there was a lot of sexual harassment. And I don’t know! I wanted a change, so my mind began wandering to, you know, what else can I do? I wanted to give back and I wanted to do something meaningful, so I started to volunteer at the Trans Health Conference. So that was my first step into the nonprofit realm. My volunteering with the conference gave me insight into what was going on. And I was only a room monitor, and no one told me that – I wasn’t expecting to have to say anything like that, but the person who was actually conducting or facilitating the workshop, wanted an introduction! [Laughs] So I had to welcome people and do a little talking and then introduce this person and I was like, okay… You know, I didn’t know if that’s how things were typically done at the conference or not!

So after that, someone approached me and was like, have you ever done this kind of work? You know, speaking in front of crowds and stuff like that. And I was like, no. And they were like, “I like you and your personality – I have a position that may be coming available soon,” and it was at Mazzoni Center. And that was my first experience. That’s what got me into it. Several months went by because at the time there wasn’t a position available. So, I went back to my little trucking job, and I would look for ways to volunteer and do little things with the homeless and stuff. But I got hired at the Mazzoni Center to do part-time outreach work. From there, I started to do just outreach, then we had Sisterly Love and I facilitated that, and I learned how to put together a workshop, and do presentations and all that stuff. As time went on I just wanted to learn more and more, and the more I got involved, the more I saw a need for, you know, folks from our own community to get involved.

How did you come to be involved in the Leeway community?

It was during the time early on, when I was working at the Mazzoni Center and the Trans Wellness Project received a grant from Bread & Roses [Community Fund]. That was my initial introduction to the community, and then I started to attend the networking events that Leeway would have. I would kind of keep up, because I was really intrigued by the organization when I went to an event that was focused on women artists that were incarcerated. And being from the south, I continued to be so intrigued by all the resources and the events and the things that trans folks were actually included in. And I remember seeing that there were trans women included in that exhibit and in that program, and it put a warm spot in my heart.

And then, on top of that, I started to engage with the folks who work at the organization. I was like, “these folks are really amazing!” And it made me want to learn more, it made me want to engage with them more. I would try to be at their events that they would have where people from the community come and talk about the work that they were doing. I was always wanting to find a way to work with them or to engage with the organization, even though I’m not an artist. But I’ve always been a fan of the work that Leeway has done.

And this past year (2017) I finally got the opportunity to meet Lee Alter (Leeway founder). And that was exciting! So, I developed a real love for Leeway and the people that work there. I was invited to Lee’s apartment for an event to talk about the things going on at William Way. It was a small little networking thing with about 12 of us – we talked about programs at William Way and what brought us there, because Lee sits on our arts committee. It was a really really nice event! And her apartment was nothing short of amazing. It was really close-knit and personal – it was one of the best things that I was a part of in 2017. Because she showed us some of her art, and she told us some of the stories that were behind the pieces she showed us, and I got the feeling that I was experiencing something that not a lot of people get to experience because I know for artists it’s really personal to invite people into their space. So, to be a part of that really spoke volumes to me – furthering my love for Leeway!

How has Leeway played a role in your own evolution?

When I first started doing this work and I started attending events at Leeway, um, I really didn’t know what I was doing [laughs.] I didn’t really have a lot of experience in advocacy work. I didn’t know much about being an activist. I knew right from wrong. I knew how to express my feelings. But, I didn’t know much about networking. Attending those networking events at Leeway helped me get comfortable with talking about the work that I was doing to people that I didn’t know. And also, being able to talk and be comfortable in my skin, with my experience or lack thereof compared to others in the room. And I never felt less-than – and that also spoke volumes to me.

You know, it meant a lot to me that I was in there with people with degrees and had been on their jobs for many years and all of these experiences, and they’re well off and all of these things that I don’t have a history of being or experiencing or having. But it didn’t matter in that room. You know, we were there to talk about the work that we’re doing and to possibly see overlapping opportunities and opportunities to help our communities. And that’s what was – that was awesome to me. And it made me want to keep coming back.

If Leeway was a playlist, what song would you be?

It may not make sense to you, but it’s such a feel-good song for me, and it kind of describes the feeling that I get when I’m at Leeway. It’s “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. That song just fills me with – I don’t know I just feel so clean and happy! And that’s the way I feel when I’m at Leeway. 

Kai Davis (LTA '17) Featured in Temple News

Kai Davis (LTA ‘17) Featured in Temple News

The Temple News


Alumna makes poetry accessible for marginalized groups

Kai Davis, a 2016 alumna, received a $15,000 grant from the Leeway Foundation for her poetry. 

by Khanya Brann | 23 January 2018

Read this article online at Temple News


On an unseasonably warm day in early December, Kai Davis opened her mailbox to find a fat envelope. It was the kind she thought could only contain good news.

Inside, Davis found a packet from the Leeway Foundation congratulating her on being one of 10 artists to win a $15,000 Transformation Award. The award recognizes women and trans artists in the Philadelphia area who have been creating art for social change for five years or more.

“I cried all the way up the stairs to my apartment, and I live in a four-story walk up,” said Davis, a 2016 Africology, African-American studies and English alumna.

Davis, a poet, author and editor at the Philadelphia-based Apiary Magazine, plans to use the grant to host a series of free poetry workshops for Black women and femmes — an umbrella term for feminine-identifying people — in the city.

Many of her poems explore the intersection of race, power, gender and sexuality and the effect it has on people’s identities and society as a whole.

Videos of Davis, a two-time international grand poetry slam champion, performing poems that are focused on her identity as a Black queer woman, like “F— I Look Like” and “Ain’t I a Woman?,” have tens of thousands of views online.

Davis shared the news of the grant in a video on Instagram, where she said, through tears, “For anyone who knows me…you know that this last year has been hard. I lost my father, I’ve been struggling trying to be a full-time artist, so this award means more than anything right now.”

Davis, a Philadelphia native, moved back in with her parents in August 2016 when her father became sick.

He died in January 2017 due to multiple organ failure. Davis was in the middle of rehearsals for “How to Take Space,” a poetry show she co-produced and directed with The Philly Pigeon, a poetry collective that runs some of the city’s largest adult poetry slam events.

“It had been the hardest year of my entire life, and at the end of it, I won this,” Davis said. “It felt like a wave of relief, like a big break that I really needed at the time.

She first learned about the Transformation Award through Jacob Winterstein, the co-founder and co-host of The Philly Pigeon, and she was later encouraged to apply by Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela, an author who received a grant from the Leeway Foundation in 2012.

“I remember writing ‘Leeway’ on a sticky-note and taping it to my mirror, and it was there for months as a reminder that despite everything I was dealing with, ‘I need to do this, I need to do this, I need to do this,’” Davis said.

Even though she has been teaching poetry workshops for people of color and creating art for marginalized communities for several years, Davis initially felt like she hadn’t accomplished enough to apply for the grant.

“The criteria asks for people who have been creating social change for five or more years, and I had, but I still didn’t feel like I deserved to apply,” she said. “There were a lot of things related to elitism in the poetry industry that I was concerned about, like not having been formally published.”

She overcame her reservations and submitted the second round of applications last October, and waited two months to hear back from the foundation.

“As a Black queer woman who has done a significant amount of work to cultivate art in Philadelphia, it’s beyond time someone has recognized her contributions and given her a grant,” said Jamal Parker, a senior Africology and African-American studies major who succeeded Davis as the artistic director of Babel, Temple’s poetry collective. “She is exceptional on and off the stage, and has a gift for bringing people together.”

Parker was also Davis’ teammate when Babel won the 2016 College Union Poetry Slam Invitational, which is an annual international tournament where poetry teams compete.

Davis is also always thinking about ways art spaces can be more accessible.

She came up with the idea to do ticket giveaways for The Philly Pigeon shows, so people who can’t afford them could have the opportunity to attend the collective’s monthly shows. They prioritize people of color, financially insecure people, people with disabilities and LGBTQ people, Davis said.

“Poetry is something that a lot of marginalized people are interested in and practice or explore on their own,” Davis said. “But because of the elitism in the poetry world, in both the slam scene or page poetry, they don’t have a lot of access to poems that might change their life or ideas that might change how they move through the world.”

Davis said she’s grateful for her mentors at the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, a nonprofit that offers literary art education for teens, for giving her the opportunity to grow as a writer, performer and teacher, especially Cait Kay, who gave Davis her first opportunity to teach a poetry workshop in 2013.

While Kay was on maternity leave last year, Davis substituted for her classes at the Academy at Palumbo, a high school on Catherine Street near 11th, and had the opportunity to connect with students.

Davis wants to continue to give Black and brown kids “a reason to speak up, to read and to question.”

“My mentors were all able to see talent and understand that it needs to be fostered,” she said. “It’s really important that we create spaces for young people to tap into their potential, and give them the tools to do so, because it really makes a difference. I want to be able to provide that for people.”

Leeway @ 25: Interview with Denise M. Brown

In 2018, Leeway Foundation celebrates twenty-five years of grantmaking and community building among Philadelphia-based artists, cultural producers and organizers. We approach this milestone as an opportunity to share Leeway’s story – a story grounded in the founder's feminist principles that explore the intersection of art, culture, community, and change. Over these twenty-five years, Leeway has become more inclusive in how it defines its community in terms of who (practitioners) and what (practice) the foundation supports; initially funding women identified artists, then expanding its criteria to embrace women, trans, and gender-nonconforming artists with a vision for social change. These changes came about as a result of the vision of those in the Leeway community committed to the use of art and culture as vehicles for social change and community transformation.

To celebrate this history, we’ll highlight examples from a series of conversations and interviews about this landmark anniversary. Each month, we’ll talk to former and current staff and board members, grantees and panelists, including Leeway’s founder Linda Lee Alter and her daughter, Sara (Becker) Milly, whose path-breaking choices set a course that allowed Leeway to transform over the last twenty-five years. We hope these conversations provide some insights into the important changes that Leeway has undergone, while giving space to celebrate the individual contributions and accomplishments of a range of artists, change makers, and visionaries. 

Who are you?

Denise Michelle Brown

The only child of Bernice C. Lewis and William Alfred Brown, Jr.; the eldest grandchild of Mildred, Edna, Clement and William Sr.; seeker, artist, cultural organizer and strategist; and Executive Director of the Leeway Foundation.

How would you define your relationship within Leeway’s community?

I come into the Leeway story out of my experience at Bread & Roses Community Fund with Sara Becker, who is the sort of second generation [of Leeway] as the founder’s daughter. I invited Sara to be a part of what was then called the Community Funding Board at Bread & Roses, folks from the community that were making the grant decisions. At that time I was managing the process, and folks on that committee were separated into working groups, they would review certain applications in-depth, do site visits, and then report back to the full body on decision-making day. Sara was part of a group that was looking at cultural organizations.

I think it was likely that she was already thinking about this, but I think her experience on the funding board of Bread & Roses really piqued her curiosity about community arts and transformation. So this is the early aughties, like 2002, 2003, and she was being invited to be really active in the leadership of Leeway at that time. So, it was really through her that they embarked on this process of investigating what it would mean to support women whose art was about community transformation – that was sort of how Sara framed it.  

They went through a process that engaged a lot of people, they started going to national convenings where people were talking about this nexus of art and social change and social justice. Places like Alternate Roots and spaces in Philadelphia; they did focus groups with people who were institutional representatives and individual art practitioners and talked through this idea, through more convenings; and in 2003 a consulting team of three women presented what was called the program design report. It was after that that I was invited to be part of the discussions with the then-board.

I kept saying, you know, you gotta be really clear if you want to do this, this is really going to shift this organization in a lot of different ways, and if you’re not really serious about it, you shouldn’t engage it! Because at that point the conversation was really about marginalized communities, and given that the mission was explicitly about women at that point, it was more about the inclusion of people of color, or people who claim certain ethnic identities. As they moved on in the process, new staff were brought on, all who had authentic relationships and connections to the field. And the transition began bringing on certain advisors (I was one of those advisors) – setting a course to shift the organization from being this family-run foundation, this one-member structure, to more of a community-based foundation.

It wasn’t long after that that the conversation began about gender. New programs were implemented in 2005, and this idea of trans inclusion became [prevalent] in 2006. The initial shift was related generally to the criteria: we support women and trans artists doing this work. And some work was done in terms of shifting the guidelines. If we had been a different kind of organization, a different kind of family foundation, that had a larger or more entrenched board, it would have been a different set of conversations. It likely would have taken longer. So we moved from that and engaged with our first community board.

Now you have an organization that’s made this decision and commitment to this constituency, that hasn’t really trained or educated itself to engage that. And so I think in my experience of it, there was some hesitancy – we had to catch up with the commitment we made... how do you do that internally, right? At different points in the process – and we’re talking about over the course of a few years – there were things like, "oh my god, I need to review the personnel policies, to make sure they’re gender neutral."  There was a lot to consider – especially in terms of the internal dynamics of the organization. How do we not continue to marginalize folks – that became part of the process. It had to be more than, “we’re saying that this constituency can apply for a grant,” but, “how do we create the same space for everyone?” And also to not think about Leeway as a trans organization; I guess we could say it’s a feminist organization that funds women and trans artists, right? I’m using feminist right now, I don’t know if we’ll come up with something else – maybe it’s about looking at gender inclusivity in a different way. And holding that as well – so the work becomes about how to build community from those constituencies.

What role has Leeway played in your own evolution?

I think of Leeway as an incubator kind of space. We can be experimental, and I want to be able to expand while maintaining that. But that’s a question for the future. The experience of how much I’ve grown in my time here really moves me, and thinking about what a privilege it is, really, truly. I think I have this way of talking about Leeway as a learning community or at least that’s kind of how I’d like to envision it. And the learning is for everyone who’s involved with the organization. It’s not the notion of what we give grantees, its sort of what – what is everyone involved in this organization bringing to it?

So, that’s staff, board, interns, and volunteers, right? And what is each of us learning? I always say to people who work here that the goal is to support everyone’s leadership development because it’s ultimately not about Leeway. You know what I mean? In this way it’s sort of like, we’re all passing through, right? If there’s a way in which this organization can support your growth as a community leader, that you then go off and do remarkable things in other spaces, in other communities, it’s all good! So I think we can provide that kind of grounding for people, to sort of test things out about themselves.

I think for me, I found my voice in a setting and an organization [that] was primarily an all women’s organization. It was a really safe space for me to experiment with my leadership and my voice and all – and explore conflict and all that stuff. I think it was really important for me to create something similar here. We don’t and can’t always agree about everything – that’s an unrealistic expectation. But when you know, when you push back, just have thought it through!  You know what I mean? Anything is possible! So creating that is always really exciting to me.

If Leeway was a playlist, what song would you be?

Hmmm… I’m Every Woman. The Chaka version of course!

Yared Portillo Featured on Public Radio International

Yared Portillo Featured on Public Radio International

What does protest sound like? For this Philadelphia activist, it's the eight-string jarana. 

Yared Portillo, a Philadelphia community activist, has four of them: One she built from scratch; two others were secured from renowned artisans; the final one — received broken and in pieces from a friend — she carefully repaired and made whole again.

The repaired instrument isn’t a bad metaphor for the role the jarana has played in the US immigration protest movement for the past two decades. It's a small, eight-string instrument from Veracruz, Mexico, patterned after a 16th century baroque Spanish guitar that is often confused with a ukulele.

In the hands of Chicanos or recent Mexican immigrants, the jarana — as well as the son jarocho musical form with which it is inextricably associated — energizes rallies and undergirds the chants of those who want to repair not only a broken immigration system, but the increasingly broken relationship between two nations sharing both borders and histories.

In Philadelphia, Portillo punctuates chanting while strumming the tiny, “mosquito”-size jarana during a protest rally at a local Immigration and Customs Enforcement headquarters: Me gusta la lima, me gusta el limón, pero no me gusta la deportación. I like lime, I like lemon, but I do not like deportation.

Listen to the full story or read the transcription at pri.org

Erika Guadalupe Núñez and This Home Resists in Philly Inquirer

"What's behind that boy you see in South Philly windows" by Jeff Gammage, Staff Writer for Philly Inquirer

Erika Guadalupe Núñez dwells at the intersection of art and resistance.

So when the activist group Juntos needed a bold image to inspire neighborhood solidarity amid unnerving immigration raids — federal authorities snatched 107 people in a single September sweep — it turned to her.

The result: a full-color placard for households to display in their front windows, alerting all, “This home resists.” It anchors a “community resistance zone” that Juntos has launched across a large swath of South Philadelphia.

One side of the poster shows a young Latin boy standing in front of a brick rowhouse, his hand raised as if to say, “Stop.” On the back, in English and Spanish, is a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” if immigration agents or police come pounding on the door.

Tip No. 1: Don’t open the door.

“It speaks across languages,” said Núñez, 26. “It’s community members saying, ‘We have to start looking out for one another.’”

She enveloped the poster boy with an elliptical, blue background, as a way to make him more prominent. But others see the sacred, an outline similar to the aureole that surrounds the Aztec goddess Tonantzin or the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Núñez swears that was unintentional.

Whether secular or religious, that art now hangs in an outsized gallery: The windows and doors of shops and homes from Third Street west to Ninth Street, and Washington Avenue south to Oregon Avenue.

There Juntos has created its first “resistance zone,” a block-by-block effort to oppose the Trump administration’s tough stance on immigration and undocumented immigrants. During one weekend this month, Juntos’ volunteers knocked on 3,000 doors, handing out posters as they went.

They trained people how to protect their rights and those of their neighbors, should they be approached by local police or agents from federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE.

“It was really important to have something you put up in your window, so that when they’re at your door, and they might be banging on the door, that you’re reminded of your rights,” said Juntos Executive Director Erika Almiron. “It was important for community members to see these posters in the windows and know our neighbors and friends have committed to be our allies."

Read the full article here.

Leeway Foundation Awards Ten Philadelphia Artists with $15,000 Transformation Award

Leeway Foundation Awards Ten Philadelphia Artists with $15,000 Transformation Award

Today, Leeway Foundation announced $150,000 in grants to 10 women and trans* artists and cultural producers in Greater Philadelphia, acknowledging their commitment to art and social justice that impacts a larger audience or community. This year’s recipients work in an array of disciplines, including visual arts, literary arts, and performance. 

The 2017 Leeway Transformation Award (LTA) recipients are as follows (in alphabetical order):  

    Ana Guissel Palma of West Kensington, Crafts & Textiles and Visual Arts
    Catherine Pancake of West Philadelphia, Media Arts and Visual Arts
    Cynthia Dewi Oka of Collingswood (Southern New Jersey), Literary Arts
    Dinita “Princess Di” Clark of Mantua, Performance
    Erika Guadalupe Núñez of South Philadelphia, Visual Arts
    Eva Wŏ of West Philadelphia, Visual Arts and Media Arts
    Kai Davis of West Philadelphia, Literary Arts and Performance
    Nehad Khader of West Philadelphia, Media Arts and Literary Arts
    Sheena Sood of West Philadelphia, Folk Arts and Literary Arts
    Tawanda Jones of Parkside (Southern New Jersey), Performance

A national panel of artists and cultural producers convened to review applications and work samples in this two-stage process. The 2017 panel consisted of Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed; Philadelphia-based movement performance artist Lela Aisha Jones (LTA '15); Brasilian-American filmmaker Luisa Dantas; Chicago-based queer Latinx artist and organizer Monica Trinidad; and Oakland-based writer, public health consultant and cultural competency trainer Willy Wilkinson. Queer black feminist love evangelist and prayer poet priestess Alexis Pauline Gumbs facilitated the panel’s second stage. 

The next Leeway Transformation Award deadline is May 15, 2018. In addition to the Transformation Award, Leeway offers the Art and Change Grant two times per year. These project-based grants of up to $2,500 are awarded to women and trans* artists in Greater Philadelphia. The 2018 Art and Change Grant deadlines are March 1 and August 1. Both applications are available on the Leeway website, and may also be obtained by calling 215.545.4078 or emailing info@leeway.org. Interested applicants are encouraged to attend one of the many support sessions offered throughout the year, or schedule an appointment with a foundation staff member for one-on-one support.

Press inquiries and photo requests should be directed to Denise Beek at 215.545.4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*Leeway is a trans-affirming organization committed to gender self-determination, and we use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth. 

Download the 2017 LTA Press Kit (PDF)

Leeway Foundation Announces Fall 2017 Art and Change Grantees

Leeway Foundation Announces Fall 2017 Art and Change Grantees

18 women and trans artists and cultural producers receive project-based grants to further social change in Greater Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA – Today, the Leeway Foundation announced $43,500 in grants to 18 women and trans* artists and cultural producers in Greater Philadelphia, supporting their work to address a range of social change issues.

Leeway’s Art and Change Grant provides project-based funds of up to $2,500 to women and trans artists and cultural producers who: propose a project that impacts a larger group, audience or community; have financial need; and live in the Greater Philadelphia region. The grant supports artists practicing a variety of disciplines including performance, crafts and textiles, and visual arts.

The following 18 artists and cultural producers were awarded grants (in alphabetical order):

Adonis BC Okonkwo of West Philadelphia, Multidisciplinary, $2,500

Amy June of West Philadelphia, Visual Arts/Media Arts, $2,500

Ana Martina of Kingsessing, Multidisciplinary, $2,500

Annie Mok of West Philadelphia, Media Arts, $2,500

Ants on a Log of West Philadelphia, Music/Performance, $2,500

Barb Baur of Mayfair, Media Arts/Crafts & Textiles, $2,500

Bonita Elaine Taylor of Chester, Folk Arts/Visual Arts, $2,500

Boston Gordon of Center City, Literary Arts/Performance, $2,000

Denise Allen of Jenkintown, Multidisciplinary, $2,500

Erika Guadalupe Núñez of South Philadelphia, Visual Arts, $2,500

Heather Raquel Phillips of South Philadelphia, Media Arts/Visual Arts, $2,500

Hye-Jung Park of West Philadelphia, Media Arts, $2,500

Juliana Reyes of Cedar Park, Literary Arts/Media Arts, $2,500

Kathryn Smith Pyle of Center City, Media Arts, $2,500

khari jackson of Glenwood, Visual Arts, $2,500

Maria Dumlao of East Kensington, Visual Arts/Literary Arts, $2,500

Mary DeWitt of Media, Visual Arts/Media Arts, $2,500

Mina Zarfsaz of Kensington, Media Arts/Visual Arts, $1,500

Art and Change Grants are distributed twice a year and evaluated by an independent peer review panel. The Fall ACG 2017 review panel consisted of arts administrator and nonprofit development professional Amanda Morales Pratt, vocalist and pianist Dena Underwood (ACG ‘16), and social research activist artist Julie Rainbow (LTA '16, ACG '14).

Applications are available on the Leeway website, and may also be obtained by calling (215) 545-4078 or emailing info@leeway.org. Potential applicants are encouraged to attend one of the many support sessions offered throughout the year, or schedule an appointment with a staff member for one-on-one support.

Press inquiries and photo requests should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.


The Leeway Foundation supports women and transgender artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change. Through our grantmaking and other programs we promote artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins, promotes sustainable and healthy communities, and works in the service of movements for economic and social justice. For more information about Leeway, its grant programs, grantees and events, visit www.leeway.org.


Download the Fall 2017 Press Kit.

Reflections on the Allied Media Conference

Sarah Mueller (ACG ’16) 

In June, thanks to a generous gift from Leeway Foundation, I had the incredible privilege of traveling to Detroit with my partner to attend the Allied Media Conference (AMC). I had long heard of AMC and have always wanted to attend in order to experience the real Detroit.

The most resonating impact of AMC is that this annual gathering of community builders, activists, media makers, is perfectly housed and grounded by the great city of Detroit with its rich history of resistance—a history that is as complex and politically-tainted, as it is beautifully intersectional and perseverant. The 2017 AMC, in particular, was wildly special, as this Summer marks the 50th Anniversary of the Detroit Uprising—a title which, all these years later, even in the wake of the Ferguson and Baltimore, is still controversial and debated as to whether it was a riot or a rebellion.

There are a lot of different things that a lot of different people will tell you about this city. They will tell you it’s broken and that it is spent. You will hear that it’s been abandoned and blighted. You’ll also be pitched that it’s a “blank slate,” that it is up-and-coming. 

Corporations, like those that abandoned the very People—black, brown and indigenous—whose labor they exploited and the booming economy they milked, are now returning and “re-discovering” Detroit. So, we must ask the question with all histories—Who gets to control the narrative? AMC centers the People, as the gatekeepers of Truth.

The guidance and lens provided by AMC showed me, in my short residence, that while a myriad of lower case t truths proliferate and coexist, we must continually fight for the illumination and (re)centering of Capital T Truth. AMC provoked us, as storytellers and narrative keepers, to ask the questions, first proposed by vital feminist, activist and writer, bell hooks—in her coining of the Oppositional Gaze—“Who is looking? What are they seeing?”

It is true that large swaths of Detroit are abandoned and do appear broken beyond repair. It is true that miles of former bustling shopping districts and blocks on blocks of handsome brick homes are shuttered closed. Places like these are where seeds of the lies of the American Dream were sown and the fruits of which were destroyed. 

No one can fault a family for leaving for more and better paying work. No one ever willingly abandons the happy home they’ve created. My limited observation has shown me that it is nothing short of a miracle that folks have remained, continue to organize and rally for Justice there. Native Detroiters, like Arabs in Occupied Palestine, possess a wild sumud or perseverant steadfastness — in that, their very existence and refusal to leave their land is their resistance. 

The power of Detroit and of the Allied Media Conference is in the People. It’s beauty stretches back to trailblazers like James and Grace Lee Boggs, who proudly called Detroit their home. We were reminded that the Struggle is on going and that while long from over, it is easier and better fought when we all come together—fighting for one another’s liberation. 

Detroit activist and healer, Charity Hicks, first issued the call to “wage love” in the ongoing fight against water shut-offs. It is in this spirit that I close and encourage us to in all aspects of daily work and practice continue to … #WAGELOVE.

Announcing July's Window of Opportunity Grantees

Announcing July’s Window of Opportunity Grantees

Our Window of Opportunity (WOO) Grant launched earlier this year as a six-month pilot program. Open to previous Leeway grantees only, the grant was meant to fund time-sensitive opportunities to support their art for social change practice.

The pilot program is now closed. We are currently evaluating the program and will make an announcement should we decide to continue in 2018. 

We are happy to announce July's grantees.

Carman Spoto (ACG ’17, ’15) has the opportunity to utilize camera and lighting equipment donated by a vendor to shoot her feature film What Color Is Blue this August, which centers on the life of a black transgender woman in West Philly. These funds will allow Carman to purchase the required production insurance in order to use the equipment, which will increase the production value of the film as well as its chances of being shown in festivals, picked up by a distribution company, and seen worldwide.

Stephanie Amma (ACG ’17, ’10, ’08, ’06) teaches African dance and drumming to students at Eleanor Emlen Elementary Public School’s Arts and Culture Club. The students have been invited to perform at the very first Black Expo America Inc., which will be held in Philadelphia on October 14 and 15 in partnership with the Philadelphia Black Entrepreneurs Network. These funds will allow Stephanie Amma to purchase fabric and accessories and make 30 costumes for the students’ performance, since otherwise they would not be able to afford them. 

Sketch by Stephanie Amma Young

Reflections On The Urban Bush Women Generative Dancer Workshop

By Stephanie Amma Young (ACG '17, '10, '08, '06)


Urban Bush Women Founder Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and dancers are fierce, fabulous, and on fire. I am extremely grateful for Leeway's lottery to the Generative Dancer: Black Radical Traditions of Practice & Thought opportunity. The Urban Bush Women Choreographic Center Faculty facilitated a comprehensive nine-day intensive. We had daily technique classes and learned to generate movement through UBW's process and learning. It was rigorous for me because of the modern and ballet classes taught which are not my dance forms, and enlightening because I was challenged do work outside my comfort zone. I had many "A HA" moments.

The Generative Dancer: Black Radical Traditions of Practice & Thought is a full day workshop experience from 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM for intermediate/advanced choreographers and performers who want to deepen their practice through participation in an immersive learning environment. The choreographic intensive did just that. Scholars were brought in to give us research and experiences in music, dance history, writing, and drama and put us to task to create.

Everyday Director Jawole Willa Jo Zollar was present to impart her knowledge, wisdom, experience, and passion--a treasure for me and I am sure for all those who participated. I will forever keep the experience in my heart, replay it in my mind, and rejoice in my soul because Jawole kept her knowledge alive in her dance, lived in her knowledge, and is totally about the knowledge she creates stories from to share with the world. It’s amazing to learn how to really tell a story verbally and amazing transferring it into movement UBW style; that was simply a divine highlight for me. It’s a transcribing transformation process that happens on the dance floor. I can’t stop talking about my experience and encouraging other dancers to check out the Urban Bush Women’s programs. I knew they were good; I did not know how great their art form was.

UBW’s work is important and translates our African American heritage into a creative language that gives a voice to our African American ancestors, our history, struggle and victory, culture, cultural norms, music, language, poetry, and stories. UBW has an impact on any dancer with African American or African diaspora roots, or enthusiasts.

Each one of the Urban Bush Women and men were fascinating artists; I could have watched them all day. It is especially awesome to participate in the first UBW Summer Choreographic Intensive program hosted by the UBW artisans; I truly love them all. They had energy, vitality, and boldness and were humble, helpful, and always willing to share their skill and knowledge. Thank you, and much more continued success to Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and staff, all the professors, and cohort.


The Generative Dancer: Black Radical Traditions of Practice & Thought workshop intensive was held from June 24 through July 2, 2017 at the Mark Morris and Gelsey Kirkland studios in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about Urban Bush Women at urbanbushwomen.org.

Announcing June's Window of Opportunity Grantee

Announcing June’s Window of Opportunity Grantee

Our Window of Opportunity (WOO) Grant launched earlier this year as a pilot program. Open to previous Leeway grantees only, the grant is meant to fund time-sensitive opportunities to support their art for social change practice. We are happy to announce June's grantee.

Nehad Khader (ACG ’08) will travel to Chicago in July to document a farewell event held in honor of Rasmea Odeh, Palestinian American community organizer, former political prisoner, and elder, who will be deported and stripped of U.S. citizenship this August. Nehad will continue to deepen her relationship with Rasmea, her supporters, and the Palestinian American organizing community in Chicago. Nehad will produce media that she hopes to share with Palestinian communities across the country.

Kayleb Rae Candrilli

2017 Spring Art and Change Grantees Featured in Philadelphia Gay News

"Trans, queer projects get boost with Leeway funding" by Ray Simon for Philadelphia Gay News (May 31, 2017)

The Leeway Foundation, a Philadelphia nonprofit supporting women and trans artists, recently awarded $47,500 to 22 local artists.

The recipients are the latest group of artists to receive Leeway’s Art and Change Grant, which is awarded twice a year, in the spring and again in the fall. 

According to Denise Beek, Leeway’s communications director, the Art and Change Grant is “a project-based grant up to $2,500 to women and trans artists who have an idea for a project that intersects with art, culture and social justice within 11 Social Change Intents.”

The Leeway Foundation was begun in 1993. Its original purpose was to support women artists working in the greater Philadelphia region. In 2007, the nonprofit broadened its mission in two significant ways. First, it placed a greater emphasis on social change; second, it began making its resources available to trans artists.

Leeway defines trans in the broadest possible sense, Beek explained. “We actually make a point to not say transgender, because we feel like the term trans should be an inclusive word to mean if you identify as transsexual or transgender or genderqueer or two-spirit people.”

The recipients of this spring’s Art and Change Grant are working in a wide range of disciplines, including music, performance and visual arts. Carman Spoto, a queer trans woman from Downingtown, will use her grant to make a feature-length film about queer and trans youth. And Alex Barrett and Kris Moore of University City will be working on a book about gender-nonconformity for youngsters, along with an accompanying curriculum guide for parents and teachers. 

A significant aspect of Leeway’s Art and Change Grant is what it refers to as Social Change Intents. All applicants are asked to select three from a list of 11 possibilities.

“What we mean by that is basically focuses, ranging from cultural preservation to environmental justice to displacement and immigration issues to transgender justice and gender self-determination,” Beek said.

Before this year, Beek noted, Leeway categorized LGBTQI social movements and transgender justice and gender self-determination under one rubric. This spring, however, it was agreed that they should be two separate Social Change Intents. 

That was partly due to Leeway’s longstanding recognition of the importance of gender self-determination. But it was also a response to societal threats to the trans community, from so-called bathroom bills to outright violence against trans women.

“We thought that was a very important change to make to the application,” said Beek, who pointed out that six current grantees selected transgender justice and gender self-determination.

Kayleb Rae Candrilli is one of them. Candrilli, whose preferred pronoun is they, is a trans, gender-nonconforming poet living and working in the Point Breeze neighborhood of South Philadelphia.

“My poetry is pretty much directly in conversation with trans rights and trans joy,” they said when asked to describe their work. “So it’s what I do and it’s my personal politics.”

Candrilli applied for Leeway’s Art and Change Grant to work on a book of poems in dialogue with the paintings of Hernan Bas. They described Bas as a wonderful painter whose work celebrates queer bodies.

“I wanted to write an entire collection that was focused on the queer body and the trans body as one of joy,” Candrilli said. “I think too often trans people are reduced to their trauma, and I didn’t want to write that book.” 

The Art and Change Grant is a boon to Candrilli, giving them time to work on the book, a chance to visit a current Bas exhibit and a financial cushion as they look for a publisher. Overall, their experience with Leeway has been so good that they wholeheartedly recommend it to others.

“I would really like to encourage female-bodied and trans artists to apply to this, pretty much no matter what,” Candrilli said. “I think that writing about your work and applying to something, even if you don’t get it, teaches you a lot about who you are as an artist and what your intentions are.”

That’s timely advice. The deadline for Leeway’s fall Art and Change Grant is Aug. 1. Beek urges artists from Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs to give it a shot. 

There will even be an applicant-support session on July 19 at Historic Germantown, 5501 Germantown Ave. It is open to anyone, whether they’re in the process or filling out an application for the Art and Change Grant or still just considering the idea. It makes no difference, Beek said; Leeway staff will be there for advice, feedback and help.

“You do not need an appointment, you don’t need to necessarily say that you’re coming, you can just pop in, talk to somebody,” she said.

To learn more about the Leeway Foundation and the fall 2017 Art and Change Grant, visit www.leeway.org. 

Artwork by Mary DeWitt

7 Artists and Organizers Who Work on Reentry Issues in Philadelphia

Far too often, the contributions to social justice movements by artists and cultural producers are seen but uncelebrated. In recognition of Philadelphia Reentry Month, Leeway spotlights just a few individuals who believe that social change happens when we work together to dismantle oppressive power structures and see possibility beyond the confines of stigma associated with people in reentry.

Do you know of other women and trans artists doing work in communities affected by incarceration? Encourage them to apply for the Art and Change Grant, deadline: August 1

1. Faith Bartley (ACG ’15): Faith is an organizer and multidisciplinary artist who creates resources for women living in halfway houses. Working with The People’s Paper Co-op – an initiative by the Village of Arts and Humanities that works directly with individuals impacted by incarceration to develop the tools, skills, and networks to advocate for themselves and their loved ones- Faith uses the process of papermaking, gatherings, and speaking engagements to provide information and tips meant to ease the process of reentry for formerly incarcerated women. Faith aims to heal, unite, and empower women who have been oppressed all their lives. 

2. Mary DeWitt (ACG ’16, ’15, ’09, LTA ’10, WOO ’03, ’00): Since the late 1980's, Mary has repeatedly painted portraits and collaborated with women serving life without parole in Pennsylvania. Her goal is to show their depth and humanity through exhibitions and YouTube videos of developing portrait images paired with their voices. Currently she is painting ceramic tile mural portraits of  the women who are juvenile lifers, to be installed around the city of Philadelphia.  Philadelphia has incarcerated more juveniles to life without parole than any city in the United States- over 300. The murals with narrative will include her websites www.juvelinelifers.com and www.lifersontile.com where viewers can hear and learn more about the women and this crisis so relevant to our city.

3. Ras Mashramani (ACG ’16): Ras is a writer and co-founder of the DIY sci-fi collective, Metropolarity. She believes that sci-fi is a technology that allows those without a way forward in the economic and criminal justice systems to build futures where they are alive and thriving. Ras is currently working on a dystopia sci-fi novel that explores the intersection of mental health treatment, mass incarceration, racism, and poverty from the perspective of a social work trainee at a local juvenile detention center. Ras aims to raise awareness around issues of surveillance and violence in poor communities and amplify the voices of both survivors and workers who are impacted by these systems in hopes to promote solidarity.

4. Courtney Bowles (ACG ’16): Courtney is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and community organizer. She is the co-director of The People's Paper Co-op and the Philadelphia Reentry Think Tank, a project that connects returning citizens with artists, activists, and legislative experts to destroy stereotypes about returning citizens, connect them with organizations and individuals in power, and advocate for platforms that will help those in reentry succeed. At the core of her practice is the belief that those most impacted by systemic social issues are the experts society needs to listen to, and that by connecting those directly affected with a multitude of community experts and political stakeholders, change can happen on personal and systemic levels.

5. Romeeka Williams (ACG ’16): Romeeka is an organizer who is creating a collection of writing and poetry from workshops with youth within the Philadelphia prison system. Romeeka uplifts the voices of young people tried and incarcerated as adults by sharing where these young writers come from, how they got to this point in their lives, and what trauma they experienced that influenced their decisions. As a supervisor at the Youth Arts Self-empowerment Project, Romeeka talks to student groups about the school-to-prison pipeline and offers support for those returning from prison.

6. Emily Abendroth (ACG ’15): Emily is a poet, teacher and anti-prison activist. Her project, entitled LifeLines: Voices Against the Other Death Penalty, is a media/cultural project intended to inform and transform the nature of public discussions and understanding of Life Without Parole (LWOP) sentencing in Pennsylvania. Emily conducted written and audio interviews with people serving life in Pennsylvania, which she used to create a pamphlet that can serve as a tool to inform campaign strategy, educate, and generate dialogue with people across the state. Emily believes that successfully defeating LWOP will require a profound cultural shift as well as artistic collaborations that engage people on both sides of prison walls.

7. Rachel Zolf (ACG ’16): Rachel is a literary artist who developed and piloted an eight-week writing group with incarcerated women at the Federal Detention Center in downtown Philadelphia. The group, called FreeWrite, fostered creative expression, critical thinking and community building as the writers responded freely to writing prompts drawn from published poems, fiction, and memoirs by formerly incarcerated people and other writers. Rachel and her co-facilitator, Penn student Camara Brown, coordinated FreeWrite for a second ten-week session, and the group will start up again this fall.

Announcing May's Window of Opportunity Grantees

Announcing May’s Window of Opportunity Grantees

Our Window of Opportunity (WOO) Grant launched earlier this year as a pilot program. Open to previous Leeway grantees only, the grant is meant to fund time-sensitive opportunities to support their art for social change practice. We are happy to announce May's grantees:

Judith Sachs (ACG '15) has the opportunity to attend The International Society of Gerontology World Congress, held this July in San Francisco. The Congress is the largest group of individuals working for the advancement of the elderly, and this year it features Age Stage, where those, like Judith, involved in fostering creative aging will speak and perform. Judith will take part in a variety of improvisatory sessions with them, and will also be able to network and expand the scope of her adaptive dance program and her founding group, National Council on Creative Aging, internationally.

Judith Schaechter (LAE '99) Featured on Articulate

Judith Schaechter (LAE ‘99) Featured on Articulate

Judith Schaechter (LAE '99) is featured on Articulate, an Emmy® award-winning arts and culture show nationally syndicated on PBS. Art, according to Schaechter, is a way of bridging the gap between mind and body. Judith sat down with Articulate to discuss the simultaneously cerebral and emotional nature of her work, the importance of process, and how she has stretched the boundaries of her art form. 

Watch the segment at pbs.org.

Songs in the Key of Free

Songs in the Key of Free Featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer

Songs in the Key of Free is the first formal music program at Graterford Prison in more than a decade. The program was founded by August Tarrier (ACG '12) and Miles Butler in October 2016. 

[T]hrough it, inmates have already written and recorded an EP of original songs, with a lyrical focus on issues like mass incarceration and systemic racism, and they are working on a full album. They also have two concerts prepared: one to be performed inside Graterford by the men, and a parallel performance-by-proxy, featuring professional musicians, video clips, and the EP release on June 16 at the Painted Bride.

August Tarrier, who founded the program with Butler last fall, says the goal is artistic, with a side of advocacy.

“It’s countering the idea that people who end up in prison, who made a mistake or a bad decision, that they deserve for us to lock them up and throw away the key,” said Tarrier, an editor and writer who has taught writing courses at Graterford for Villanova University. “What we’re trying to do is make an intervention and to bridge the divide between inside and outside.”

Continue reading the full article at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Underground Railroad Game

The Underground Railroad Game Ties for the Obie Award

The Underground Railroad Game, written by Philly thespians Scott Sheppard and Jenn Kidwell (ACG '15) and produced by their Philly company, Lightning Rod Special, tied Monday night for the Obie Award for best new American theater work. The Obies reward excellence in Off-Broadway productions.

Read the full article at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Lela Aisha Jones

Temple University Awards Lela Aisha Jones a Reflection:Response Choreographic Commission

May 2, 2017

The Temple University Department of Dance, Institute of Dance Scholarship, is delighted to announce the sixth Reflection:Response Choreographic Commission has been awarded to Lela Aisha Jones/FlyGround.

Building on her current series of episodic works, Plight Release & the Diasporic Body, Jones will create Ancestral and Everyday Saturday, new works that traverse, through the body and movement, what the black/African Diaspora offers as an archive of and guide towards individual and collective transformation. Jones is asking, “what if keepers of cultures in societies also let traditional practices breathe and become tapestries grounded in histories and discoveries that collide, merge, diverge, and converge?”

The Reflection/Response Choreographic Commission includes a cash award of $5,000 and access to rehearsal space at Temple University throughout summer 2017. Past commission recipients include Laura Peterson, Charles O. Anderson, Tatyana Tennenbaum, Jennifer Weber, and Kathy Westwater.

Ancestral is an interlude and cast-specific movement experience that purposefully brings performers and audiences together around their practices of honoring ancestors to create pathways for understanding and connection along with problems and challenges in U.S. society.

Everyday Saturday works to capture and imagine the gestural, common, and less visible locations of black/African diasporic movement. It is inspired by the Saturday morning clean up ritual that took place weekly in the Southern U.S., North Florida city of Tallahassee, in the Jones home. Cleaning up was/is a time to get down to LPs, cassette tapes, CDs, and eventually streaming. Singing and dancing while cleaning goes way back and makes work feel like family. Students of the Temple University Department of Dance will join Jones and her company in Everyday Saturday.

In addition to the premiere of Ancestral and Everyday Saturday, Jones will perform her critically acclaimed trio, Jesus & Egun (2016).

Performances will take place in Temple University’s Conwell Dance Theater on Friday and Saturday, September 22 and 23 at 7:30 PM. Additional public programming includes a Round Table Discussion on Saturday, Sept 23 from 4-6PM, and a public workshop on Sunday, Sept 24 from  2-5PM.

Camae Ayewa, a musician who records as Moor Mother, playing a four-hour set at Moogfest in Durham, N.C.

Camae Ayewa’s Performance at Moogfest Featured in NY Times

DURHAM, N.C. — On Thursday afternoon at Moogfest, electronic sounds whooshed and crashed and videos of waveforms flickered and rippled behind Camae Ayewa, a musician, producer, poet, rapper and community organizer based in Philadelphia who records as Moor Mother. From her nest of equipment, she layered tumultuous beats and brittle electronic loops, and she declaimed ideas about history, racism, memory, technology and transformation. “Everyone is at home deleting the human parts of themselves/Control-Alt-Delete,” she intoned.

Moor Mother was playing a “durational performance,” one of the marathon four-hour sets that are a highlight of Moogfest, which took place Thursday through Sunday across downtown Durham, N.C. 

Continue reading the full article at nytimes.com.

2017 Spring Art and Change Grantees

Leeway Foundation Announces Spring 2017 Art and Change Grantees

22 women and trans artists and cultural producers receive project-based grants to further social change in the Delaware Valley.

PHILADELPHIA – Today, the Leeway Foundation announced $47,500 in grants to 22 women and trans* artists and cultural producers in Greater Philadelphia, supporting their work to address a range of social change issues, from immigration and transgender justice to cultural preservation and environmental justice. 

Leeway’s Art and Change Grant provides project-based funds of up to $2,500 to women and trans artists and cultural producers who: propose a project that impacts a larger group, audience or community; have financial need; and live in the Delaware Valley area. The grant supports artists practicing a variety of disciplines including performance, visual arts, and literary arts.

The following 22 artists were awarded grants (in alphabetical order):

@Pormisjoyas of West Philadelphia, Folk Art

Alex Barrett and Kris Moore of University City, Literary and Visual Arts

Amber Emory of West Philadelphia, Performance and Literary Arts

Ana Guissel Palma of West Kensington, Crafts & Textiles and Visual Arts

Carman Spoto of Downingtown, Media Arts

Carolyn L. Payne of Chester, Multidisciplinary

Cassendre Xavier of University City, Multidisciplinary

Davy Knittle and Mel Bentley of Cedar Park and Allegheny West, Literary Arts and Crafts & Textiles

JBK of North Philadelphia, Visual Arts and Folk Art

Kara Crombie of East Kensington, Music and Performance

Kayleb Rae Candrilli of Point Breeze, Literary Arts and Performance

Leah Stein of South Philadelphia, Performance and Music

Li Sumpter of Walnut Hill, Multidisciplinary

Meg Lemieur and Bri Barton of Fishtown / Port Richmond and Norris Square, Visual Arts and Performance

Nkechi of Germantown, Multidisciplinary

Priscilla Anacakuyani of Grays Ferry, Visual Arts and Performance

Stephanie Amma of East Mount Airy, Folk Art and Music

Stephanie Yuhas of West End, Media Arts and Performance

Susan Lankin-Watts of Ardmore, Music


Art and Change Grants are distributed twice a year and evaluated by an independent peer review panel.  The Spring 2017 review panel consisted of arts administrator and nonprofit development professional Amanda Morales Pratt, vocalist and pianist Dena Underwood (ACG ‘16), and social research activist artist Julie Rainbow (LTA ‘16, ACG ‘14)

Press inquiries and photo requests should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.



The Leeway Foundation supports women and transgender artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change. Through our grantmaking and other programs we promote artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins, promotes sustainable and healthy communities, and works in the service of movements for economic and social justice. For more information about Leeway, its grant programs, grantees and events, visit www.leeway.org.

Download Spring 2017 Press Release, Infographic, Project Descriptions, and Panelist Bios

Announcing April’s Window of Opportunity Grantees

Our Window of Opportunity (WOO) Grant launched earlier this year as a pilot program. Open to previous Leeway grantees only, the grant is meant to fund time-sensitive opportunities to support their art for social change practice. We are happy to announce April's grantees:

Elizabeth Hamilton (ACG '15) has been invited by the Immigrant Affairs Department of City Hall to create a Mini Museum exhibit in Chinatown and host a free community art making workshop in June as part of Immigrant Heritage Month. Mini Museum is a project that focuses on exhibiting miniature art works, no greater than 6 x 6 inches. The works are created during free community workshops and installed in publicly accessible areas, dismantling boundaries around who can be exhibited and what it means to “be in a museum.” Funds will be used for weather-proof exhibition installation materials, framing and presentation, documentation, and workshop supplies.

Jos Duncan (LTA '13, ACG '11) has the opportunity to have her work as a cultural producer documented by a filmmaker and videographer. A series of short videos will be made during her event, 11 Days of Love Stories, that she’s directing with her nonprofit social enterprise Love Now Media, which will be held over 11 days (July 5 - 15) in 11 locations throughout Philadelphia. Each event or workshop will be free, open to the public, and hosted in partnership with a group that is making a social impact. The focus is to engage these community groups in her art for social change practice, which centers love-activism and the power of love-based storytelling and media-making within social justice work. Video documentation will affirm this practice and help Jos develop it as something that could be implemented in other cities.

Mayada (ACG '16) has the opportunity to exhibit her paintings at Philadelphia Folklore Project in June. Mayada will be able to use video projection to present Iraqi songs, lyrics, and stories bilingually in English and Arabic, and will also serve Iraqi tea and cookies (klecha) to accompany the songs. Mayada has also been invited to participate in the Letters from Iraq event at International House Philadelphia in May. In conjunction with a musical performance by Iraqi musician Rahim Alhaj, Mayada will display her paintings centering Iraqi folklore. Funds will be used to frame the art, rent easels, and purchase exhibition supplies.

2017 Window of Opportunity - March Grantees

Announcing March’s Window of Opportunity Grantees

Our Window of Opportunity (WOO) Grant launched earlier this year as a six-month pilot program. Open to previous Leeway grantees only, the grant is meant to fund time-sensitive opportunities to support their art for social change practice. We are happy to announce March's grantees:

Melissa B. Skolnick (ACG ’12) has been invited by LEA (Latinos and Education in America) to travel to Austin, Texas to share her multimedia work and conduct a training with local Latinx immigrant youth in the Austin Public Schools in May. Melissa will participate in a panel and screen her film The Engine of My Life, the story of how two immigrant sisters in Philadelphia fight for their rights (co-directed by Milena Velis/Media Mobilizing Project). Melissa will also conduct a training with Austin youth on how to document their stories through photography. These stories will be shared with Latinx immigrant youth in South Philly, as Melissa develops a tool and collaborative process for sharing these stories across cities.

Michelle Angela Ortiz (ACG ’13, ’12, ’05, LTA ’08) has been invited by Taller Puertorriqueño to create a solo exhibition in May, her first solo exhibition in six years. Michelle has the opportunity to collaborate with an animator and video mapping projectionist to create some of the content of the exhibit. Quizás Mañana will examine memory and the act of narrative retelling through the creation of visual artifacts and installations.

Sistah Mafalda (ACG ’13) has the opportunity to travel and teach in a cultural dance exchange project with the Obatala group in Oaxaca, Mexico. The Obatala, a group of Afro-Mexican women who are dancing to reconnect with their African roots, have invited Sistah Mafalda to teach them African drum and dance and share their own dance practices with her in June.

Applications will be accepted May, June, and July on the 15th of each month. Learn more and apply online.

Betty Leacraft (LTA ‘11, ACG ‘16, ‘14, ‘09, WOO ‘99) Interviewed by The Galleries at Moore

Betty Leacraft (LTA '11, ACG '16, '14, '09, WOO '99) talks fibers, family, ancestors and Philadelphia Assembled in this podcast by The Galleries at Moore TGMR radio project, recorded February 21, 2017. Listen here.

Monnette Sudler (LTA ‘11, ACG ‘15, ‘14) Featured in WHYY-FM Interview

Monnette Sudler (LTA '11, ACG '15, '14) was interviewed by Alex Lewis for a WHYY-FM / NewsWorks broadcast. Listen to "Musician and composer Monnette Sudler is Philadelphia’s 'First Lady of Guitar'" here. (March 1, 2017)

Monnette Sudler says the guitar feels less like an instrument and more like a part of her body.

“Because now, at this point in my life, when I pick it up, it just feels natural,” she says from her apartment in Germantown. “I'm supposed to hold it, and it's really just an extension of myself now. Whatever I'm trying to convey — if it's excitement, or if it's love or blues, happy times or gratefulness — I believe I convey that.”

Announcing February’s Window of Opportunity Grantees

Leeway’s Window of Opportunity (WOO) Grant launched this earlier this year as a six-month pilot program. Open to previous Leeway grantees only, the grant is meant to fund time-sensitive opportunities to support their art for social change practice. We are happy to announce February's WOO grantees:

Catherine Pancake (ACG '16) will prepare a rough cut of her feature film, Queer Genius, for a residency at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

Heidi Saman (LTA '09) will prepare her first feature film, Namour, for distribution by ARRAY and Netflix.

Pia Deas (ACG '16) has an opportunity to host an artists' roundtable at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia on March 25, 2017 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Tentatively titled Power to the People: Celebrating The Black Imagination, this event will feature five Philadelphia artists speaking about their work, the importance of the Black imagination, and how it informs their art and their activism. 

Applications will be accepted from March through July on the 15th of every month. Learn more and apply online.

M. Asli Dukan (LTA ‘16, ACG ‘16, ‘14) Featured in Geek of the Week

M. Asli Dukan (LTA '16, ACG '16, '14) is featured in Geekadelphia's Geek of the Week (March 1, 2017).

Geekadelphia: Why do you feel that a documentary such as “Invisible Universe” is important in this day and Time?

Dukan: I think it is important because it is not just about speculative fiction, it is ultimately about Black speculation, basically the capacity of Black people to imagine different worlds and futures for ourselves. It’s not new for us. In the United States, Black folk have always lived in a kind of state of emergency, so we have always had to use our imaginations as the first step towards recovering our full humanity in a society that has never really valued it. So for me the documentary is important because it is a document of our resistance to what I call the “white fantastic imagination” or white supremacy that is inherent to the genres of speculative fiction, and consequently in the society we live in. It’s ultimately important because for Black creators,Black struggle and Black speculation, have often gone hand in hand.

Read more.

Leeway Foundation’s Statement on Power and Values

Leeway Foundation stands with our community alongside those most often marginalized and demonized by power — gender non-conforming, trans and LGBQI folks; immigrants and refugees; women and girls;  the disabled, and people of color — by supporting work that intends a social impact by challenging or questioning societal norms including prevailing attitudes about race, religion, class, gender, sexuality, identity, age, and ability.

“…. Leeway dreams a world
Where the communities
That have been blanketed in silence
Are finally heard
To be screaming.
Where no one owns our bodies
And the community owns
The pieces of it that go out into the world
Where art knows the heavy
And joyful
Responsibility it carries.
We dream a world where
The one is part of the many
Like rivulets of water
That forms a raging ocean….”

 - excerpted from Leeway's Vision Poem by Walidah Imarisha

LaTreice Branson (LTA ‘16) and Drum Like a Lady at the Women’s March on Philadelphia

LaTreice Branson and Drum Like a Lady did an extraordinary job kicking off the Women’s March on Philadelphia yesterday, setting a tone that was energetic, positive, and truly inclusive.

Read the full article "Drum Like a Lady at Women’s March on Philadelphia: Photos and an open letter" by Jack Firneno for Medium.

Pia Deas’ (ACG ‘16) “Contemporary Black Canvas” Podcast Featured in Generocity

Dr. Pia Deas' (ACG '16) "Contemporary Black Canvas," with its focus on modern-day Black artists and intellectuals, is bringing some much-needed diversity to podcasting.

Read Donte Kirby's full article at Generocity: "How this podcast is fighting underrepresentation, one artist at a time"

Leeway Foundation Awards 10 Philadelphia Artists with $15,000 Transformation Award

The 2016 awards were presented to a diverse group of artists and cultural producers who have worked for five years or more to further social change in the Delaware Region

PHILADELPHIA – Today, the Leeway Foundation announced $150,000 in grants to 10 women and trans* artists and cultural producers in Greater Philadelphia, acknowledging their commitment to art and social justice that impacts a larger audience or community. This year’s recipients work in an array of disciplines, including performance, media and folk arts. 

The 2016 Leeway Transformation Award (LTA) recipients are as follows (in alphabetical order): 

    Indah Nuritasari of Center City, Literary Arts and Media Arts

    Julie Rainbow of Germantown, Media Arts

    Kavindu “Kavi” Ade of West Philadelphia, Literary Arts and Performance

    Ksenya Leah Basarab of West Philadelphia, Music

    LaTreice V. Branson of Mantua, Music and Performance

    M. Asli Dukan of West Philadelphia, Media Arts

    Marie Nyenabo of Southwest Philadelphia, Music and Folk Art

    Merián Soto of Mt. Airy, Multidisciplinary

    Misty Sol of South Philadelphia, Multidisciplinary

    Noelle Hanrahan of Frankford, Media Arts and Literary Arts

“The 2016 Transformation Awardees are all artists that represent what is at the core of Leeway’s mission: visionary, community-based cultural work,” said Sara Zia Ebrahimi, Leeway’s Program Director. “Each of these artists practice their own craft as well as mentor, teach, or bring others together. Their artistic practice is not in isolation; they understand that social change does not happen by exceptional individuals, but rather by strong communities that work together.”

A national panel of artists and cultural producers convened to review applications and work samples in this two-stage process. The 2016 panel consisted of Chicago-based Palestinian author and graphic novelist Leila Abdelrazaq; queer, trans, Filipino multimedia artist and Director of Operations and Communications at the Trans Justice Funding Project Marin Watts; New-York based, Caribbean-born choreographer Paloma McGregor; 2016 Doris Duke Artist and Creative Capital awardee Sharon Bridgforth; and poet, author and Pew Fellow Trapeta Mayson (ACG '14, LTA '07). Advocate, educator, doula, and facilitator Erme Maula facilitated the panel’s second stage. 

Applications are made available on the Leeway website, and may also be obtained by calling 215.545.4078 or emailing info@leeway.org. The next Leeway Transformation Award deadline is May 15, 2017. Interested applicants are encouraged to attend one of the many support sessions offered throughout the year, or schedule an appointment with a foundation staff member for one-on-one support. 

Press inquiries and photo requests should be directed to Denise Beek at 215.545.4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.

Download 2016 LTA Press Release and Panelist Bios

Yolanda Wisher (ACG ‘08) Featured On CBC Radio

Dear President-Elect: Our Pilot Has Shown Up - Cussing, Snorting, Handsy, Full Of Spite and Trifles

By Yolanda Wisher for CBC Radio
November 9, 2016

Yolanda Wisher is the poet laureate of Philadelphia. Here is her letter to president-elect Donald Trump, commissioned by The Sunday Edition. 

A Letter to the President-Elect and to All of US

November 9, 2016

Dear Co-Pilot(s) of These Upper Ethers & Downy Domains,

Before I knew about Peter Pan or Dorothy's tornado, I knew about The People Who Could Fly. Magic folk, ancient people who possessed the knowledge of flight. Slavery took their wings but some still remembered how and flew away from the lash. The griot Virginia Hamilton wrote that they flew like blackbirds over fields. Black, shiny wings flappin' against the blue up there. 

America is a flight of fear and a fear of flight. Democracy is this plane we're on. This air we're in. At our worst here. 

This is Democracy formerly known as the journey, The Promised Land. Formerly known as the slave ship.  Formerly known as the railroad car. Democracy formerly known as the bus, get on to the back now. Not the freight train Elizabeth Cotton called to carry me home. 

This plane runs on our fossilized dreams and the oil squeezed from our wings. And if I forget my place back here, it could all explode or combust. 

They say it's the pressure that keeps the plane in the air.. This pressure, this cramping, this root canal, charley horse, blood clot country that is supposed to be about freedom, but is so confined, so hampered, so suspect. Guards up. We've had so much reality, nobody believes in the myth of flight anymore. 

*       *       *

And now our pilot has shown up. Looking a lot like the other good old boys in the air up there. Cussing, snorting, handsy, full of spite and trifles, lumbering up a flimsy moral ramp to the cockpit, joining a fraternity in the clouds. This election was all turbulence and fog, people deboarding the plane before it took off. Millions didn't get on board at all. Some folks swear they'll never get back on board again. The smell from the toilets funked up the whole joint, even reared its ugly head in First Class. The masks forgot to fall.  We expected Her to crash us through, see us through the blue up there.

For the last eight years, I've been Theo's mom and Theo (a boy born in America with the blood of Black farmers, Scots, Irish, Arawak Indians, and Garifuna medicine men running in his veins) has only known Barack Obama as his president. He knows knock-knock jokes, but he doesn't know the centuries-old parodies about black presidents and power, never tasted the primordial minstrel stew we call this Birth of a Nation. He was conceived in the weeks before Obama's inauguration, when we felt the country's chest swell up and the guardians of history sigh with wonder and relief. He looks up to Obama. Obama is Theo's personal president. And it's hard to let go. Theo and Jasper and Jericho, first graders, gather at recess to discuss the country and where's it going. They believe in Democracy. They still have wings. They believe that girls can fly, too. 

*       *       *

But today we woke up to rain in America. When Theo came into our room, and Mark told him who won, he started crying. He asked, Will we have to leave? I said, No, baby, this is our country, too. We cuddled in the 6 a.m. sheets, and when they were heading out the door for school, Mark reminded me about that day when we came home to towers falling on TV just days after we had decided to split up and go our separate ways. I remember how fear flew in from all sides as we looked across the room at each other and said, let's stay together. 

And now I'm saying, y'all: Get on, strap in, and let's ride this sucker. Let's push the call button and clog the toilets. Be unruly and unruled. Let's give the pilot hell back here. I am willing to forget my deepest fears of flight, that angst of no return, the snapping ties of my heart as the wheels tuck under and out. I know what to save. 

"Hello, this is your co-pilot speaking. Welcome to America. We could be our best up there, down here. 

Thank you for flying." 

Theo's mom
Philadelphia, PA

Read and listen to the original article here.

Kay Wood (ACG ‘16, ‘14) Featured In Chestnut Hill Local

‘A Brutal Year’ For Mt. Airy Artist/Author/Radio Host

By Len Lear For Chestnut Hill Local
October 28, 2016

Mt. Airy author, graphic artist and radio show host, Kay Wood, has had, in her words, “a brutal year… It was just so horrible in so many ways.” Wood’s husband and companion of 35 years, Michael Silverstein, a business writer and former senior editor at Bloomberg’s Market magazine, died on Sept. 27 of lung cancer at the age of 75. “But even during Mike’s grueling battle with cancer, he always encouraged me to keep up with the (radio) show…

“We’re so great together,” Wood told us in an interview last year. “We encourage each other. I realized I could make a story out of the struggle for corporate greed over human sanity (in her first graphic novel, ‘The Big Belch,’ a satirical adventure of environmental crime fighters that was awarded a Leeway Foundation Arts and Change grant in 2014 and is available on Amazon.com). Laughing at the world and what people do seems the only way to stay sane …

“(And) Mike advised on the radio show all the way till he could no longer do it, and it gave him a good thing to focus on – a distraction we both needed.” (Kay’s radio show, “Planet Philadelphia,” which is one year old, streams 4 to 5 p.m. on gtownradio.com the 1st and 3rd Fridays of every month. Podcasts of the live shows generally become available the day after they broadcast at planetphila.com or gtownradio.com. Wood recently was awarded another Leeway Foundation grant for $2,500 for “Planet Philadelphia.”)

In addition to being a business writer, Silverstein was a poet, editor, humorist, social commentator and humanitarian. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., he might have stayed there had he not been inducted into the Army. He served honorably as a Military Policeman in West Germany, for which he remained proud the rest of his life.

Upon discharge, he went on to live in a lighthouse in Spain, in London, New York again and Boston before finding his home in Mt. Airy. His varied career included serving as a senior editor for Bloomberg News and writing a dozen books, serious and comic, fiction and non-fiction, in poetry and prose, on subjects ranging from politics to the financial derivatives market, the environment, solar energy, etc.

Hundreds of his articles and op-ed pieces appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Constitution and Christian Science Monitor. He was a columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Boston Phoenix and was a regular commentator on National Public Radio.

According to Kay, “He was almost certainly the only person to ever covet the title ‘America’s Best-Loved Financial Poet,’ but he was always more interested in promoting good ideas than in personal advancement. So he would move on to something new whenever he saw that others were catching on, never sticking around long enough to take credit or cash in.” (Silverstein’s final book was his entertaining personal memoir, “Gorilla Warfare Against the Bureaucratic State; Confessions of a Lefty Libertarian.“)

Wood, 64, who has lived in Mt. Airy for more than 20 years, was always a talented graphic artist but had never worked in radio until “Planet Philadelphia.” Her twice-a-month show is a mix of environmental news, interviews, music, poetry, etc. What prompted her to want to host a radio show in her mature years?

“Over the last several years,” she explained, “I’ve met many people who are incredibly dedicated in their efforts to help clean up our world, both physically and socially. They are my inspiration in creating, producing and hosting the radio show that I will be doing for the foreseeable future. I do everything to make it as engaging as possible.”

Wood’s first graphic novel, ‘The Big Belch,’ a satirical adventure of environmental crime fighters, has earned rave reviews, including one from Signe Wilkinson, Chestnut Hill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist.

Wood’s first graphic novel, ‘The Big Belch,’ a satirical adventure of environmental crime fighters, has earned rave reviews, including one from Signe Wilkinson, Chestnut Hill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist.

In a typical program last Friday, Wood interviewed Christine Dolle, a field organizer for “Moms Clean Air Force,” about how our children are not now getting the clean air or water the PA Constitution is supposed to guarantee — and the power of parents to change this sad state of affairs.

Wood, a native of North Jersey, originally studied illustration at Philadelphia College of the Arts (now University of the Arts) and made a living painting and drawing, mostly medical or scientific illustrations, for more than 40 years. After three-and-a-half years of hard work and a successful Kickstarter funding campaign, Wood published “The Big Belch” in July, 2014.

The title refers to “a hastily concocted and volatile new oil spill cleanup method” that releases possibly harmful methane gases when oil-eating bacteria are unleashed into the waterways. How has the book done? “Pretty well,” Wood said, “considering I had no experience whatsoever doing a graphic novel and starting on my first in my 60s. I got some pretty fine reviews.”

According to Signe Wilkinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a Chestnut Hill resident, “Kay Wood’s graphic novella pits a gang of haplessly humorous activists against an environmental Armageddon in the making. In the ‘Big Belch,’ the stakes are high, but so are the spirits of characters bumbling their way to a better world.” (See other reviews on kaywoodart.wixsite.com/thebigbelch)

Wood said the best advice she ever received was “probably something I should be doing right now — not to hold on to anger, and as my Uncle Harold told me in my 20s, ‘In this life you just have to shake the blood out of your eyes and keep on going.’”

Planet Philadelphia’s listener comment line is 484-278-1846. One can record a message anytime.

Read the original article here.

Camae Ayewa (LTA ‘15, ACG ‘07) Featured In Pitchfork

Moor Mother: Hardcore Poet

By Jenn Pelly for Pitchfork
October 26, 2016

“Basic” may be the most chilling pejorative of our time. And it is never more severe than when Philadelphia’s Camae Ayewa, aka Moor Mother, churns it out on one austere, Nicki Minaj-sampling single from last year: “Look ma, we made it/Only lost a hundred thousand coming over on them slave ships/That’s just one ship,” she booms. “Muhfuckas, I’m jaded/I’m in one big room, and everybody basic.” Ayewa articulates so lucidly and irreducibly that it’s like she is writing with a ballpoint pen; if you have chosen to remain silent in the face of injustice, which is to say in the face of our world, this artist is staring you in the eye.

On a weekday night on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Ayewa caps off a performance at a stranger’s apartment—10 foldings chairs, Christmas lights, a bevy of plants—with “Basic.” Her set, which is part of a series highlighting politically-oriented artists, is a mix of soundscapes and poetry. Phrases I jot down during the show include: “no more androids for president, no more zombie artists”; “cops are grim reapers, violence costs nothing”; “the public housing of minds”; and “at what age do we teach our daughters to play dead?” Reality is rendered as hard as it ought to be. “Everything I do is a true story,” she says to the crowded living room. “I just tell the truth.”

After a decade spent in the Philly underground—as show-booker, community organizer, punk musician, rapper, poet, and multidisciplinary visual artist—Ayewa’s work has coalesced into a total vision. It is concrete-heavy, abrasive, and generative. Ayewa reimagines protest songs as radical electronic noise montages, but her lyrics about systemic racism and historical trauma are searing Afrofuturist statements. Take, for example, this incendiary line from Fetish Bones, her recent solo debut: “I’m bell hooks trained as a sniper,” Ayewa snarls, transmuting the intersectional feminist theorist into a warrior. She then declares herself “Sandra Bland returning from the dead with a hatchet,” referencing the 28-year-old black woman who was found dead in jail after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation last year. Befitting the tremendous fire of Ayewa’s words, a 122-page book of poetry was released alongside Fetish Bones.

“I let these stories pass through me—I’m the narrator,” Ayewa tells me over Skype a couple of weeks after her house-show set. In conversation, she is a calming and genial presence; she measures her thoughts, and when she mentions Alice Coltrane, it’s not hard to imagine her in graceful meditation like the cosmic jazz swamini herself. This is in utter contrast to the unwavering anger of Ayewa’s staggering performances. “I start out so smiley, but as soon as the lyric comes, I’m pissed,” she says of her live shows. “When you’re telling the truth, and trying to be respectful to the things that are happening around you, it comes out like that.”

For Fetish Bones, Ayewa was awarded a grant from the Leeway Foundation, which supports women and trans artists whose work promotes social justice. This allowed her to create a studio from scratch in a closet of her North Philadelphia home. The process of making Fetish Bones coincided with Ayewa’s process of learning to produce electronic noise, practicing on her hardware and drum machine. “There’s so many mistakes,” Ayewa says. “Limitations helped it.” But she’s learning everyday. She mentions a recent trip to Rotterdam, Netherlands, where she had access to a studio full of synths; she used the tools to blend the Dutch version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin with her own “noisy techno craziness.”

In March, Ayewa began a performance art series called “HOUR/SHIFT.” The first piece was a 14-hour endurance test, a “sonic act of protest” in solidarity with survivors of domestic and sexual assault; the second was Ayewa’s attempt at resurrecting the unmarked graves of Potter’s Field, a burial place for poor black people before the Civil War. In addition to her art, Ayewa’s projects include Black Quantum Futurism—the name under which she and partner Rasheedah Phillips lead community workshops. In June, they opened a physical space called Community Futures Lab in North Philly, which also offers discussions, exhibitions, readings, performances, and housing resources. Beyond that, by day, Aweya coaches soccer and basketball at a Quaker school; even there, her lessons naturally transcend athletics. “These kids are never meeting anyone like me,” she says with a laugh. “One of them came up to me right before a game once and she was like, ‘You know, I really didn’t like Lemonade that much,’ and then just ran onto the field.” The awkward moment eventually led to a discussion about alienation in music.

These projects all speak to Ayewa’s desire to make noise that is practical, that processes history, that can actually teach. She raises her voice and the voices of her community so that they may beget more like their own. She solidifies stories that would otherwise evaporate. She performs magic.

Born in the small town of Aberdeen, Maryland, Ayewa came up around gospel music; she sang in choir and had a rap group with friends called Sister Soldier. But when rap started sounding too “poppy” to her, she sought out harder, political artists. She ultimately got into reggae, ska, and punk via Operation Ivy, 7 Seconds, X, Sleater-Kinney, and Bikini Kill. Riot grrrl particularly inspired her song “Of Blood,” an eerie psalm for menstrual cycles. “I love how everything women were supposed to hide, riot grrrl was just like, ‘No, shove it in their fucking face,’” Ayewa says.

She eventually relocated to Philly to study photography at the Art Institute. “I grew up with not a lot of photographs of myself,” she says. “So I wanted to be a part of helping to document people who don’t have records of their families, stuff that’s not seen—but that’s really expensive, so I got kicked out of school.” She still does photography, though, and her work as a preservationist continues with Fetish Bones.

For six years, Ayewa toured as bassist and vocalist in the DIY punk bands Girls Dressed as Girls and the Mighty Paradocs. In 2012, Moor Mother grew from her desire to say much more; she’s posted some 100 recordings to Bandcamp, with samples ranging from children’s hand games to Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” bassline to the poets Maya Angelou, June Jordan, and Ntozake Shange. The poetry energizes her most. “That’s the stuff that gives me life,” she says. “Poetry is my hardcore. I will rage to that stuff.” But she brings the unsparing spirit of punk to her spoken-word: “People are so confused every time I play a show. They’ll be like ‘What? You just started screaming!’ I scream! I do poetry and I scream.”

“I’m pissed because people who are supposed to be doing what I’m doing—their lyrics are mad soft. I feel like it’s getting there, it just takes time to get back to a more political place. But with this election, it seems like people are honestly worked up about it—and not just worked up as a trending topic.”
Pitchfork: What was your introduction to protest music?

Moor Mother: My family used to listen to scary gospel—Mahalia Jackson, people who were not just waiting for Jesus to come, but being like, “This is what we’re living with, we’re going to push through. I’m climbing up the rough side of the mountain, and we’re going to get into this chariot and go to a better place.”

I grew up in Maryland right by the Chesapeake Bay, and my family was involved with the church in the 1700s. Everyone participated in these prayer choirs—where a group of women, or healers, or priests come together at your deathbed and say this soft prayer, but it’s almost like a song. That’s a tradition of the area. By the time I was coming up in the church, it was no more, but I was in the choir. I love that stuff. Not so much that I was a Christian, even as a kid—I had too many questions that just seemed weird—but I loved the music.

How else did growing up in Maryland shape you as an artist?

My neighborhood offered endless inspiration. My area didn’t have stores close by, so people would open up stores within their apartments: the candy-apple lady, the guy selling cigarettes, the guy that fixes your bike, the guy that is like the cab service, but not the cab service. That’s just so inspiring to me, how we can create our own marketplace and be there for each other without outside help. All that stuff is so vivid and beautiful.

And most of my family were not born in a hospital, like my mom, because [my grandmother] wasn’t allowed to go there. So the doctors had to come to the house. We’re still in that house that my grandmother had owned. Everyone has been born there.

What kind of music were you into playing in Maryland outside choir?

The number one goal was to try and be in a punk band. That was everything. But nobody was into punk or even knew anything about it where I grew up. So I just searched and searched. With ska being the influence of early Jamaican music and punk, I was able to find groups like the Specials. I liked Operation Ivy so much, they weren’t under any rules. Where I grew up, it seemed that you almost couldn’t do anything. You had to stay within rules just because it was, like, hood. I would get on the bus, and they would be like, “You’re gonna get out of this [punk] phase soon.”

When you were younger, was there anyone in particular who warped your brain or changed the way you thought about music?

I saw Patti LaBelle live, and she had these huge high heels and she kicked them off, and she was holding this note and slammed down on the stage and was rolling around. And I was just like: Yo, you can do anything you want. She wasn’t trying to be classy. All these people dressed in drag were giving her flowers. And I was like, I want to be like that. But I can’t sing like Patti LaBelle.

You have said that you’re interested in honoring music made by people who came from nothing, and music that is made from nothing. Can you elaborate on that?

Let’s start with tap dancing—that’s just your feet. You can put soda pop tops on and just go. I’ll sample that all day. And chain gangs—I love that all day because it’s in response to so many things: “I’m working, keeping busy at this hard task, with the chain on my ankle to the hit on the metal, like some beautiful music.” It’s every person’s history with the prison system.

One of my favorite instruments is the water drum. There’s tribes in Africa where women just play on the water. [makes sounds] There’s so many different sounds than a splash. I love that. I didn’t have instruments growing up. I didn’t know that I could ask for them. It was like this thing behind a glass case, like some Tom Hanks movie where you have to go to some fancy big store in New York to find some. So I would just fool around—pencils, desk, the wall, anything.

What was your first instrument?

A desk and a broom? I did get a broken guitar. I was using tapes to make things off the radio, but it didn’t make sense. I just didn’t know a lot. I still don’t, but it’s cool to work through trial and error. I never had a computer, but I saved up for an iPad. I used that thing up.

Do you have a personal definition of protest music?

It’s like the heartache and the troubles of the people trying to find their way. The true testimony of the people. Stuff that is heavy, that affects so many people, like breast cancer—but there’s not many breast cancer songs. Women need to be the ones doing protest music, really. I’m not trying to alienate anyone, but I feel like that would be the perfect definition: A woman singing trials and tribulations.

I read that you did a 14-hour performance to honor women who face domestic abuse and sexual assault. How did it go?

It was my protest for them. I was using sound to almost shut that man’s mouth, or make that home peaceful for that night. Because [women suffer abuse around the world] every nine seconds. That’s so much. It was an electronic set, all improv. I had a record player, this one Sun Ra record, a drum machine, every synth I had. I had this film playing the whole time, about a woman who killed her husband and was in prison for a long time; the husband was sexually assaulting the kids.

The day after the performance, I went to thank the gallery and I just cried and cried. It just all hit me what I was trying to do. The blessing was the messages of people saying: “Today, no one commented on my body going around the neighborhood.” Or hearing about the case of a woman facing 60 years for killing her abusive husband, and she got off, which never happens. That really touched me, but it was draining.

There’s a great place in Philly called Women Against Abuse, but you need a million of those. Say you finally decided to leave a [domestic abuse] situation—there’s a waiting list to find another place to live. It’s crazy. We’ve done events for people to move, to buy the U-Haul. And it’s like—why are we doing this? It happens so often, you would think [the city] had some sort of plan for this. It’s very archaic. I’ve gone to do workshops at places that are off the grid because women are in hiding from their abusers. You’re speaking to someone that had to go into hiding. It’s things that so many of us have experienced as kids of abuse. These cycles just keep coming up. It’s every woman’s story in a sense.

Have you always been interested in processing history through music and art?

Always. When hip-hop went dance, there was no story there, and that’s why I got into punk and Bob Marley, because I needed to hear the history—otherwise, where was I going to hear it from? Music is the way that I’m informed. It helps me know what is happening.

What do you want your own music to inform people about?

I’m trying to get to the level of being as simple as possible, telling a unified story. Everything is a reflection, or a ripple, a wave, the quantum mirror. It’s circular. We’re all more interconnected than we think. I’m trying to get to that every-person story. But we’re slow to honestly reveal what we’re going through. That’s one of the hardest things. We think we’re so isolated or alone in our issues. I try to tell the truth, the stories that haunt me.

It’s interesting to hear you say the story’s not linear. In your music, too, the way it’s structured is also very nonlinear.

It’s just because of my means and how I’m not that smart at this stuff. I’m just teaching myself. I listen to music that I can’t make. I can’t do Alice Coltrane. I have a heart, but I still can’t do it.

Alice Coltrane’s whole situation is inspiring to me. I just think about the time that she was making music, and artists who were making music a little before, like Billie Holiday. They stifled and continue to stifle women’s voices. Today we have Kesha, a pop star in a rough situation with a contract, and that’s very difficult—but do you know they killed Billie Holiday? Imagine the government being against you for singing a song. Imagine people trying to drug you and all these shady situations. In that time, you were used and left behind. It was such a struggle to be a woman making music. The fact that she was able to persevere touches me so much. Because so many did not. And there’s so many that are still unknown.

I saw you post on Facebook: “If we don’t forgive our mothers, we cannot forgive ourselves.” What did you mean by that?

There’s a war against women right now. There’s a war against mothers, and single mothers. I see it every day. We’re just throwing each other away. We’re breaking down roles of gender, but one simple disagreement and we will cast off our own mother. We are connected to our pasts, but we are taught to hate yesterday and hustle for the next. It’s like we’re writing off our mothers. The conversation needs to expand. What are we disconnecting ourselves from when we say these things?

So many people are hurt, hating their mothers, no respect for the elders in their community, for the elders in their art scene. Like when I was talking about Patti LaBelle—she is a rock star. She paved the way. But then she’s gonna be invited on “The View” to cook potato salad. That’s ridiculous. And I would like to eat her potato salad, too.

Is your name Moor Mother linked to this—honoring people who came before?

Definitely. I’m influenced by space and time and growing up, but that’s what it’s really all about: honoring the mother. If you just look at some of these statistics happening with women, it’s outrageous. Everything’s taboo. Menstrual cycle’s taboo, breast cancer’s taboo. Losing your hair and having to deal with that. It’s affecting so many of us. Why are we hiding?

One line that completely gripped me from the album is, “I’m bell hooks trained as a sniper/Sandra Bland returning from the dead with a hatchet.”

I wrote that, and then all of a sudden I get an email about opening up for bell hooks. So I’m like, “Oh shit. I hope she doesn’t hear this song—or maybe I should tell her about it.”

After that line, I say that “lyrically only I can match it.” It’s a very hip-hoppy thing to say, but I’m not playing when it comes to the lyrics. I’m so interested in spreading positivity, but that’s how I felt. I’m angered by feeling like I’m the only one saying this shit. I’m pissed because people who are supposed to be doing what I’m doing—their lyrics are mad soft. It’s mad basic to me. I feel like it’s getting there, it just takes time to get back to a more political place. But with this election, it seems like people are honestly worked up about it—and not just worked up as a trending topic.

I think music is going to get more literal, and then I hope that it can start getting practical, where we could actually take these songs into a workshop or into the community and be like, “This is a song that we can use to teach about history or what’s happening, not just a hook.” It’s so easy to say a bunch of bullshit and then just have the hook be “Black Lives Matter” and that’s it. That’s cheap. I want to encourage people to dig deeper lyrically. I want to encourage myself to write better. I love finding anyone better than me.

You have a new space in North Philadelphia called Community Futures Lab—what has that taught you as a musician? Has it informed what you want to do with your music?

Yeah. The whole idea is making it practical. I want to make things or create spaces where you don’t have to be on the internet and you don’t need some sort of degree. The space is there, you can just come in. We live in this community and this is where we work—the part of town I live in is one of the highest crime, lowest-income areas, and they just moved 1,300 people out of their homes. It’s this barren area at the moment.

Community Futures Lab is showing me that there’s not a lot of spaces for discussion between people of color. We do a lot of stuff—zine making, dream workshops, we have a library. We’re also recording stories of the community. We’re asking questions that deal with temporality, the memory, creating future memories for the neighborhood that we’re living in. It’s going through such rapid development. There was a house that Malcolm X spent some time in that just got knocked down. Across the street was a boxing gym where Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier would work out, but there’s no plaque. It’s really slow in North Philly as far as marking these historic moments.

That’s really what we’ve always been about: collecting memories, doing workshops to show kids and adults, “Why do you think this way about the future? Why are you not included? What can you do about it? What’s the importance of writing yourself in the future, under your own definition, not what people have prescribed for you?” So many people, when we ask the first question—“how do you see the future?”—it totally mimics popular movies. The Hunger Games is a main one. In that movie, certain people are in these districts, certain people are farmers, and all the black people die first. These movies prescribe what so many of us think about the future, especially people of color. Being so disconnected from so many of our histories, as far as what’s beyond our great grandmother. It’s very dire times for us keeping track and documenting what we’re going through and what we’ve been through. That’s what the lab is there for.

What does the title Fetish Bones mean to you?

Fetish Bones is how I think about the way we sell ourselves. Like, using each other. Being a musician, I see a lot of this. I see the way we fetishize over our skin color, over how we dress, over class. All of these ways that we toss people aside if they’re what we deem not useful. I just feel like we look at each other like meat. All across the board. We look at our own selves, our own culture, just like meat that is there to devour and not there to be preserved. Everyone wants to burn everything, and eat everything. Eat each other, the whole thing.

That goes back to the woman—just because you are the creator, you’re not everyone’s savior. At the end of the day, you’ve been used and ran through. No. I’m not even a mother of children. After I did my recent festival, I was like, “I want to go home and feel inspired. I don’t want to go home used, crying about not being appreciated.” Traditionally, mom is supposed to be in the kitchen with little whoever on their titty and daddy on their lap. It’s time for women, for everyone, to start walking in that space—we’re not going to be used. Redefining all of this. Having more compassion. Redefining what that means, when everything can be a meme of everything. That’s what Fetish Bones is. Feeling like a hunk of bones.


Read the original article here.


Leeway Foundation Announces Fall 2016 Art and Change Grantees

26 women and trans artists and cultural producers receive project-based grants to further social change in the Delaware Valley

PHILADELPHIA – Today, the Leeway Foundation announced $54,975 in grants to 26 women and trans* artists and cultural producers in Greater Philadelphia, supporting their work to address a range of social change issues. 

Leeway’s Art and Change Grant provides project-based funds of up to $2,500 to women and trans artists and cultural producers who: propose a project that impacts a larger group, audience or community; have financial need; and live in the Delaware Valley area. The grant supports artists practicing a variety of disciplines including performance, crafts and textiles, and visual arts.

The following 26 artists were awarded grants (in alphabetical order):

Anne Harrison of South Philadelphia and Linda Fernandez of West Philadelphia, Multi-Disciplinary

Betty Leacraft of North Philadelphia, Crafts & Textiles/Visual Arts

Catherine Pancake of Cedar Park, Media Arts/Music

Courtney Bowles of Kingsessing, Multi-Disciplinary

Cynthia Dewi Oka of Collingswood, Literary Arts/Performance

Debbie Rudman of Kensington, Media Arts

Dena Underwood of Italian Market, Music/Performance

Diane Monroe of East Norriton, Music/Performance

Emily Bunker of Fishtown, Media Arts/Crafts & Textiles

Jai Arun Ravine of West Philadelphia and Coda Wei of Upper Darby, Media Arts/Performance

JD Stokely of West Philadelphia, Performance

Kay Wood of Mount Airy, Media Arts

Lauren Vargas of Hunting Park, Visual Arts

Li Sumpter of Abington, Multi-Disciplinary

Mayada of Northeast Philadelphia, Visual Arts/Folk Art

Nanci Hersh of New Garden, Visual Arts/Literary Arts

Pia Deas of Art Museum, Media Arts

Romeeka Williams of North Philadelphia, Literary Arts

Shivon Pearl Love of Brewerytown and Khaliah Pitts of East Mount Airy, Folk Art/Literary Arts

Tessa of Southwest Philadelphia, Visual Arts/Media Arts

Yasmine Awais of West Powelton and K.C. Wuebbling of Cedar Park, Visual Arts/Literary Arts,


Art and Change Grants are distributed twice a year and evaluated by an independent peer review panel.  The August 2016 review panel consisted of playwright and devised theater maker MJ Kaufman (ACG ‘13), educator and community organizer Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, and folklorist and curator Selina Morales

Applications are made available on the Leeway website, and may also be obtained by calling (215) 545-4078 or emailing info@leeway.org. Potential applicants are encouraged to attend one of the many support sessions offered throughout the year, or schedule an appointment with a staff member for one-on-one support. 

Press inquiries and photo requests should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.


The Leeway Foundation supports women and transgender artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change. Through our grantmaking and other programs we promote artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins, promotes sustainable and healthy communities, and works in the service of movements for economic and social justice. For more information about Leeway, its grant programs, grantees and events, visit www.leeway.org.

Download Fall 2016 Press Release, Project Descriptions, and Panelist Bios



Dr. Yaba Blay on Professional Black Girl in Ebony

‘Professional Black Girl’ Is a Love Letter to Black Women Worldwide

Josie Pickens for Ebony Online
September 9, 2016

In her 1975 Choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf, feminist author and activist Ntozake Shange demanded—through her character lady in brown—that “somebody/anybody sing a Black girl’s song.” Here we Black women are, some 40 years later, still fighting to be seen, to be recognized for all we give to this nation (and the world!) by way of our loving, sacrificial battles for Black lives, our endless contributions to Black culture, and especially our effortless beauty—which is constantly and savagely co-opted every damn day.

What we have learned, and certainly what Ntozake Shange was trying to teach us all those years ago, is that we have to be willing to sing our own songs, to ourselves and one another. And there aren’t many sisters to who sing to us in the ways that educator, cultural critic, producer and activist Dr. Yaba Blay does.

Dr. Blay loves us Black girls how we deserved to be loved.

Whether she is talking the politics of colorism in our collective communities, teaching our young, gifted and Black as the Daniel T. Blue Endowed Chair of Political Science at North Carolina Central University, or filling our social media feeds with the kinds of gorgeous images of Black womanhood often overlooked in the mainstream media and beauty industry, Blay’s love for Black women is bone marrow deep.

The ultimate Black girl lover has penned a new love letter to Black women through her original video series Professional Black Girl, which seeks to, “celebrate everyday Black womanhood, and to smash racist and ‘respectable’ expectations of how they should ‘behave.'” For the series, Blay interviewed 15 Black girls and women (who range in age from 2 to 52) asking each participant to talk about what makes them, and all Black women, professional Black girls—Black girls who take their style, beauty and cultural expression of Blackness to expert levels.

“When I say I’m a Professional Black Girl, I’m not identifying myself as someone who is well-accomplished in her job, her career, or her profession,” Blay explains. “Though I am – Be clear. When I say I’m a Professional Black Girl I’m announcing myself as someone who takes being a Black girl very seriously. Like to professional levels. So WHATEVER it means to be be a Black girl, I’m THAT.”

While Blay is a fierce advocate for Black women and girls, she didn’t intend to create this new series.

“I didn’t originally set out to produce Professional Black Girl. I was actually producing another original series and had planned to end each episode with a Professional Black Girl segment,” she tells EBONY.com. “But the more interviews and conversations I had about the project in general, and with the women themselves, the more I began to feel like this was something of its own.”

Instead of forcing the segments, or worse, shortening the conversation, Blay decided to turn the discussion and insights into its own project, especially when she saw the topics she wanted to cover resonating on social media.

“The kind of joy it brought me made me think of the many times in my social media experience where me and another sister (or two or ten) in my age set would start reminiscing about our teen years. We’d have 100+ comment threads discussing old hairstyles and hair products, what we used to do, the music we used to listen to. For some reason, those moments make me happy,” says Blay. “Just from the comments sisters make, I can tell whether we would have been good girlfriends back in high school, whether we could be good girlfriends now. It’s not only a vibe, or a shared experience, but the value we all place on that experience.”

And according to the mother and grandmother (who is most interested in created a better, brighter world for the #ProfessionalBlackGirls to come—through her own lineage and through our communal ones) we desperately need to tap into the joy these kinds of conversations create.

“We use a lot of language to describe and define Black girls, very little of which is affirming of who they are. Bad. Grown. Fast. Ghetto. Ratchet. And when we say those words, we spit them out with a type of energy that somehow distances ourselves from those Black girls,” Blay explains. “Listen, let’s not act like we weren’t bad, grown, fast, ghetto, or ratchet. I know I was, at least according to the adults in my life. But really, I wasn’t any of those things. I was simply a master of the art and the science of Black girl culture.”

Dr. Blay speaks what we all know: Black girls begin to wrestle with misogynoir at such a young age, by the time we become adults we are trying to piece together our fractured identities and (often) attempt to shame and distance ourselves from the kinds of Black girls and women we have been pushed to believe aren’t respectable, and thus aren’t lovable and worthy of praise. She hopes to mend our broken relationships with one another by challenging us to face our sisters and ourselves in this new series, by simply making space for us to celebrate our full selves.

“I think it’s important to contextualize Professional Black Girl within the context of the current #BlackGirlMagic moment that we’re in. While I am a card carrying member of the #BlackGirlMagic Executive Board, I recognize that when we share stories, images, or videos on social media and use the hashtag #BlackGirlMagic, we tend to only highlight examples of what is widely perceived as ‘excellence,’ she says.

For Blay, being an every day, around the way, dope Black woman or girl is enough–no special magic or achievements necessary.

“Being a Black girl IS our excellence. I want ALL of us to be able to connect to #BlackGirlMagic as a reflection of our everyday lives, not just an aspirational goal,” she says of the hashtag movement that has spread widely across social media. “Have you seen how Black women do hair? All over the world? Who does hair like us? NOBODY. And the little girl in her mirror fixing her hair for school has inherited some of that magic. She should know. So I’m celebrating the culture of being a Black girl in all of its excellent and unique ways – our hairstyles, our adornment, our style, etc.”

Sounds amazing, right?

Watch the first episode of the series below, and get your #ProfessionalBlackGirl merchandise here.

Read the original article here.

Generocity Interviews Leeway Board Member Rasheedah Phillips

Here’s Your Primer on Afrofuturism

August 18, 2016
Julie Zeglen for Generocity

How do Rasheedah Phillips’s two passions — law and Afrofuturism — relate? Easy. As she’s seen in many of her clients at Community Legal Services, those who are oppressed are typically “denied access to the future.” Afrofuturism can offer that access.

For those who don’t know, Afrofuturism is a future-focused and speculative culture and genre of art examined “from the concerns of Black people across the diaspora,” as Phillips puts it.

Phillips is both the managing attorney of landlord-tenant housing at CLS and the founder of The AfroFuturist Affair, which brings the ideas of Afrofuturism to underserved communities that might not have access to them — for instance, those who don’t have access to the internet, and therefore can’t easily read speculative stories.

In her Around the Corner interview with Generocity Community Manager Mo Manklang, Phillips explains the benefits of Afrofuturist thinking and the impetus for the Afrofuturist Affair’s newly opened Community Futures Lab in North Philadelphia.

ATC: Afrofuturist Affair from PhillyCAM on Vimeo.

Read the original article here.

Faith Bartley, Vashti Dubois, Yolanda Wisher Featured in WHYY

Every ZIP Philadelphia’s Storytelling Block Party: “Stories For Our Younger Selves” at The Village of Arts & Humanities, 19133

Alex Lewis for WHYY

Our second public storytelling event was held on June 18th, 2016 in scenic Ile Ife Park at The Village of Arts & Humanities in North Philadelphia.

For nearly two months, we collaborated with The Village to put together this event that would highlight their organization’s people and initiatives through live storytelling, music, food, and an array of community-based activities. The event was hosted by Philadelphia Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher, the music was provided by DJ Dilemma, and many people from The Village, WHYY, and from across the city contributed as well. Thanks to everyone who performed and to the warm audience who made the event a resounding success.

This page is designed to document and celebrate the Storytelling Block Party. Below you’ll find full versions of each live story alongside photos and other media from the event. The theme of the day was: “stories we would tell our younger selves”.

Introduction: Yolanda Wisher


Philadelphia Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher emceed the storytelling program. She started the event by reading this poem by a young woman who had recently passed away. Yolanda had mentored her in a poetry workshop the previous summer. She follows that poem with a poem of her own.

Jasmine Combs

Poet Jasmine Combs was the afternoon’s first storyteller. She’s a recent Temple University graduate and a rising force in the local poetry scene. She shared her story about becoming a poet. It’s a montage of growing up and finding your voice as an artist.

Tony Jones

Tony Jones helps lead the Men’s Group at Serenity House in North Philly. He gave his story the title “The Young Boy and The Bus”. It’s a short, harrowing coming-of-age story about learning from our mistakes. As Tony says, “What I know now… is that our actions, everything we do, affects others.”

Vashti Dubois

Vashti Dubois is a multidisciplinary artist and non-profit leader. She founded the Colored Girls Museum, which she runs out of her home in Germantown. Here, she talks about what inspired her to start the Colored Girls Museum and shares a list of advice for her younger self.

Michelle Scales

Michelle Scales is a member of the People’s Paper Co-Op at The Village of Arts & Humanities. She told a story entitled “Around The Corner” about getting lost and finding herself again.

Jacob Winterstein

Jacob Winterstein is a poet, teaching artist, and event producer. His story featured three teachers from his childhood. It’s equal parts a tribute to the important mentors in our lives and a reminder to always think outside the box.

Faith Bartley​

Faith Bartley was the final storyteller of the Block Party. Like Michelle Scales, she’s also a longstanding member of the People’s Paper Co-Op. Faith shared a story about her mother and the lessons we must learn about ourselves again and again.

Closing Statement: Yolanda Wisher

To conclude the storytelling program, Yolanda Wisher shared this short poem by the late poet Lucille Clifton entitled, “won’t you celebrate with me”.

Tina Morton Featured in Essence

Filmmakers Julie Dash and Tina Morton Talk The Great Migration Project & Inspiring Beyonce's 'Lemonade'

July 26, 2016
Rachaell Davis for Essence

Taking the time out to celebrate pivotal movements in African-American history that laid the foundation for all that we've achieved is a must and The Great Migration Project is doing just that.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the mass migration of African-Americans from the south to the north, west and midwest, Scribe Video Center founder Louis Massiah put together The Great Migration Project as a collaborative exhibition of extraordinary artifacts, short films, photographs and art displays examining several aspects of what The Great Migration was like for those who lived it. ESSENCE caught up with talented filmmakers Julie Dash and Tina Morton, both of whom have film shorts included in The Great Migration Project, to find out more about their visuals.

According to Tina, producer Louis Massiah used a completely organic method to jumpstart the research process for each individual short film. “How he set it up is, he had different artists get involved with different Black institutions in Philadelphia that were instrumental in helping migrants when they got here. So, the place that I was assigned was The Philadelphia Tribune, which is the oldest continuously circulating Black newspaper in the nation. So, when folks would come here, the Tribune would show them where people could have housing, safe places for women to go and just different institutions like that that they kept them in contact with,” she tells ESSENCE.

For Julie, her involvement with the project seemed a natural next step, given that The Great Migration was one of the underlying themes in her critically acclaimed 1991 indie favorite Daughters of the Dust. “The whole Great Migration, I’ve been working with that for many years. That was one of the main themes in Daughters of the Dust,” Julie says. “My family is also from the lower country of South Carolina and they migrated north during the great migration. So, I definitely wanted to be involved with it. It was exciting.”  

Julie’s film, Standing at the Scratch Line, highlights the role of the Black church in the journeys of travelers during the great migration, while the title itself serves as a metaphor of the film’s message. “Remember back in the day when people would draw a line in a sand before beginning a race? That’s what the scratch line represents,” she says. “They were waiting to migrate and make that decision whether they were going to change their life and the lives of their families. Imagine just packing up your family and children and not knowing, really, what you’re going towards. It was a one-way trip for most people. They put all their money together to make this trip and it’s not like they could go back because there was nothing to go back to. And they were going towards…hope. That’s all they had. There were not jobs waiting for them, most of the time.”

Rather than chronicle the travels of actual people through the use of actors, Julie and her crew developed the creative idea to tell the story through the “eyes” of a suitcase. “We follow, a traveler, lets say. We follow the [traveler] from the low country as he prepares to migrate from the Emmanuel Church to Mother Bethel in Philadelphia. Since [the film] was so low budget and I only had about 2 or 3 days to shoot it, I decided to follow the movement of a suitcase. So, the suitcase is symbolic of a traveler and we follow it all the way to the big city, where we get a look at the path of the slaves and some of the things that were happening at that time.” Describing the important role of the Black church relative to The Great Migration time period and her film, Julie says churches were vital to the shelter and survival of the travelers.

“I think the church has always played an important part in the social and cultural history of African-Americans,” she said. “Even during the period of enslavement, it was place of solace, comfort, escape and hope for the future. During migration, it was very difficult for people to travel from south to north, or from south to west. They went from church to church where you could find refuge because at that time, the country was not a friendly environment at all for people of color. So, the church has always been there.”

For Tina, gathering the necessary information to bring her visual, When We Came Up Here, to life involved having many introspective conversations with people who lived through The Great Migration and translating their experiences on screen. “What I did was find people to interview because my focus was finding people who were a part of the migration and finding people who, when they came here, the Tribune was important to their arrival. So, the way I found folks was to just asked elders in the community: Where did you come from?’ ‘When you arrived in Philadelphia, was the Tribune part of your journey?’ And through those two questions, I found a lot of people who loved to share their stories.”

Tina’s research also led her to learn more about a Philadelphia establishment known as The Association for the Protection of Colored Women. The organization, founded in 1905, was a safe haven for women and their children who were migrating to freedom. While speaking to one woman in particular, Tina says she was amazed at how vividly the woman remembered some of the events that took place despite the fact that she was just -years old at the time of her family’s journey. The woman’s memory of the time period was connected to her grandfather’s brutal beating at the hands of a mob for his role as an advocate for voting rights of Black people. “One of the women who I interviewed -- I thought it was amazing that she knew the exact date. When I asked her how she remembered the exact date, she said: “Because my grandfather was beat up by a mob and we had to flee up here.” He was beaten one day and they fled the next day. And he was beaten because he was an advocate for voting. I thought, ‘wow, that’s like today.’ And then I read another article where they said a man hung himself in jail and committed suicide, but his family said that wasn’t what happened. I know we’ve made progress but, we’re still facing some of the same issues [today].”

In speaking with many of her subjects while researching for the film, Tina says a common thread between each of them was the vital role their family members played in their journeys to freedom. She says the family connection within the Black community is something we should all remember today when searching for ways to move forward and remain steadfast in the fight for social justice. “I think one of the important things we need to utilize is the family connection. Most of these people came through a family member and you know, the family member set them up in their house for a while until they got a job. And not only the connection of family, but the community. I asked one woman I interviewed, ‘how did the Tribune find you?’ She couldn’t remember for sure because she was only 9 years old at the time but, she said, “I really think it was the porter at 30th Street Station.” She said he saw how disheveled they were when they arrived. She said, “we were fleeing for our lives and I think he must have told someone at the Tribune.”

Julie’s film Daughters of the Dust is set to be re-released in theaters this fall, just five months after Beyonce paid homage to the film in her visual album Lemonade. Julie says seeing the film inspire such a bold project was quite the experience. “I was so pleased, not just by the portion that was a homage to Daughters of the Dust, but by whole Lemonade journey. The extension, the boldness of it..it was political, it was an extraordinary visual…it was an event! And it was a new way of speaking to everyone. Through song, through visual, through dance, through movement, through costume…it was extraordinary.  I just loved it. I wanted my braids like that, I wanted anything Formation [laughs]. It was all so tough and just spoke to so many different levels of the diaspora experience. “

The Great Migration Project is set to premiere on August 6 at the Fifth Annual Blackstar Film Festival in Philadelphia.

Read original article here.

Cheryl Hess (WOO ‘03) Named Recipient of AOL Charitable Foundation Award

2016 Gucci Documentary Fund Grantees Announced

$150,000 to be Awarded to Documentaries that Highlight and Humanize Global Social Issues

* * *

AOL Charitable Foundation Awards Given to Projects that Showcase Women’s Impact Around the World

[New York, NY – 7, 26, 2016] – Tribeca Film Institute® (TFI), Gucci, and the AOL Charitable Foundation today announced the 2016 grant recipients for the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund and its subsection, the AOL Charitable Foundation Award. The fund provides production and finishing finances, along with year-round support and guidance, to feature-length documentary films that highlight and humanize critical domestic and international social issues. Seven projects have been selected to receive a total of $150,000 in grants.

Now in its ninth year, the fund has supported 73 films and provided more than $1.15 million in grants. This year the jurors unanimously decided to give larger quantities of financial support to fewer films than in years past in an effort to effect the greatest impact on the grantees’ capabilities to bring their important stories to audiences. 

The AOL Charitable Foundation joins the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund for the second year to present the AOL Charitable Foundation Award grants to three filmmaking teams of the seven total, whose documentaries illuminate the lives of women and youth around the globe, and spotlight the ways they are working to improve their communities and futures.

The grantees were selected by a jury comprised of: filmmaker SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY (SAVING FACE, A GIRL IN THE RIVER: THE PRICE OF FORGIVENESS), Producer DEDE GARDNER (THE BIG SHORT, THE NORMAL HEART, 12 YEARS A SLAVE), SIMON KILMURRY(Executive Director, International Documentary Association), Actor JOSH LUCAS (A BEAUTIFUL MIND, AMERICAN PSYCHO), DYLLAN MCGEE (McGee Media & Founder and Executive Producer, MAKERS).

This year’s grantees showcase a variety of world affairs, domestic issues, and social conflicts, including: the recent Malheur Refuge standoff in Oregon, a group of immigrants’ attempts to be deported to Mexico, a woman fighting to be in the Palestinian Security Force, and a marital counseling center in India. In addition to funding, grantees will each receive year-round support from TFI including one-on-one guidance and consultations to help each film reach completion, enter the marketplace, and find the broadest audience possible.

“At a time of extreme social divisiveness both domestically and abroad, we are proud to be able to grant these filmmakers the opportunity to tell such important stories through the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund and the AOL Charitable Foundation Award,” said Amy Hobby, Vice President of Artist Programs at TFI. “These films tackle issues from around the world, and the backgrounds of the directors and producers reflect a wide diversity of those with important stories to tell. Thank you to our partners on this project – without Gucci and the AOL Charitable Foundation, the support of these films would not be possible.” 

“A key pillar of the AOL Charitable Foundation's mission is centered on improving the lives of women, girls, and underserved youth through cultivating creativity around the world,” said Sara Link, President of the AOL Charitable Foundation. “Recognizing that women and girls are often underrepresented in the stories that are written, produced, and directed, we are proud to work with the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund and Tribeca Film Institute to tell these life-changing stories that are deeply captivating to a global audience. By supporting the work of these ground-breaking filmmakers, it is our aim that their experiences and messages help to empower women and girls from all backgrounds. ”

“The power of a documentary film is its ability to reflect on otherwise fleeting issues that we see or hear about every day in the news,” said Obaid-Chinoy. “It is their ability to draw you in – whether through in-depth interviews or silent poetic shots that speak for themselves. THE INFILTRATORS, MALHEUR, MY COUNTRY, NO MORE, ONE BULLET AFGHANISTAN, MARRIAGE COPS, RADICAL BROWNIES, and WHAT WALAA WANTS each accomplished this flawlessly. ”

2016 Recipients of the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund


2016 Recipients of the AOL Charitable Foundation Award

About Tribeca Film Institute

Tribeca Film Institute champions storytellers to be catalysts for change in their communities and around the world.  Through grants and professional development programs, TFI supports a diverse, exceptional group of filmmakers and media artists, providing them resources needed to fully realize their stories and connect with audiences.  The Institute’s educational programming leverages an extensive film community network to help underserved New York City students learn filmmaking and gain the media skills necessary to be productive citizens and creative individuals in the 21st century.  Featuring hands-on training and exposure to socially relevant films, the Institute administers programs to more than 25,000 students annually.  TFI was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in the wake of September 11, 2001 and is a 501(c)(3) year-round nonprofit arts organization.

About Gucci

Founded in Florence in 1921, Gucci is one of the world’s leading luxury fashion brands, with a renowned reputation for creativity, innovation and Italian craftsmanship. Gucci is part of the Kering Group, a world leader in apparel and accessories that owns a portfolio of powerful luxury and sport and lifestyle brands. For further information about Gucci, visit www.gucci.com

About AOL Charitable Foundation

AOL Charitable Foundation is a 501(c)(3) private foundation committed to creating opportunities for women, girls and investing in the next generation of young leaders through grant making to exceptional nonprofit organizations focused on these communities. The Foundation allocates its resources in four strategic areas, including fostering leadership and empowerment, improving economic opportunity, increasing access through education and technology, and cultivating creativity. For additional information on the AOL Charitable Foundation please visit http://corp.aol.com/our-values/corporate-citizenship.

For the original article please click here.

Report Back: 2016 Allied Media Conference

In June, Julie Rainbow (ACG '14), Marta Sanchez (LTA '10, ACG '06, WOO '02), and Melissa Beatriz Skolnick (ACG '12) were selected from a grantee lottery to receive full registration to the Allied Media Conference (AMC) in Detroit, MI. Here is what Julie and Melissa had to say about their experience.

Allied Media Conference: An Awesome Experience

by Julie Rainbow

The 2016 Allied Media Conference was an awesome experience.  With over three hundred workshops, entertainment activities and meet-up groups, it had something for every activist.  Whether you are a seasoned activist or a novice, the workshops were engaging and informative.  The workshops were presented so that attendees were actually participated while learning.  Additionally, the AMC organizers were insightful to include workshops that focused on developing technical skills, enhancing leadership capacities and ways to integrate self-care tools, so that we remain inspired while doing compellingly difficult work. 

The workshop “MIT Open Documentary Lab: Incubating Documentary Forms and Processes,” was particularly interesting to me as my work seeks to amplify the voices of elders and share their wisdom broadly.    The presenters provided documentarians and community organizers with innovative, interactive, participatory tools for developing a platform to share their work.  Another workshop of particular interest was, “Chant Down Babylon: Yoga Mantras for Movement Builders,” as it engaged participants to recite mantras and use breathing techniques to keep one grounded, focused and effective while doing the work, which at times can be overwhelming. 

Throughout the four-day experience there was a feeling of collective unity, as if you were among other kindred spirits devoted to creating a world where all are treated with dignity and respect.  Upon returning to Philadelphia, I am full of inspiration that will inform my activist actions of sharing the voice, images and wisdom of elders.  AWESOME!

Allied Media Conference 2016 Reflection

by Melissa B. Skolnick

The Allied Media Conference focuses on how we use media-based organizing across communities and social justice issues in collaborative ways. After wanting to experience the magic behind the conference for myself, I finally got the chance to attend, thanks to the Leeway Foundation!

My first day began by stumbling upon the impressive Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Seeing a snapshot of the history behind industrialization reminded me how art can serve as a powerful tool for capturing stories.

The next day, once the AMC officially began, I spent my time at an assembly with the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net). MAG-Net is the largest multi-issue action network for communication rights, access, and representation in the U.S. During the gathering, we talked about the importance of media justice and what drives us to do this work. I was reminded that we must not only create our own stories, but also educate others of the history of bias behind mainstream media.

During the conference, I also had the chance to screen a film that I served as a Story Producer for with Media Mobilizing Project. We screened the film Groundwork: Justice in the Birthplace of America, and spoke with the audience about how the groups featured are connected across the issues they are fighting for, including immigrant rights, education equality, and environmental sustainability.

One of my favorite sessions at the AMC included “The Revolution Will Be Podcasted,” where we learned what it would take to launch our own podcasts. It was empowering to not only start to learn a new skill, but to be inspired to create new ideas and continue working toward social justice in alternative ways.

There were so many powerful folks doing work across issues and mediums at the AMC. Being around that energy in person and learning about the work of other artists and organizers was re-energizing in a way that I appreciated. As artists, we need moments like these to come together, spark and bounce ideas off one another, and return to our work with a clearer vision of how we can all work together toward the common goal of a more just society for all. 

Leeway Featured In Philadelphia Gay News

Leeway awards several LGBT projects

June 23, 2016
by Paige Cooperstein for PGN
Image: Still from "After the Date", by Iris Devins (ACG '16)
Several LGBT projects — including a mobile photo booth to document ballroom culture and a live-streamed music event showcasing queer and trans DJs — received funding from the Leeway Foundation. The group supports female and trans artists.
The Art and Change grant, awarded twice a year, announced its latest winners this month. Thirty-one projects received $2,500 each. Nearly 100 projects applied for funding. The deadline for the next cycle of the grant is Aug. 1.
“One thing we saw, particularly within the LGBT community, is the role of the DJ as a cultural producer in queer spaces,” said Sara Zia Ebrahimi, program director for Leeway. “There can be a lot of pressure to have artists affiliated with a nonprofit. But that makes it hard for individual artists, like DJs, to get funding for experimental work.”
She said the importance of the DJ is an especially meaningful conversation after the Orlando shooting.
“I can’t imagine what it feels like to have that safe space on the dance floor so horribly violated,” Ebrahimi said. 
She added submissions from trans artists have shifted in recent years toward stories about dating. Two projects that received funding in this grant cycle addressed the topic. “After the Date,” a short fictional film by Iris Devins, follows the romance between Nate, a straight cisgender man, and Emma, a transgender photographer. Tristan Powell is working on “Break in Bloom,” a semi-autobiographical short film that depicts the relationship between a cisgender man and a transgender woman. The film is expected to premiere soon at the New Hope Arts Center.
“We’re really interested in artists who are convening with their community,” Ebrahimi said, “looking at their work as engaging their community in dialogue.”
She added the Leeway Foundation started in 1993 for female artists. Around 2003, the focus expanded to include transgender artists. The organization wanted to create a feminist space that looked at gender in a broad fashion.
For more information on the foundation or its grantees, visit www.leeway.org.  
Read original article here.

Erin Bernard (ACG ’15) Featured on Generocity

Why the Philadelphia Public History Truck’s latest exhibit examines displacement in Chinatown

The third iteration of artist Erin Bernard's hyperlocal archival project focuses not only on the Chinese American experience, but on that of the “displaced and unhoused” generally.
June 21, 2016
by Julie Zeglen for Generocity
Within an hour’s time on a recent Friday afternoon, five people visited the tiny, constructed room nestled in the rear of Asian Arts Initiative to collect socks, water bottles, deodorant and tampons.
The room on the 1200 block of Pearl Street was filled with artifacts of Chinatown past; photographs of old buildings decorated the walls, and a documentary from the 1970s showing residents protesting the construction of the Vine Street Expressway played on loop in the corner.
The toiletries and surrounding items do connect: According to artist Erin Bernard, they both relate to the theme of displacement in the Chinatown neighborhood. It’s why she brought them together for the Philadelphia Public History Truck’s latest exhibit, “A Houseless Museum: Home and Displacement Around the Vine Street Expressway.”
“There are so many different voices in this neighborhood that don’t always align with each other. It often feels like a contested space,” said Bernard, the founder and curator of the History Truck. For this third iteration of the hyperlocal archival project — previously, the truck visited East Kensington and North Philly — it was necessary to find a theme that somehow spoke to the many groups within the community.
Displacement stuck out, partially because of where the neighborhood’s name came from in the first place, and partially because of the presence of Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, the city’s oldest homeless shelter, located a block away from Asian Arts Initiative (AAI).
“If we consider displacement over time, it’s easy for us to talk about the history of unhoused communities,” Bernard said. “It’s also easy to talk about the history of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, partly because of the way Chinatown was established in the first place.”
The area got it’s name from the Chinese men who moved to Philadelphia in the mid- to late-19th century because of the racism they were facing in Western American, according to Bernard. The exhibit explores this as well as the development of the Vine Street Expressway — “How do you maintain a sense of home when a number of your neighbors are actually losing their homes?” she said. Ultimately, the community lost its battle against the construction of the expressway but won a smaller one preventing the addition of a ramp along 9th Street.
To develop the exhibit, funded by a project grant from AAI and an Art and Change Grant from Leeway Foundation, Bernard collaborated with AAI, the Rescue Mission and other stakeholders. She also conducted oral histories of the neighborhood with longtime residents.
AAI invited Bernard to bring her exhibit to its space because her participatory approach to constructing the exhibit aligns with AAI’s mission of participatory artmaking, according to Gayle Isa, AAI’s executive director.
AAI had similarly been working to “transform the Pearl Street alley into a neighborhood asset that connects the many diverse constituents along Pearl Street” by “hosting ‘pop up’ events and installations that activate the alleyway, bring more eyes and feet to Pearl Street, and engage people who otherwise might not connect with each other,” Isa said.
As for the toiletries: “I knew from the beginning that if we were going to be using a space on Pearl Street, it had to in some way to be directly useful to the people who spend time on Pearl Street, which are gentlemen who are usually coming to and from the [Rescue] Mission,” Bernard said.
The exhibit will run at AAI through Friday, June 24, on Wednesday and Friday from 1 to 5 p.m. A mobile exhibition will launch in July at the Viaduct Rail Park’s pop-up beer garden, 10th and Hamilton streets.
The next neighborhood Bernard will document is Fairhill, with an exhibit debuting in June 2017. She also has a non-neighborhood-specific project in the works: The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage is funding an exhibit and program series centered on the W.I.C. nutritional assistance program.
Read original article here.

Camae Ayewa (LTA ’15, ACG ’07) and Leeway Board Member Rasheedah Phillips Featured in HyperAllergic

An Afrofuturist Community Center Targets Gentrification

June 22, 2016
by Hyunjee Nicole Kim for HyperAllergic

The bus dropped me off a block away from 22nd Street and Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia, where Community Futures Lab is located. A metallic-red, heart-shaped balloon tied to a chalkboard announcing the grand opening bobbed cheerily in the wind. A couple of smiling skaters sat outside the storefront, and a chubby toddler ambled through the entrance, under ghostly peeling letters that indicated the storefront’s former occupants: a pawnshop.

Black Quantum Futurism (BQF), along with the AfroFuturist Affair, both activist-oriented collectives celebrating and disseminating black science fiction culture, has opened a community resource space envisioned as a “time capsule” in Sharswood/Blumberg. The North Philly neighborhood has seen much socioeconomic strife over the years and is now undergoing a $526 million dollar redevelopment project that cleared thousands of residential units via eminent domain. The Community Futures Lab was created in response to this reality and is also asking the neighborhood what potential needs the lab can fulfill, from organizing housing resources workshops and skill-sharing panels to zine brunches and yoga classes. Located next to Temple University, the blocks around the lab are tempting land grabs for thirsty real estate developers — in this case, the Philadelphia Housing Authority — who want to wipe the slate clean of the poverty and inequality that have long plagued the area. But the city neglects to consider the chaos that the displacement of human beings and communities causes to the residents who are uprooted. Personal stakes are ignored and buried under the rubble in the name of profitability.

Black Quantum Futurism encompasses the work of the lawyer-activist-writer Rasheedah Phillips and musician-designer-photographer Camae Ayewa, as well as the efforts of others who have collaborated with the two artists. Phillips is the founder of the AfroFuturist Affair and published the Black Quantum Futurism manifesto, which proposes a creative and critical vision that values and rewrites black diasporic history through an Afrofuturist lens. She has participated in The Shadows Took Shape, the group exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem that explored Afrofuturist aesthetics, as well as the yearlong Octavia Butler celebration at Clockshop in Los Angeles. Ayewa performs and tours as Moor Mother, a solo music project creating memorial soundscapes and what she calls “slaveship punk,” and cofounded Rockers! Philly, a festival devoted to marginalized artists.

In addition to her artistic practice, Phillips is the managing attorney for the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, which ties her intimately to the concerns of locals who are left helpless in the state of the current housing crisis. She also attended Temple University for both her BA and JD, and has lived about 10 blocks from Community Futures Lab for the last six years. Phillips says, “utilize me,” and wants her neighbors to know that she has a stake in Sharswood/Blumsberg and intends to facilitate change through civic engagement.

To kick off Community Future Lab’s opening, Phillips read her definition of “future,” published in Keywords for Radicals (AK Press, 2016), which included many references from Afrofuturism, science fiction, black history, quantum physics, Western artistic movements, and beyond. Phillips and Ayewa’s project “Community Futures: Time & Memory in North Philly,” supported by a fellowship from A Blade of Grass, continues the programming thread initiated by the AfroFuturist Affair by offering workshops like quantum event mapping, which asks participants to let go of notions of linear time in their creative writing, and “Science is Fiction!” which examines how women and people of color are shown in mainstream science fiction and shares examples from Afrofuturist texts that can empower the marginalized. Seeking to positively change the physical landscape and protect the psychological landscape of North Philly, the BQF collective and the space’s interns are also collecting “oral history/future interviews” from former and current residents of Sharswood/Blumberg.

Throughout Phillips’s performance, Moor Mother supplied a musical accompaniment: a fuzzy radio-electronic set that hypnotically traversed space, time, and the present reality. Phillips’s voice was clear, full of conviction, and the support from the crowd was palpable. Afterward, people milled about the space, perusing the bookshelves of the lending library, sipping refreshments, chatting, and popping into the back rooms to record their memories of North Philadelphia and watch the looped footage of March’s demolition of the Norman Blumberg towers, which put hundreds of families out of their homes.

As the Community Futures Lab launches its initial six-month run, it plans to collaborate with other North Philadelphia-based arts organizations, such as The People’s Paper Co-op of the Village of Arts & Humanities. This is not the first time an artistic group has targeted discrimination and gentrification in specific communities; initiatives in other cities include Decolonize L.A. and El Museo de los Sures in New York. However, Community Futures Lab is unique for its specific Afrofuturist vision, one that does not elevate above those who need and crave it the most, and that transfers a complex theory to an engaged, critical practice.

Community Futures Lab is located at 2204 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia. With the assistance of volunteers, the space will be open a few days a week and most Saturdays. Check for Community Future Labs and Black Quantum Futurism updates on Facebook. Instagram: @communityfutureslab and @blackquantumfuturism.

Read original article here. 

Michelle Ortiz (ACG ‘13, ‘12, ‘05, LTA ‘08) Featured In Philadelphia Inquirer

Local artist recognized for work on immigrant crisis

June 21, 2016

by Alexandra Villarreal for the Philadelphia Inquirer

A native of Philadelphia’s Italian Market neighborhood, Michelle Angela Ortiz was born to a Colombian mother and Puerto Rican father. These days, her work can be seen in places near and far, from Cuba and Mexico to South 6th Street. She’s an artist, but she’s also a storyteller, giving a voice to otherwise marginalized communities worldwide.
“I feel that some of the families that I’ve connected with are reflections of my parents,” she said. “Their children are reflections of me, and my story, and what I’ve gone through.”
On June 17, Americans for the Arts named Ortiz one of 38 Public Art Network Year in Review honorees for her local project, Familias Separadas. The project was highlighted through the Mural Arts Program's Open Source exhibition. This is the first time a local artist collaborating with the Mural Arts Program is honored by the Americans for the Arts Public Art Network Year in Review award.
The series, which focused on the hardships faced by undocumented immigrants in the United States, featured four installations at locations around Philadelphia from late September through October 2015. 
“The temporary nature of each piece is really connected to the temporary presence of undocumented families when they’re at risk of being deported,” Ortiz said. “By the end of the month of October, you see it, and then it’s gone. A lot of people were like, ‘Something’s missing.’ It was this sense of loss. And it doesn’t compare at all to the intensity of losing someone through deportation, but it does give a reference to this thought of ‘We just lost something.’ This image, this impact, this story has been erased.”
To conceive of each piece, Ortiz spoke with families through Juntos, a non-profit that advocates for the rights of Philadelphia’s Latino immigrants. The works are linked to minute-long voice recordings that explore the stories behind them. Two women suffer unjust deportation. A hardworking man is detained after 20 years in the states.
Eres Mi Todo - You Are My Everything - was the name of the installation at City Hall. Ortiz insisted that her painting be inside the City Hall compass, a global emblem for finding direction. She depicted Maria, a mother of five children. Maria is living in the states and is effectively a single mother: Her husband was arrested while attempting re-entry from Mexico. In fact, 94 percent of all American deportations in 2013 were of men, leaving households that needed two incomes to survive without resources for their kids, many of whom are U.S. citizens.
“Most of them are born and raised, and have been educated here in Philadelphia,” Ortiz said. “So then what happens to those families that are already struggling, but then fall deeper and deeper into poverty because of the effects of deportation?”
At Love Park, Ortiz installed Te Amo, a rendering of the necklace Honduras immigrant Suyapa wears to remind her of her eldest daughter. Beside Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture, and in a spot where undocumented immigrants often take their families to play, the symbolism becomes clear.
“What happens to love in the midst of immigration?” Ortiz asked. “What happens to love in the midst of deportation, not only when you decide to leave but then when you’re forced to leave? What happens to the love of your country, the love of your children, the love of your family?”
Perhaps the most recognizable work from Familias Separadas was Somos Seres Humanos, a truth that is often forgotten in the politicization of immigration. Along with 30 volunteers, some of whom were undocumented themselves, Ortiz installed the art outside of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement building on 16th and Callowhill Streets, which is often the first stop for those facing deportation. A quote from Ana, a Guatemalan immigrant who was recently sent to her country of origin along with her daughter before a judge ruled their deportation unjust, the bold yellow letters read: “We are human beings, risking our lives, for our families and our futures.”
All of the works from Familias Separadas were intentionally placed so they could be seen from the air, making a schematic out of the lives of undocumented immigrants in the city. 
“If I were flying over Philadelphia and had an aerial map, these pieces would serve as little landmarks, or points of where the families have either passed by, shared, loved, or even worked,” Ortiz said.
They also open the possibility of a dialogue, inspiring discussion about subjects that are often too hot to touch directly and without an entry point.
“I feel that I’m expanding the conversation when I bring it to public spaces,” Ortiz explained. “You don’t usually see these stories represented. And for someone who was completely disconnected or uneducated about the issues of immigration, this is their way of connecting. People came and started asking questions or started sharing their own immigration story. And that’s the beauty of public art and being out in open spaces: having people be curious, but also starting those conversations.”
Ultimately, Ortiz would like to continue with Familias Separadas, spreading her message despite what she calls the current “anti-immigrant climate” in the United States, where, she claims, deportation has become more and more ubiquitous under the Obama administration and one of the presidential nominees constantly spews hateful rhetoric about undocumented individuals. She’s especially intent on promoting a welcoming climate in Philadelphia.
“”I still live on the block where I was born and raised,” she said. “I’m very much tied to the city. And so when I think about the issues of deportation and how undocumented families and immigrant communities are trying to make a future here, it’s really about posing the question to the citizens of Philadelphia and to the government, and to the neighbor who is a citizen or the person who could be an ally: ‘How are we creating a city that opens its arms to these communities that are trying to seek a better future for their families and a better life for themselves? How are we creating that?’”

Read original article here.

Leeway Foundation Announces Spring 2016 Art and Change Grantees

31 women and trans artists and cultural producers receive project-based grants to further social change in the Delaware Valley

PHILADELPHIA – Today, the Leeway Foundation announced $66,985 in grants to 31 women and trans* artists and cultural producers in Greater Philadelphia, supporting their work to address a range of social change issues. 

Leeway’s Art and Change Grant provides project-based funds of up to $2,500 to women and trans artists and cultural producers who: propose a project that impacts a larger group, audience or community; have financial need; and live in the Delaware Valley area. The grant supports artists practicing a variety of disciplines including performance, crafts and textiles, and visual arts.

The following 31 artists were awarded grants (in alphabetical order):


Art and Change Grants are distributed twice a year and evaluated by an independent peer review panel.  The March 2016 review panel consisted of playwright and devised theater maker MJ Kaufman (ACG ‘13), educator and community organizer Rochelle Nichols-Solomon, and folklorist and curator Selina Morales. 

Applications are made available on the Leeway website, and may also be obtained by calling 215.545.4078 or emailing info@leeway.org. Potential applicants are encouraged to attend one of the many support sessions offered throughout the year, or schedule an appointment with a staff member for one-on-one support. The next Art and Change Grant deadline is August 1, 2016.

Press inquiries and photo requests should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.


The Leeway Foundation supports women and transgender artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change. Through our grantmaking and other programs we promote artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins, promotes sustainable and healthy communities, and works in the service of movements for economic and social justice. For more information about Leeway, its grant programs, grantees and events, visit www.leeway.org.

Download Spring 2016 Press Release

Download Panelist Bios

Download Project Descriptions  

Stefani Threet (ACG ‘06) Featured in Grid Magazine

Adversity has only hardened the resolve of ceramics artist Stefani Threet

March 31, 2016
by Marilyn Anthony for Grid Magazine 

Life-threatening health issues. Gun violence. Racism. All of them could have molded ceramic artist Stefani Threet into a very different person. But at every turn of fate’s wheel, she countered her challenges: with strong ties to family, friends and other potters, her love of nature and with her talent and positive energy—the last of which comes beaming through in what her mother Jacqui Simmons calls her daughter’s “Cherry Kool-Aid smile.” 

Over the last three decades, Threet has managed to grow from a sickly kid interested in art into an established artist. During the recent Picasso exhibit at the Barnes Foundation, her mastery of sgraffito, a freehand method of carving fine lines into clay, was on display in her distinctive platters, mugs and bowls in the museum gift shop. 

While she says that “silence and nothingness” inspire her organic patterns of swirling concentric circles, she often listens to world music while working, and also has what she calls her “Beyoncé and Bruno Mars days” to keep her energy up. She spends at least 40 hours weekly in the West Philadelphia Cedar Works studio space she shares with 11 other potters. 

Happily listening to music while she works has come after a series of hardships that would have broken many people.

“My story,” says Threet, “is about overcoming adversity. I’m 36 now, and I’m where I thought I’d be in my 20s. It’s been a long journey getting here.” 

Challenges came early. The youngest of three siblings, Threet was ill so often that Simmons recalls “living” at Children’s Hospital. In 1988, at 8 years old, Threet and her family were devastated when they lost her 15-year-old brother to gun violence. 

There were positives: An early private school education exposed Threet to arts and culture. But when her parents separated, she had to transfer to public school in West Philadelphia, and there she stood out as “the kid who spoke too proper and was interested in weird things,” says Threet. Her mother tirelessly sought out enrichment programs to provide more than the neighborhood streets offered, waiting hours in pouring rain to enroll her daughter in the Fleisher Art Memorial programs and spending Saturdays trekking across town on SEPTA for the free art classes. 

When Threet was 15, her essay for the Academy of Natural Sciences Women in Natural Sciences program won her a life-changing trip to Belize. Threet describes crawling into holes in the ground that opened up into caverns with “humongous pots stuck into the wall.” These ancient Mayan pots left a lasting impression.

Threet, the first person in her family to attend college, chose to study ceramics at Alfred University. She’s also lived in Mexico—where, she says, after much black and white ceramics work, “my world became colorful.” She’s also spent time in Seattle and at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Tennessee, where she encountered influential potters Sana Musasama, Margaret Bohls and Philadelphia potters Sandi Pierantozzi and Neil Patterson. 

As Threet recalls, Pierantozzi and Patterson saw the need for more African-American artists teaching at the college level and encouraged Threet to return to Alfred. She did, but soon chafed at Alfred’s lack of diversity, receiving her degree but deciding against an academic career. 

She returned to Philadelphia, in order to care for her parents, who were now located on two different coasts. Her father passed away, and a new round of setbacks hit. Threet recalls 2014 as a “rock-bottom year.” That June, she had major surgery. In August she was laid off from her job as a Mural Arts teaching artist working with marginalized youth. In October, a cab struck her, leaving Threet barely able to walk. Months of intense physical therapy, shiatsu massage and support from her mother and boyfriend restored her health. 

Threet decided this was her moment to pursue pottery full-time. 

Despite her many challenges, Threet identifies one in particular that held her back. “I always felt that the only thing standing between me and doing [pottery] full-time was finances,” she says. A loan from a friend enabled her to apply to higher caliber craft shows, and in 2015 she threw herself into a grueling April-to-December production schedule, selling pots at over 40 shows across the mid-Atlantic region. 

This broad exposure brought the lack of diversity in the craft world into focus again for Threet. 

“I’m very much aware that in the craft market circuit I am one of a few—if not the only—person of color. For some reason I have been able to break some of those racial barriers... My mom fought very hard for racial equality, and she’s taught me a lot. For my own progression, I’ve sort of silenced that voice...if I listened to it a little bit too loud then I wouldn’t be able to do the things that I am doing.” 

Her mother is still her biggest champion, but her perseverance, talent and willingness to give back have earned her widespread respect. Multimedia artist and mentor Leroy Johnson, 78, who remembers being “the lone black ranger” in the arts and crafts scene, calls her “a role model for young craftspeople.” Hope Heffner, a former student of Threet’s, agrees with Johnson. 

“[Stefani] loves her craft, not to further her own agenda, but to help the community,” she says. “She wants to help other people to connect and find art as a way to enhance life.”

For the original article please click here.

Kay Healy (ACG ‘08) Featured in NAPOLEON

The Soft Inside Meets the Hard World: Kay Healy’s ‘What is Real’

An Essay by Daniel Olivaa

Kay Healy wall relief would not hurt you if it fell off the wall and landed against your body. Her stuffed textile sculptures hide their hanging hardware and sometimes appear to hover, like memories, and they promise to cushion your hands if you touch them, which people have been known to do. Healy’s new work continues to expand towards a figurative area of soft-sculpture, often using found textiles sourced from thrift stores to cover armatures of Polyfill, a white billowy material perfect for stuffing sacks or standing in for a cumulous cloud.

To gaze upon Healy’s current work is to fill your senses with softness and to delight in shifting textures, from the organized rows of corduroy to the even hum of black velvet. A Healy piece confronts you gently, and as she moves away from depicting household objects and towards figures, we begin to recognize that her pieces can relate directly to us, to our own bodies. These works are supremely poised between two hard surfaces, the white wall and your tough skin.

Healy’s previous works found their genesis in the stories and memories of people she interviewed. In an early installation, Coming Home, she interviewed four Philadelphians from different socio-economic, cultural and geographic backgrounds, recreating furniture based on descriptions of their childhood homes. In a 350 square foot diorama installed in the Philadelphia International Airport she placed hand-drawn and screen-printed fabric representations of sinks, stoves, hutches and love seats into four elaborate interiors. By combining their memories into one installation, Healy found commonalities between people of different backgrounds. She is now mining more of her own memories, which include recollections of her parent’s divorce when she was six years old. She has found garments in thrift stores that remind her of her mother and father, but as an artist who pays close attention to a material’s associations she recognizes that these “pre-loved” garments are already stretched by other elbows or kneecaps; they come with their own history. When she began pulling the stitching out of one suit jacket several business cards belonging to the previous occupant slipped out of the pocket. Healy held them for a moment and placed them back into the pocket, asserting the material’s own memory. She sometimes even sews the original label back on the clothing she has disassembled, hidden from view but there nonetheless.

As her work develops, we see that it is no longer so much an interpretation of memories as an interpretation of dreams. The adherence to mimetic reality has given way to an exploration of emotional states through a combination of architectural and figurative elements. Healy is interested in exploring the surrealistic notion of a body in union with its favorite furniture, embedded in a wall, or turned in with the sheets. Healy’s figures and objects become unified, a person can be made of cedar shingles while a camera which is both an object and a face, can glance at you shyly as it prepares to snap a shot.

Healy responds sensually to her materials. Her Mom Bust is a stuffed black velvet bust with a blond wig representing her mother. She relishes rubbing her hand gently up the velvet to draw out its softness, like petting a cat to elicit a purr. While velvet is a material she associates with her mother, corduroy is a material that evokes her father. She taps her fingers against the pocket sewn into the face of Corduroy Bust, which jingles because she has filled the pocket with loose change, about as much as her father used to keep in his pockets. “People touch my art all the time,” she says, admitting that the everyday materials and stuffed doll aesthetic beckon viewers to engage with the work.

She uses her own head and body as a template for the figuration, bringing the size and scale of her work into the real world. In this way her work evokes the full-body indexes of Ana Mendieta’s body forms, though both artists use vastly different materials. Mendieta explored the fusion of feminine forms with nature’s earth, wood, flora and fire, navigating in a world apart from the mundane. Healy, in contrast, suggests that the everyday is almost a “natural” state, she embeds the textures of our clothing deep into our psyche. Healy’s work plays with the simulation of domestic materials by using drawing techniques of hatching and shading, typically used to create the illusion of three-dimensional form on a flat surface, but as Healy uses them they suggest awkward flatness on stuffed objects that bulge roundly towards the viewer. The symmetrical, straightforward presentation and life-size scale directly confront the viewer and invade our actual space. Her work can be so confrontational that it resembles a reflection; we may feel that we are looking into a mirror and begin adjusting our own limbs in relation to the image facing us. Healy says of her work that, “it competes with your world because it’s the same size as you. The scale is the same.”

Healy is very focused on the ways in which we interpret our relationship to our bodies. Body-oriented metaphors yield material for Healy to explore. She is particularly fond of sayings such as, “finding your feet”, which suggests finding confidence and solid ground in a new situation. Another artistic influence on Healy is the sculptor Robert Gober, whose sinks without drains or faucets and legs popping out of walls (wearing old-fashioned pants, socks and shoes) have informed her surrealistic tendencies. She explores the acts of carrying and building in her piece, Carry, a bust with arms that is holding (its own?) legs and is also covered in a brick pattern. Does the brick add weight to the legs, strength to the arms, or both? Healy, who often has to carry “limbs” while making her work, explores both a parental gesture of support and an artist’s necessary motivation in building one’s own body (of work) while living within it.

“What is Real” is not a question and a yet it is also not entirely a statement. By refusing to include a question mark in this phrase Healy suggests that real is a slippery term, she says that her work, “becomes real in going from the drawing to creation”. Her objects have all begun as sketches and developed through smaller maquettes towards their endpoint, which is the size of our “real” world. Healy admits that the representation always fails because it’s unmistakably made of cloth. In this current body of work she is trying “replicate the feeling”, using the object to capture emotion. While Healy’s work develops in the direction of our reality, once it has arrived we, as viewers, are welcomed to slip back towards a surreal state. While we contemplate the form’s state of being, we can also recognize the way Healy powerfully weaves the twin senses of longing and hopefulness by creating intimate material associations.

Healy has found a way to explore themes of memory and loss while continuing to expand her toolkit. Her works are no longer obligated to express another person’s recollections and yet the previous owners of used clothing are welcomed by Healy as contributors to the growth of each sculpture. With each new combination of limb, gesture, clothing and object Healy expands the narrative possibilities of her work, and invites the viewer to add their imprint, or at least to take a new memory with them as they leave the show.

About the Author: Daniel Oliva is an artist and writer based in the Philadelphia area. He was the Curatorial Assistant at The Galleries at Moore and is a professor at Penn State Abington.

Read original article here.

Leeway Appoints Sara Zia Ebrahimi as Program Director

PHILADELPHIA – Sara Zia Ebrahimi (LTA ‘14, ACG ‘13, ‘09), a filmmaker and curator, stepped into the role of Program Director on Monday, April 18, 2016.

“My ability to articulate the cultural strategy of my filmmaking practice emerged because Leeway pushed me to name it. Leeway made me apply the strategic thinking I had encountered in the activist world to my art. The grant application process is not just a transactional exchange reserved for those awarded with a grant, it is a means of movement building for all involved. The process requires artists to strategize. It makes us place ourselves both in the context of history and in our vision of the future. It helps solidify that pathway navigating in between the art world and activist world.

I am excited to join the staff and board members of Leeway in asking questions about how the organization’s programs can continue to be more than a transactional exchange for artists. I want to help Leeway grow in a way that weaves together the cultural strategies of hundreds of artists like me into something strong and durable.”

Sara Zia Ebrahimi has produced film screenings and exhibits in the Philadelphia area for over a decade. An MFA graduate of Temple University, her own short films have screened internationally and been awarded grants from Chicken & Egg Pictures, Rooftop Films and the Leeway Foundation. Her recent work includes Bailout, a web series she wrote and directed, and The FBI Blew Up My Ice Skates, an animated short film co-directed with Lindsey Martin. 

Sara Zia returns to Leeway after a two-year outreach and events consultancy with the organization in 2010. Since then, she’s provided social media and community engagement consulting to individual artists and arts and cultural organizations; produced film screenings including the Flickering Light and Kinowatt series; and taught media production at Temple University. Most recently, Sara Zia was the Social Media Specialist at American Friends Service Committee. 

Vashti Dubois (ACG ‘12, ‘06) featured in Philadelphia Sun

Meet the woman behind the Colored Girls Museum

By Monica Peters, Philadelphia Sun Staff
March 18, 2016

Vashti Dubois is making history with her Colored Girls Museum located in Germantown.

It is possibly the first museum of its kind in the nation and you don’t have to be an Oprah or Michelle Obama to be honored in this museum.  The museum, also holding its Women’s Her-story Month event on March 20, celebrates the “ordinary” extraordinary colored girl.

Dubois makes it clear, “Ain’t nothing but love for the colored girls in here.”

“People seldom hold us up even as collective,” referring to society’s lack of acknowledgement of women of color’s accomplishment and struggles.She also stresses that the museum is not only for colored girls but for anyone who is ready for a conscious revolution and has an appreciation for seeing the world through the lens of “colored girlism.”

“You take care of your family. You stand for your friends and communities.  In spite all of the insanities, history, heavy weight that would keep you down, in spite of–you get up every day.”

The Brooklyn transplant came up with the idea of a memoir museum for colored girls while a sophomore majoring in Women’s Studies at Wesleyan University.

The museum, based in Dubois’s home, welcomes visitors with a display of unique artifacts including a host of rooms reflecting different periods in the story of Black women in Philadelphia.

“Honestly, I said I don’t have much. But, I do have love,” reflected Dubois discussing her desire to start the museum which opened last year.

Families enjoy exhibit artifacts in the museum. (Photo: Courtesy of Colored Girls Museum)

The museum, located in Dubois’ home, honors the stories, experiences, and history of colored girls. The museum initiates the ordinary” object—submitted by women themselves that represent an aspect of their stories and personal histories that are important and meaningful to them.  Memoirs, submitted in any form, as well as objects of personal and historic significance are considered as valuable.

The catalyst that compelled Dubois to activate the museum was her own experience nearly two years ago when her husband passed away in a car accident.

“I’m a literacy coach. I’m a mom, a friend to many,” noting that the normalcy of her life was “knocked off line” and many things didn’t get done while she recovered from the loss of her husband.

While getting back into the swing of things, Dubois had an epiphany about the extent to how much the community depends on Black women.

“I realized that so many people rely on the colored girl for so many things they don’t even know they rely on her. When she gets knocked off line–whole bunch of people get knocked off line.

“People have become dependent and taken it for granted,” referring to colored women’s support and roles as the sole and sometimes only pillars in their communities.

On March 20, the museum continues its celebration and presentation of Women’s Her-story Month from noon to 4 p.m. with a live tribute to artist Barbara Jane Bullock who lives and works in Germantown. Not only will the celebration highlight Bullock as an internationally celebrated artist and contributions to the art community, but her contributions as an “ordinary” sister, friend and educator.

About the Museum

The Colored Girls Museum, 4613 Newhall St. Museum hours are Sundays noon to 4 p.m. Mar. 20 is Women’s Her-story Month Tribute to Barbara Bullock. Suggested donation: $10.  Info: www.thecoloredgirlsmuseum.com

Read original article here. 

Michelle Angela Ortiz (ACG ‘13, ‘12, ‘05, LTA ‘08) Interviewed by Mijente


March 8, 2016

For international women’s day, we got to talk with Michelle Angela Ortiz, a Philadelphia-based visual artist/skilled muralist/ community arts educator who uses her art as a vehicle to represent people andcommunities whose histories are often lost or co-opted.

Check out the interview below

Tell us about yourself, what’s your story? 

I am a child of immigrants

I am the strength of the women that came before me

I am the community- broken, forgotten and ignored

I am the community- beautiful, transformed and illuminated

I am a small woman that creates big things

I am a catalyst for change

I grew up with feelings of being other, of belonging and not belonging. I struggled with issues of class and race. I am a child of immigrants (Colombia and Puerto Rico); I come from a tradition with strong oral histories that were not written down or visually represented, and risk being lost. For these reasons, my work as an artist takes place in communities where history has been lost, stories have not been told, and individuals have felt powerless to create change. Through my artwork, I aim to represent the people who create the spirit of the space that they inhabit, reveal their faces and keep alive their stories through my images.

In the constant daily bombardment of images in the media we seldom see ourselves or have the opportunity to define and declare ‘THIS IS WHO WE ARE’.  Being Latina goes beyond the language and cultural traditions; it encompasses the immigrant experience and it’s impact on the family dynamic, it means being aware of the socio-economic inequalities that exist within our communities, it is acknowledging the shifting of our identities in this country and the feeling of belonging nor here or there.

For these reasons, I make art that is deeply rooted in our stories of our community, art that is socially engaged and that contradicts and challenges the economic and social power structures that we live in. There is power in presenting images that are a reflection of who we are and demand that our voices and stories are heard and valued.

When did you start doing public art? How come?

As an artist, knowing about Marcel Duchamp is as important as knowing about my grandmother’s struggles. I believe that the walls in a neighborhood are as important as the walls in a gallery or museum. For these reasons, I have focused my art practice in neighborhoods and public spaces that are outside the gallery/ museum setting.

For over fifteen years as a visual artist, community arts educator, and highly skilled muralist, my creative process continues to be embedded in claiming and transforming space in ways that affirm or challenge people’s experiences in that space; and providing the opportunity to create a dialogue through art around the most profound personal or community issues.

Artists play an important role in communities and movements that advocate for social change.

As an artist working in communities, I am aware that I am still an outsider entering into another world. When I begin a process with the community, I am clear about my intentions and I would never ask a question that I am not willing to answer myself. Possessing artistic skills is not enough… to engage communities it is necessary for the artist to be skilled in facilitating difficult dialogues, identifying themes, translating themes to visual representations, and doing this with integrity and respect with the community.

Although it’s hard to measure, the process, the collaboration has a real impact on the people involved and beyond that, it impacts the people who see themselves in the artwork present in that public space. A single artwork is not going to bring about world peace but it can create a safe space for someone to speak up for the first time, to make a mark about their experience and their lives with no judgment, and to have the opportunity to collectively transform public spaces as a platform to present a visual affirmation that honors and values their stories.

This past year you got to do a big installation at Philadelphia’s City Hall, tell us about what you did and how you decided on that work?

My installation at Philadelphia’s City Hall is part of my “Familias Separadas” project. The project is a series of temporary site-specific public art works that marks locations and document stories of immigrant families affected by deportations. The first set of public art works were installed in the city of Philadelphia in October 2015 and were a culmination of over a year’s work I developed with undocumented families and youth from Juntos. My large installations were also a part of the Mural Arts city-wide Open Source citywide exhibition which included works from fellow artists Shepard Fairey, Swoon, Momo, JR, and others.

The piece entitled “Eres Mi Todo (You Are My Everything)” is an image of Maria placed in the actual center of the city. I painted the image of Maria and her daughter which was then digitally enlarged and installed in a painted compass (The Compass Rose) that marks where north, south, west, and east meet. The compass is a symbol of the act of searching and migrating which connects to the immigrant histories that continue to thrive in our city. Placing the image of Maria on the compass, in front of the William Penn statue, in the center of the city was my way of elevating Maria’s story and demanding attention and creating awareness of the effects of deportation on undocumented families.

“Eres Mi Todo” are the written words from Maria’s husband who is currently incarcerated. Maria’s husband lived in Philadelphia and is in the process of deportation. He attempted to cross the border again to be reunited with his family. He was caught by ICE in Texas and now has 6 months left to his 3 year jail sentence in California. Once his sentence is over, he will be sent back to Mexico. Maria continues to live in Philadelphia and has five children that she is taking care of. She speaks about the difficulty of making the decision to stay or leave to Mexico to be reunited with her husband.

Deportations have separated over two million families in the last four years. Many times women have been forced to choose between their children and the father of their children. In 2013, 94% of all deportationswere men, forcing many women to become single mothers and driving immigrant communities deeper into poverty.  I believe it empowers others when we realize the courage and strength of women like Maria. Maria’s story is the story of thousands of women that are struggling in keeping their families together and she should be heard.

Click Here to Listen to Maria’s Story in English
Escucha la Historia de Maria Aquí en Español

The other work that really grabbed our attention was outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office, what was that project like?

I listened to an audio interview conducted by Juntos of Ana, an undocumented mother from Guatemala who was detained at the Berks Detention Center. The Berks County Detention Center is a county run prison located twenty minutes outside of Pennsylvania which currently incarcerates immigrant families, with children as young as two weeks old being detained. The center has recently had their license revoked by the state due to a list of abuses against the detained undocumented families. Afterspending almost a year in Berks Detention Center, Ana and her daughter were deported back to their native country of Guatemala. A judge declared her deportation unjust and ordered that they be brought back to the United States to fight their deportation.

“Somos Seres Humanos, Arriesgando Nuestras Vidas, Para Nuestras Familias Y Nuestro Futuro” are Ana’s words from her interview that deeply resonated with me. Her words were so honest, poetic, and powerful that I decided to place them in front of the Immigrations Customs Enforcement building. I was strategic in choosing the locations of each one of my installations and the ICE building was first on my list of locations when I thought of this Project. I felt that Ana’s words needed to be translated in English to communicate clearly her message to passerbyers but most importantly the ICE agents working inside the building.

The permissions to place the artwork on the street from the City were secured through my continued persistence and the support of Juntos and the Mural Arts Program. I facilitated two art making sessions with the community where we created the 90’ long stencil of Ana’s words.

On Monday, October 12th, 2015 (Columbus Day), over 30 volunteers, undocumented families, community members from Juntos to install Ana’s words ‘WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS, RISKING OUR LIVES, FOR OUR FAMILIES AND OUR FUTURE” in front of the ICE building in Philadelphia. See the video here

The ICE building is a place that instills so much fear in our communities. It was inspiring to the volunteers in solidarity with the undocumented families who were fearless and working together in placing these wordsthat connect to us all. This action will always be a significant moment in my life.

Do you have plans for what’s next? Where do youwant to take the work from here?

My plans are to expand my “Familias Separadas” project to other cities. The project began in Philadelphia and my goal is to continue to highlight the stories of the effects of deportations and detentions specifically in the northeast of the United States. I am currently searching for funding and working with Juntos in identifying organizers and local artists to expand the project.

Right now, I am leading a mural project in Havana, Cuba as part of my artist residency through Meridian International Center. Cuba is one of 9 countries selected for thiscultural program supported by Meridian and partially supported by the U.S.Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. This is my second project with Meridian (see my work in Honduras in 2015 here.)

I am among the first group of American artists conducting this type of cultural exchange in Cuba. This project is paving the way for future cultural exchanges especially during this delicate time with both the U.S. and Cuba dedicated to rebuilding their ties. I am training local artists and working directly with community members in the development of 4 murals that will be painted in the historical Parque Maceo in Central Havana. The murals are located in a public space that will continue to be activated with exhibitions and events from the nearby cultural center and project partner- Casa Cultural de Artistas Creadores.

There are some ideas I am working on for the upcoming DNC in Philadelphia around the issues of immigration. Whether it is a mural or temporary installations, every project takes me to the next idea and challenge. What is most important to me is continuing to transform spaces and create a platform for our stories to be amplified.

How can people find out more and follow your work

Website: www.michelleangela.com

INSTAGRAM: @michelleangelaortiz

TWITTER: @michelleaortiz1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MichelleAngelaOrtiz/

Michelle Angela Ortiz is a visual artist/ skilled muralist/ community arts educator who uses her art as a vehicle to represent people and communities whose histories are often lost or co-opted. Through painting, printmaking, and community arts practices, she creates a safe space for dialogue around some of the most profound issues communities and individuals may face. Her work tells stories using richly crafted and emotive imagery to claim and transform “blighted” spaces into a visual affirmation that reveals the strength and spirit of the community.

For over fifteen years, Ortiz continues to be an active educator in using the arts as a tool for communication to bridge communities. As a highly skilled muralist, Ortiz has designed and created over 50 large-scale public works nationally (PA, NJ, MS, NY) and internationally. Since 2008, Ortiz has led community building and art for social change public art projects both independently and  through the United States Embassy as a Cultural Envoy in the Oceania, Europe, and North, Central, and South America.

Read original article here. 

Denise Brown Leads ACSJN Connection Creating Call

ACSJN presents two Network learning exchanges, story sharing, and connection creating calls!  RSVP now for one or both!!  The calls are meant to be a starting or restarting point for broader network engagement. Ideas, suggestions, and questions welcome!

March 15, 2016

Join ACSJN leadership team members  Denise Brown, ED of the Leeway Foundation and Carlton Turner, ED of Alternate ROOTS on March 15th at 1pmEST/12noonCST/ 10amPST. Carlton and Denise will open a conversation about the state of the art, culture and social justice field and then invite your perspectives. After that, the Art, Culture, and Social Justice Network will provide a brief overview on the organization and exchange ideas about what gaps or connections the network could provide. RSVP here.

March 24, 2016

Join Judi Jennings, ACSJN Leadership Team Member and Mo Willis, Program Director, Allied Media Conference on March 24th at 5pm. You’re invited to reflect on: How is art and culture advancing social justice, as you see it, in your community?  Then delve into how participating in a network like ACSJN can amplify this work and how best to share our insights and learnings. RSVP here.

Vashti Dubois (ACG ‘12,‘06) featured in Smithsonian.com

A Pop-Up Museum Documents the Stories of Philadelphia's Black Women

Vashti DuBois is looking to build community and pride in underserved neighborhoods, starting with her own.

By Heather Hansman
February 9, 2016


Walk into the front door of Vashti DuBois' house in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood and you find yourself in a living room filled with artifacts—wooden statues and lace doilies on the mantle, huge oil paintings on the walls. Go upstairs, and each of the 10 rooms is a different chapter in the story of black women in the city. The bedroom hits on themes of love and shelter (and includes voodoo dolls), and the toolshed holds horse tack and old photographs of female factory workers.

DuBois, an artist and Philadelphia native, saw a gap in the stories being told in American history about women of color. She decided to turn her home into a pop-up culture center and art exhibition, called the Colored Girls Museum. She still lives in the house, and thinks of it kind of like a bed and breakfast, as other people come through her space.

“There should be a place in the world where colored girls' history is being built and archived,” DuBois says.

In 2014, DuBois put a call out, through the nonprofit and arts communities she'd worked in, to black women in Philadelphia. She asked women, of all ages, to contribute artifacts that embodied their experience as girls—anything from coffee cups to heirloom paintings. She received a huge collection of objects, ranging from hand tools to a painting of the singer Lauryn Hill. Then she had 10 local artists each curate a room. For instance, the laundry room is a shrine to the concept of the washerwoman, a powerful concept for many of the women. “For a lot of women of color, our grandmothers took in laundry. It’s very personal, and that history was not that long ago,” she says. Many of the rooms blend history, art and social commentary. The idea was to create a collection of experiences, to show what life looked like for these girls and to draw a broader picture of what it meant to grow up as a woman of color in America.  

Vashti Dubois in front of her house. (Zamani Feelings)

DuBois has been pushing the boundaries of art installations since she was a sophomore at Wesleyan University in the late 1970s. There, she saw her peers ignoring the arts in favor of more traditional career paths, so she curated an art show, called "Women's Work," in the Black Student Union house.  “I started it as a way for women of color to come together around something generative,” she says. After college, while running arts programs at a center for adjudicated youth in Philadelphia, she saw how art was an avenue for girls to process and contextualize their decisions and experiences. The Colored Girls Museum is meant to expose people to art in a non-traditional museum venue, and to be a welcoming place.


The laundry room unpacks the concept of the washerwoman. (Deborah Lehman)

“Houses put people at ease,” DuBois says. “We’re reimagining the museum as a sanctuary for colored girls. I want it to be a gathering space, celebrating and acknowledging, and looking closely at the things that have shaped us in the country and in the world.” The museum is a mix of traditional arts, like quilts and rag dolls, modern art that speaks to the experience of being a black woman, and heirlooms. It's a mashup of comics, murals and stained glass.

DuBois is currently a finalist in the Knight Cities Challenge, which grants a total of $5 million to civic projects focusing on three areas: attracting talented people, expanding economic opportunity and creating a culture of civic engagement. The grant would help her build out a web exhibition for those who can't visit in person, and replicate the model in other cities. Detroit and Raleigh are next.

"It's a traveling, pop-up event that can land in any city,” DuBois says. “Museums are culture’s symbolic altar. We're looking at the things that culture says is important. That’s really powerful, and we recognize that different communities are going to be able to relate in a different way."

Read original article here. 


Yolanda Wisher (ACG ‘08) named Philly’s Third Poet Laureate

Yolanda Wisher named Philly's third poet laureate 

by John Timpane, Staff Writer for philly.com
February 5, 2016

Photo by Mark Palacio 

A lot of people in the Philadelphia poetry world are very happy today.

On Friday morning, Mayor Kenney is scheduled to announce that Yolanda Wisher, a poet with a long history of publication and community activism, has been appointed Philadelphia poet laureate for 2016-17. The event is to include a short reading by the appointee.

Wisher is the city's third laureate, succeeding Frank Sherlock (2014-15) and Sonia Sanchez (2012-13). Her duties will include readings, community service projects, and mentoring other poets. She also will help select the next youth poet laureate, who will succeed David Jones. The appointment carries a stipend of $5,000 total for the two-year term.

When her first interview came by cellphone, Wisher, 39, was walking down Germantown Avenue Thursday night, in the neighborhood where she was born and lives - "a very special part of Philly," Wisher said, "with a lot of opportunity." She had a reading Thursday night at Farley's Bookshop in New Hope.

"I'm really feeling just thrilled and a little overwhelmed," Wisher said. "I found out a couple of weeks ago and had to keep this big secret. I told my mom, of course, my husband, a few people I kind of had to tell."

She found out via a phone call from Beth Feldman Brandt, executive director of the poet laureate governing committee. Brandt said Wisher was an ideal candidate.

"You have to be a really strong poet, and she really is, on the page and in performance," Brandt said. "And you have to buy into the fact that this is a position of civic service. And she has already done so much, in Germantown and throughout this area, using poetry to get people to think more deeply about the community. We really felt as if we were hitching up to what she was already doing."

Sherlock wrote by email that he was "very happy to be passing the laureate position on to Yolanda Wisher. I've been a fan of her work, admired her activism, and road-tripped with her to some fun and kooky gigs. I hope there's more of that. And I look forward to her vision of Philadelphia's poetry future. It's in truly good hands."

Kelly Lee, chief cultural officer for the city's Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, praised Wisher's dynamism. "She is going to bring poetry to all sorts of people who never thought they'd like poetry," Lee wrote.

Wisher grew up in North Wales. When she was 13, her mother let her take the train into Philadelphia to take a poetry class at the University of Pennsylvania. "I walked down Walnut Street from the station to the class," she said. "I was a sixth grader in a class full of high schoolers who were very serious poets. My teacher and the other students looked after me. And that's where it all really began."

Wisher earned a bachelor's degree from Lafayette College and a master's at Temple University. She was the first poet laureate of Montgomery County, taught for a decade at Germantown Friends School, was director of art education for the Mural Arts Program from 2010 to 2015, and has been a mainstay at local readings, slams, workshops, poetry events, community activities, and combinations thereof.

"What I really want to do, what this gives me a platform to do," Wisher said, "is connect the writing of poetry with my community activism. I want to create a useful poetry, a poetics of use."

One of Wisher's first activities as laureate will be at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at the Painted Bride Arts Center. She will host the Poetic Address to the Nation, an outgrowth of her work with a national arts group (not a federal agency) called the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture. "The Poetic Address is a huge collaborative poem, read at different places all over the country," Wisher said, "written with people like Los Angeles poet laureate Luis Rodriguez, Ross Gay, and local poets like Frank Sherlock." It will be broadcast live on the online news network FreeSpeechTV (www.freespeech.org).

jt@phillynews.com215-854-4406 @jtimpane

Read original article here. 

Denise Brown Featured In Philadelphia Life Magazine

Leading Women: Denise M. Brown 

By Leigh Stuart, for Philadelphia Life Magazine
December 2015 Issue 
Photograph by Noelle Theard

Advancing dialogue at the intersection of art, culture and social change

“Arts and culture are a basic part of life. Whether we realize it or not, we all benefit from even passive participation in acts of culture, and so I believe that arts and culture have always been a part of social justice movements.”

So says Denise M. Brown, executive director of Philadelphia’s Leeway Foundation (leeway.org), which has been creating funding opportunities for artists since its inception in the early 1990s. The organization’s founder, Philadelphia based artist Linda Lee Alter, started small by awarding grants in particular artistic disciplines each year, but over time the organization and its scope of artists and disciplines grew. Today, the Leeway Foundation supports women and trans artists and cultural producers working in communities “at the intersection of art, culture and social change.” Through initiatives including the $2,500 project-based Art and Change grant and the Leeway Transformation Award, which is given in recognition of a body of work or an individual’s commitment to arts, culture and social change, the Leeway Foundation supports approximately 60 artists each year.

“Sometimes we have given short shrift to those contributions, and so I think part of what Leeway is trying to do is make more visible those connections to encourage people who are doing various forms of cultural work to think about ways they can engage in moving social justice issues forward,” Brown says. “A lot of times, in socialjustice movements, we tend to default to the use of words to try to make our case—which is certainly important—but I think sometimes what can be done with a powerful image, a single photograph or a painting or a performance of some sort, can also move people in ways that sometimes we can’t with words. I think these things are just sort of intertwined and always have been.”

Brown, who also serves on the board of directors for Grantmakers in the Arts, became executive director of the Leeway Foundation in late 2006. Prior to that she was associate director of the Bread & Roses Community Fund, a group comprised of activists dedicated to supporting causes of social justice, where she ran the grant program.

Brown says there is much on the horizon for the Leeway Foundation, notably in terms of the group’s advocacy of gender equality and gender justice.

“I think it’s important to be deeply connected within the region that we’re in, and then build national relationships to help elevate the kind of work which is our core mission,” she says. “To begin to build relationships internationally, I think that is something that I and others in the organization would like to see. … There are certain social justice movements and issues that translate into other countries in other ways, and it could be really interesting to bring these perspectives into the mix so we’re thinking globally.”

Read original article here. 

Michelle Angela Ortiz (ACG ‘13, ‘12, ‘05, LTA ‘08) featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer

Philly muralist gets a great big wall to paint in Havana

By John Timpane, Inquirer Staff Writer
January 21, 2016

Image: Michelle Angela Ortiz works on a 2015 project in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Julissa Gomez

For a muralist, a big wall with nothing on it is like . . . a blank canvas as big as a parking lot.

Michelle Angela Ortiz is a Philadelphia painter, performer, and writer - and a cultural envoy. On Sunday, she will fly to Cuba to help paint a large mural in Havana. She'll be there for 31/2 weeks, on a cultural exchange program organized by the Meridian International Center in Washington, a nongovernmental organization that works with the U.S. State Department.

On Dec. 11, with a new grant from the State Department Bureau of Education and Public Affairs, Meridian sent representatives to Havana to meet with artists, gallery owners, foundations, and potential in-country participants - and to scout out a nice, big, blank wall.

They found one: very nice, very big, very blank.

"It's an amazing space," Ortiz says. "It's a walking tunnel that connects the Parque Maceo in central Havana with the Malecón, that waterfront you always see in photos of Havana. It's a big meet-up place in town, with lots of pedestrian traffic. We have the walls going in and out [to paint]. It's huge, and a lot of people will see it."

Nothing's drawn yet, nothing designed. The whole idea is for Ortiz to work with local artists in Cuba to figure out what the mural will show and say, and then get the equipment and supplies and create the thing. There's a schedule: The unveiling will be on Feb. 15 or 16.

According to Terry K. Harvey, vice president of cultural programs at Meridian, "You should have seen Michelle when she saw how wonderful the space is - she was like a kid in a candy store."

Getting permission to do murals on public walls is not so easy to do in Cuba. Yet the Ministry of Culture came across, and quickly.

"We were really amazed that the municipality of Havana said yes, and said yes so fast," Harvey says. "Maybe it's a sign of the times, a sign of growing trust."

Ortiz, born in Philadelphia to Puerto Rican and Colombian parents, is among the first artists to be selected for this kind of exchange to Cuba. She certainly has a track record, having been a cultural envoy since 2008. Last year, she took part in a mural in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and she recently returned from an envoy mission to Mexico.

Her public artwork has appeared all over Philadelphia, a great place for murals. In October, as part of an immigration-theme project titled Familias Separadas (Separated Families), she created the temporary installation Eres Mi Todo (You Are My Everything) in City Hall's compass rose courtyard.

That was a culmination of years of close work with Mexican immigrant families in town. She's also known as part of the performance-art trio Las Gallas. In May 2014, they traveled to Cuba for a workshop with hip-hop artists and to perform. She also networked while there, identifying some of the artists she'll work with on this new mural.

"Over the last 15 years, in Philly and abroad, in projects in places like Costa Rica and Ecuador, I've been using art as a means of social catalysis, a forum for the community, to transform physical spaces into something new," Ortiz says. She has a strong philosophy: "I've tried to make art that intervenes in public spaces, speaking through the voice of the community, in places where people have to pay attention."

Bringing Ortiz to Havana was, Harvey says, largely a matter of timing. Meridian had a mural-arts initiative that had gone to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Colombia. Then the State Department extended grant money for programs in four more countries: Turkey, India, Brazil, and - the last one chosen - Cuba. "All this," he says, "of course coincides with President Obama's recent actions with regard to Cuba."

The point is not to project American values. "We're not trying to go down there and tell them what we want or what they should do," Ortiz says. "We're really trying to shy away from politics and propaganda and focus on these people, these artists, in this neighborhood. We're putting their work front and center; I'm more of a facilitator. The artists will go away and use the rest of the supplies and do murals in other communities."

Going away is also part of the drill. Meridian and Ortiz want this project to resonate.

"I want to ensure that the training of the artists means the artists can sustain the work past my departure," Ortiz says, "and strengthen the work they are already doing."

Read original article here. 

Taina Asili (LTA ‘05, ACG ‘05) featured in Bitch Media

New Music Monday: Taina Asili's #Blacklivesmatter Anthem "Freedom"

By Sarah Mirk, for Bitch Media
January 18, 2016
Photo by Katherine Wright

We feature new music from female-fronted bands every Monday. Today, we’re excited to debut the new music video for “Freedom,” by Taina Asili y la Banda Rebelde. 

“‘Freedom’ is a musical contribution to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and it was inspired by the organizing work I do in my community to end mass incarceration and state violence,” says Asili. The video shows a young Black woman running from police after a protest, interspersed with scenes of the same woman portraying a runaway slave fleeing along the Underground Railroad.

Taina Asili has been making music for 20 years—you might have gotten to know her when she fronted the punk band Anti-Product. This song is off her most recent album, Fruit of Hope, which came out in 2014 and is made with La Banda Rebelde, an eight-piece ensemble that combines rock, reggae, and Afro-Latin sounds.  While working as a musician, Asili has also been an anti-incarceration activist. She currently organizes with the Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration in Albany, New York. Members of the group are actors in the music video, too. Asili explains that her activism comes from a personal place, as the  the daughter and sister of two formerly incarcerated men. “I have seen up close the ways the U.S. prison system negatively effects families and communities of color. With this song and video, I hope to bring more awareness to the racism inherent in the prison system, and to inspire people to fight for an end to mass incarceration in this country,” says Asili. 

The song also features Chicano/Mexicano poet and emcee Michael Reyes. Check out the powerful video below and read the lyrics to the song. 

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/tfwDEebbQ-E" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/tfwDEebbQ-E" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>


Lyrics to "Freedom"

What do we want? Freedom.

When do we want it? Now!

Prisons are our freedom thieves

decimate communities

destroying our families

leaving no opportunities

Racial caste alive and well

now we’re called a criminal

and we’re seen disposable

millions stuck in America’s hell

Cannot eat the myths they’ve fed

hi-tech cages trillions spent

say no money for children

schools the pipeline to prison

Discriminate legally

employment, to vote, housing,

permanently locks the key

stealing our humanity

But we will evoke the lightning to strike injustice down

we will bring the thunder to break our family out

we will bring the lightning to strike injustice down

we will bring the thunder to break our family out

From the freedom of the beat

to the chains on the feet 

to the mass incarceration 

family separation


got me chasing liberation

new slaves in a new slave nation

modern day plantation 

making products for a corporation 

black cold chain 

gang gang

bang guns 

bang bang

dope sales

sling that thing

ropes hang 

still slit bang insane

four walls bars chained

two million names

struggled not in vain

so we fight for those things

that we can’t change and so we sing

freedom of the mind

freedom of the soul

freedom of the heart and freedom here we go

battle for the lives and the folks that we know

battle for the seeds and the future that we sow

planting seeds so w can see ‘em grow

lighting through the sky so everybody know

thunder crash live, live from death row

can’t tame the spirit of the fire of the soul

breaking down the laws of the new Jim Crow

But we will evoke the lightning to strike injustice down

we will bring the thunder to break our family out

we will bring the lightning to strike injustice down

we will bring the thunder to break our family out

What do we want? Freedom.

When do we want it? NOW!

Read original article here. 


2015 Leeway Transformation Awards Announced

Nine artists & cultural producers have been named 2015 Leeway Transformation Awardees, the foundation announced today.

The Transformation Awards are granted annually to women and trans* artists who have worked at the intersection of art and social change for the past five years or more, and impacted a larger group, audience, or community. The $15,000 award is unrestricted—no project is required. The 2015 awards were presented to a diverse group of artists & cultural producers working in a range of disciplines including performance, music and folk arts.

This cycle’s nine awardees, selected out of 72 applications, are (in first name alphabetical order):

Camae Ayewa of Strawberry Mansion, Multi-Disciplinary
Cei Bell of West Oak Lane, Literary Arts
Elaine T. Jones of Northeast Philadelphia, Literary Arts
Kerri Radley of South Philadelphia, Literary Arts and Visual Arts
Lanica Angpak of South Philadelphia, Folk Art and Performance
Lela Aisha Jones of East Oak Lane, Performance and Folk Art
Maggie Eighteen of West Philadelphia, Literary Arts and Performance
Nancy Lewis-Shell of Crescentville, Crafts & Textiles and Visual Arts
Zaye Tete of Southwest Philadelphia, Music and Folk Art

“The awardees represented here fully embody Leeway’s mission, and paints such a vibrant picture of Greater Philadelphia,” says Denise Brown, Leeway’s Executive Director.  “The work they’ve done truly speaks to the vibrancy and resilience of our neighborhoods, and the creative lifeblood that flows through the region.”

A national panel of artists and organizers convened to review applications and work samples in two stages. The 2015 panel consisted of: graphic novelist and previous Transformation Award recipient Annie Mok (LTA ’14, ACG ’13); media artist and documentarian Portia Cobb; writer and performer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha; DJ and educator Lynnée Denise; and dancer Maria Bauman. Cultural organizer Omisade Burney-Scott, facilitated the second stage.

Applications are available on the Leeway website, and may also be obtained by calling 215.545.4078 or emailing info@leeway.org. The next Leeway Transformation Award deadline is May 15, 2016. Interested applicants should attend one of the many applicant support sessions held throughout the year, or schedule an appointment with a foundation staff member for one-on-one support.

Press inquiries should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.

Download 2015 LTA Press Release
Download 2015 LTA Artist Profiles
Download 2015 LTA Panelist Bios

Nadine Patterson and Frances McElroy’s Film Featured in Chestnut Hill Local

Image above: Amanda Smith is one of the talented black ballerinas who is going to have to face the fact that the world of classical ballet has a history of bias against talented back dancers spanning many decades.

Film explores racism in world of classical ballet

December 18, 2015
By Sue Ann Rybak, for Chestnut Hill Local

Mt. Airy resident Nadine Patterson, 50, is helping to produce a feature length documentary, “Black Ballerina,” which tells the stories of six African-American women from different generations and their struggle to pursue their love of ballet in the “overwhelming white world of classical dance.”

Patterson, an award winning independent writer, producer and director, said the documentary examines 60 years of ballet. In the film, which is still in progress, pioneers Joan Myers Brown, artistic and founding director of Phildanco, Delores Browne, who performed with the New York Negro Ballet Company in the 1950s, and Raven Wilkinson, the first African American woman to dance with the Russe de Monte Carlo Ballet Company, talk about the racism they confronted in pursuing their dreams of careers in classical dance in the 1950s.

Patterson, who is the outreach producer for the film, said Frances McElroy, producer and director of “Black Ballerina,” also interviewed three African American women in 2015 who are currently pursuing careers as ballerinas and asks them if “the color of ballet has changed.”

“It’s hard to be a ballerina regardless of race,” she said. “Only the creme de la creme make it.”

In the film, Joan Myers Brown, Delores Browne and Raven Wilkinson talk about the Civil Rights Movement and how it affected them at the time. “These women, who are now in their 80s, have a lot of insight to offer about what ballet was like in their day,” McElroy said. “Unfortunately, when they look at the field today, they realize it hasn’t really changed that much. When you see these images, you begin to understand that the discrimination they faced in the ballet world is the same underpinning that black people face across American Society today.”

Patterson, who co-owns Harmony Image Productions, a film production and media consulting company, with her mother Marlene Patterson, said the documentary is “beyond just ballet. People will find the film engaging even if they are not into dance. This is something that every parent will care about in terms of extracurricular activities, whether its football, basketball, drama club, gymnastics or ballet. The film shows how sports and the arts help people grow into mature, well-rounded human beings.

“If you really support your children in whatever they love to do, that can make a world of difference. If your child has an artistic interest, even if it doesn’t end up being part his/her career, it’s still a good thing. It’s a lifelong hobby or activity that brings them joy as a human being.”

Patterson, who grew up in Nicetown-Tioga and Historic Germantown, said that is only one component of the film. She said parents and community members must “push administrators, educators, managers, directors and producers in the arts to open up their doors to women and people of color. Talent is everywhere. Don’t exclude a whole field of talent because they don’t look like you. Everyone can participate in this art form. You don’t have to be a skinny white person to do this.

“It’s about opening people’s minds and expanding their horizons. Look at the possibilities, especially if a child really loves it. Support them 100 percent, and that goes across the scientific fields as well. So while the documentary is about ballet, it’s about life and our society. We just need to open the door and let them in.”

Discovering the hidden stories

Patterson, whose work includes “Anna Russell Jones: Praisesong for a Pioneering Spirit,” which won best documentary 1993 African American Women in the Arts Film/Video Competition in Chicago, IL, and “Moving with the Dreaming,” Prized Pieces award from the National Black Programming Consortium in 1997, said she tries “to uncover the hidden histories of people of African, Asian, Latin and Native American descent. There is a wealth of untold stories out there, and I really enjoy digging into them, doing the research, processing the narrative and creating something new and fresh in the film.”

Unfortunately, Patterson, who has taught video production for over 20 years, said it can take “anywhere between two and ten years to make a film. However, it is a collaborative artistic endeavor. It is second only to architectural in terms of expense, but when you are finished, you have a snapshot [of history].

“Even if you do a narrative, it’s still a documentary because you are documenting a time. This is how the people in 2015 in Philadelphia looked. This is how they sounded. This is the food that they ate. These were the buildings that were in existence at the time. To be able to capture that snapshot in a film is a really fascinating thing to do, and it feels good to be able to preserve history and culture in that way. That’s what I love about film, that I am preserving the past for the future.”

Patterson, who worked for 10 years as a contract producer/director for the School District of Philadelphia’s Cable Television Station, Channels 51 and 52, seeks to create works grounded in historical contexts with unique visual palettes. In 2001, she created “LoqueeshaAshleyFranklinJoseBrown” an experimental documentary about children living in Philadelphia.

“I wanted to show how our city that had enormous potential was in danger of losing that potential by neglecting a large part of our population, our children. There was a switch in the political environment in public education. The state was cutting funding to schools and berating educators and parents who were trying to support their children. I wanted to do a piece that showed teachers were engaging students in a positive way. The switch to privatizing schools was just starting in 2001. I wanted to show how the defunding of public infrastructure impacted our cities’ children and that it didn’t just affect the black or brown kids. It affected everybody.

“If you don’t have a society where equality and inclusion and diversity are the standard, then you will have a society where exclusion, isolation and lack of understanding are the norm,” she said. “How can you defund the future? It’s insane when you think about it. Why are we as society taking resources away from the most vulnerable. I also wanted to work with Ursula Rucker, who is a fantastic poet, singer and musician in her own right. At that time, she had two sons who were under 10 years of age. Ursula shared my concerns and agreed to collaborate with me on the piece.”

Patterson said when she told Lenny Seidman, who created music for the piece, that she was shooting a sequence on the Chestnut Hill West line, looking out on the city scape through the windows on the train line, Seidman created a track that had a very locomotive rhythm to it. “It was really a fascinating creative process working with musicians like Seidman to create something that was evolving and growing very organically,” she said.

Unfortunately, Patterson didn’t realize in 2001 that the problem was going to get even worse. She said instead of schools becoming more diverse – both racially, economically and socially – the racial and socio-economic divide has only widened. Philadelphia neighborhoods have “fewer schools, fewer teachers and fewer nurses.”

Through her work as a filmmaker, Patterson hopes to “open people’s minds” and enrich their lives by educating today’s audiences about the untold stories, the hidden stories. “The American Film Industry in Hollywood is so afraid of telling these stories,” Patterson said.

She said her job as a storyteller is to uncover the diamonds in the backyard. As in Temple University founder Russell H. Conwell’s famous speech, “Acres of Diamonds,” one has only to search to discover the riches in one’s own backyard.

For more information about Nadine Patterson, go to hipcinema.net/. For more information about Ballerina documentary or to make a donation, go to blackballerinadocumentary.org/. Contributions are tax deductible.

Read original article here. 

Camae Ayewa (LTA ‘15, ACG ‘07) featured in Fader Magazine

Meet Camae Defstar, The Philly Activist Channelling Her City's Pain Through Music

December 19, 2015
By Laurent Fintoni, for FADER Magazine

When Camae Defstar was a kid she would grab the broom in her Maryland home and pretend to be a musician, rocking out until the wood gave in. After getting her first acoustic guitar, she'd ask the kids in her neighborhood to “come make some punk shit” but only got confused looks in return. “I was always trying,” she remembers, speaking from her current home in North Philadelphia. That kid who wanted to rock was onto something—today Defstar is a poet, activist, and musician who gives voice to the unheard and imagines new futures for the descendants of slaves.

It all started in 2005 with the founding of the Mighty Paradocs, a few years after Defstar had moved to Philadelphia. A punk band born of an earlier duo with Rebecca Focus, Mighty Paradocs fused punk with hip-hop and a radical stance. The experience of Mighty Paradocs led Defstar and Focus to create ROCKERS! in 2007, an ongoing live music series and yearly festival in Philly that channels the political power of music—chosen acts “have to be saying something or trying to make their community stronger,” Defstar explains. It also acts as a genre-less showcase for alternative artists and marginalized voices: women, people of color, and the LGBT community. And then, three years ago, in December 2012, Defstar happened upon a different creative opportunity.

“The band took a lot of scheduling in order to get together and write new songs,” Defstar explains, “but electronic music was something you could set up in your house and just get ideas out.” Keen to harness her creative urges, Defstar created Moor Mother Goddess (MMGz), a solo project. From diverse sample sources—field recordings, speeches from activists and poets like Maya Angelou and Assata Shakur, and repurposed breakbeats—she fashions beats that straddle blues, punk, and hip-hop with whatever tools are available, be it an iPad app or a sampler. “I'm a product of my means,” she admits. “Whatever I’m able to use, it’s what I make music with.”

MMGz's music is deliberately raw and unfiltered, like human feelings. A central focus of the project is history and memory. A substitute teacher, varsity basketball coach, and advocate for marginalized women during the day, Defstar also runs community workshops, including one where she invites people to visit spaces loaded with a history of violence or protest. “Places with true stories, neighborhoods with crazy sci-fi shit going down. We go there and I try to feel what has happened because it's still in that space, it doesn’t go away. And I create from that,” she explains. She also studies history, such as how people have made “music with nothing” through the ages. One particular interest is in the old chain gang songs of prisoners. “The music can be so rich,” she enthuses. “Like they have someone directing them in the dirt.”

The common link between Defstar's punk past and her electronic present is the need to voice the frustration she feels at the state of the world. The samples are “sad and angry,” the lyrics about being pissed off, the mood similar to the “old southern wails and cries” of her African Methodist background. “There's so much pain here in Philly, it's hard not to express it,” she tells me. “Or growing up in public housing in the sticks. Or the shit my family is going through. It’s the only thing I have to say right now.” Then she catches herself and adds, with a smile, “I like love too, and shit like that, but the frustration is what this music is about.”

In the summer of 2014, Defstar took yet another turn in her creative path, this time towards a more meditative approach. She met Rasheedah Phillips, creative director of The Afrofuturist Affair—a community project that celebrates black science fiction culture—and together they formed Black Quantum Futurism, an artistic and literary collaboration. Where MMGz can be sad and angry, BQF is thoughtful and restrained. The music is still heavy with samples but it's more defined, sitting somewhere between the bass-heavy beats of Los Angeles' Ras G and the electronic soundscapes of King Britt, one of Philly's most lauded modern producers and an early champion of Defstar. Against this backdrop, the words and ideas of Phillips, Defstar, and other thinkers interested in manipulating space-time narrate new possibilities. “We're into the idea of time traveling with sound,” she explains. “We focus on the quantum physics side of Afrofuturism to try and create a new practice, a new scientific theory. Like opening a door to dream.”

Black Quantum Futurism launched with a handbook in February 2015, combined with soundscapes by Defstar. A second volume is due in early 2016, this time dealing with “slave time from the Congo to the Carolinas” and the journeys involved. BQF installations are also scheduled for Chicago and New York City in the first half of the year. These act as a makeshift live show for the project by combining performance reading, sounds, and visual elements that relate to BQF's interest in manipulating time, such as mirrors which Defstar calls “a form of time travel.”

Having busied herself in the Philadelphia underground and communities for more than a decade, Defstar took her first trip to Europe this past October for a string of shows in the UK and The Netherlands, showcasing all the sides of her creativity. In Rotterdam, she joined King Britt at the Afrofuturism Now! festival, taking part in the premiere of Britt's new piece about police brutality, called “To Unprotect And Subserve.” Speaking over the phone, Britt recalled the first time he saw Defstar perform: “The intensity, passion, and truth she resonated blew me away. I've been a fan since. She's made me rethink my approach.” Regardless of genre, scene, or practice, it is Defstar's ability to speak truth to what she sees and feels that resonates loudest. During a performance at the Girls Rock! summer camp in Pittsburgh this past August, Defstar was interrupted by a young girl who spoke truth back to her: “You do this because you care!”

Read original article here. 

Remembering Grace Lee Boggs

Leeway mourns the loss of activist and philosopher, Grace Lee Boggs, who died on October 5, 2015 at 100 years old. Grace's belief that "Creativity is the key to unlock human liberation,” is at the essence of our work. Watch a message from Grace at REVOLVE: 2013 Art for Social Change Symposium, and read the essay below about Grace written by Executive Director Denise Brown from our 2011 Artist Book.

The Best Way to Learn

Denise M. Brown
Philadelphia, 2012

“When artists make art for art’s sake, or to tell their personal story, that is already important. But it is even more powerful when combined with creating change in their lives and the lives of their communities.”

— Ill “Invincible” Weaver

Some people think about fantasy sports teams or dinner parties; at Leeway we fantasize about peer review panels. You might think that strange, but we think of our work in the context of building community and have an ever-expanding list of artists, cultural producers, and organizers we would like to join in our process and become part of our extended community. Though the cultural, geographic, and political context may vary for each potential panelist, we always ask ourselves: Is this an artist/cultural producer whose practice is borne out of a clear intention? Are they prepared to articulate their analysis and infuse what (we hope) is a lively and inspiring conversation about art, culture, social change, and transformation with their point of view? Do they have the capacity to remain open to other experiences and new learning? And not least to consider: Who do we want to hang out with?

One name we carry on that list is author, philosopher, community organizer, and activist Grace Lee Boggs, even as we realize that the possibility becomes more remote since travel has become more challenging for her at age 97. In spite of that, she holds a very prominent place on our fantasy panel. By every measure, Grace is someone whose life is an exemplar of the kind of experience, intention, and perspective we want in the room. Through her lifelong commitment to community building, from the early days of the civil rights movement to her participation in the 20-year-old intergenerational, multiracial community movement and organizing project Detroit Summer, she continues to plant seeds and inspire issue-based community and cultural organizing. Of the project she has said: “We wanted to engage young people in community-building activities: planting community gardens, recycling waste, organizing neighborhood arts and health festivals, rehabbing houses, painting public murals. Encouraging them to exercise their Soul Power would get their cognitive juices flowing. Learning would come from practice, which has always been the best way to learn.”

This year’s guest essayist and 2008 Leeway Transformation Award panelist, Ill “Invincible” Weaver, has participated in Detroit Summer for over a decade. In their piece “I Refuse to Choose” on page 6, she speaks about the dichotomy that often faces artist/organizers. As they put it, “… almost everywhere I turn I am being asked, more like forced, to choose between my creative practice and my community work.” Their work with Detroit Summer appears to have provided a “third” way by embracing and encouraging their practices, creative and activist, resulting in an exciting body of work that expresses all that they are.

Like Invincible, at Leeway we believe these are false dichotomies; one doesn’t have to choose between advocating and educating, or healing and energizing, or transforming and metamorphosing. Utilizing all the parts of ourselves — our fierceness … our kindness … our creativity — is essential to our well-being and the expression of our humanity, so it follows that engaging with all parts of our community is essential to its health and evolution.

In 2011, Leeway gave $267,500 to artists and cultural producers working for their communities. Eleven artists received the Leeway Transformation Award in recognition of their commitment to a practice engaged with the creation of art and culture for social change. Another 53 received the project-based Art and Change Grant. The disciplines practiced by these change agents crossed all mediums and media, from puppets and stop-motion animation to the pre-Columbian symbols of Mesoamerican culture, from a reclaiming of spiritual practices through performance and song to the use of memoir as an act of consciousness raising. Projects took as their focus matters real and present in the daily lives of the artists and their communities, like displacement and community accountability, consumerism, immigration and the impact of nativism, homelessness, identity and belonging, documenting queer and/or trans histories, or speaking for murder victims by connecting a spirit to a statistic.

Many thanks to Leeway’s board and staff for all the energy and goodwill they bring to the work of the foundation. To our allies, colleagues, and partners in the field and on the ground, we look forward to deepening our connections and creating an ever-expanding community of those interested in the synergies between creativity and community, and art and change.

I do believe we learn through practice, particularly when the desire to learn is borne out of equal measures of passion and curiosity. The artists who participate in Leeway’s programs are engaged in an iterative process that begins with them claiming their practice and taking action to create change. They do this in distinctive ways, on different scales, but one thing is common in all cases — they have found and forged relationships with others and are building communities anew to achieve a shared vision. Or as Grace puts it: “We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously."

It begins from the seed of a clear intention and gets articulated through the practice. Practice, as we know, being the best way to learn — first repetition, then mastery, then innovation. And again

Image: Wikipedia


Leeway Foundation Announces Fall 2015 Art and Change Grantees

The Leeway Foundation recently announced $67,500 in grants to 28 women and trans* artists and cultural producers in Greater Philadelphia, supporting their work to address a range of social change issues.

Leeway’s Art and Change Grant provides project-based funds of up to $2,500 to women and trans artists and cultural producers who: propose a project that impact a larger group, audience or community; have financial need; and live in the Delaware Valley area. The grant supports artists practicing a variety of disciplines including performance, crafts and textiles, and visual arts.

The following 28 artists were awarded grants (in alphabetical order):

Allison McDaniel, Fishtown, Visual Arts
Ana B. Hernandez, West Philadelphia, Crafts & Textiles/Visual Arts
Betty Lawrence, Visual Arts, Overbrook Farms
Byheijja Sabree, Camden, Performance/Folk Art
Carman Spoto, Pennsport, Media Arts/Visual Arts
Cleonice Fonseca, Germantown Folk, Art/Performance
Debra Powell-Wright, Aldan of Delaware County, Literary Arts
Elizabeth Hamilton, Northeast Philadelphia, Visual Arts
Erika Guadalupe Nunez, West Philadelphia, Visual Arts
Erin Bernard, South Philadelphia, Multi-Disciplinary
Faith Bartley, North Philadelphia, Multi-Disciplinary
Fran Harmoni, Frankford, Media Arts/Folk Art
Grey Nebraska, University City, Literary Arts/Media Arts
Jennifer Kidwell, Fishtown, Performance
Judith Sachs, Queen Village, Performance
Linda Fernandez and Anne Harrison, South Philadelphia, Crafts & Textiles/Visual Arts
Lisa Nelson-Haynes, Lansdowne of Delaware County, Media Arts
Marie Nyenbo, Southwest Philadelphia, Music/Folk Art
Mary DeWitt, Media of Delaware County, Visual Arts/Media Arts
Mir Masud-Elias, West Philadelphia, Multi-Disciplinary
Monnette Sudler-Honesty, Germantown, Music
Nimisha Ladva, Wynnewood of Montgomery County, Performance/Literary Arts
Sarah Alderman, Unionville of Chester County, Media Arts/Crafts & Textiles
Sarah Green, West Philadelphia, Visual Arts
Sarah Mitteldorf, East Falls, Performance
Tara Burk, Washington Square West, Visual Arts/Literary Arts
Yvonne Lung, Chinatown, Multi-Disciplinary

Art and Change Grants are distributed twice a year and evaluated by an independent peer review panel.  The August 2015 review panel consisted of healing justice artist Qui Dorian (ACG '14), quilter and doll maker Ra’sheedah Bey (LTA '10), and filmmaker Wazmah Osman. Aarati Kasturirangan, director of programs at Bread and Roses Community Fund, facilitated the panel.

Applications are made available on the Leeway website, and may also be obtained by calling 215.545.4078 or emailing info@leeway.org. Potential applicants are encouraged to attend one of the many support sessions offered throughout the year, or schedule an appointment with a staff member for one-on-one support. The next Art and Change Grant deadline is March 1, 2016.

Press inquiries and photo requests should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.


The Leeway Foundation supports women and transgender artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change. Through our grantmaking and other programs we promote artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins, promotes sustainable and healthy communities, and works in the service of movements for economic and social justice. For more information about Leeway, its grant programs, grantees and events, visit www.leeway.org.




Download Fall 2015 ACG Press Release


Download 2015 ACG Panelist Bios



Michelle Angela Ortiz featured in Hyperallergic magazine

Public Art in Philadelphia Tells the Stories of the Undocumented

by Claire Voon for Hyperallergic
October 16, 2015

Throughout Philadelphia, for the rest of the month, one may now stumble upon and listen to the stories of undocumented families whose lives were affected by deportations. Since September, a small number of large-scale public artworks based on these real-life narratives have been popping up around the city, created by artist Michelle Angela Ortiz. Part of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s Open Source project, Ortiz’s “Familias Separadas” (Separated Families) shares the stories of five families the Philadelphia-based muralist interviewed through five corresponding works, planted at five different locations. Ortiz installed the fourth yesterday and will unveil the final work some time next week.

The works are based off personal conversations Ortiz had over a year and a half with undocumented families, working in partnership with Juntos, a Latino immigrant community-led organization advocating for immigrant rights. The talks specifically recall the moments family members were deported followed by individuals’ descriptions of how their lives changed after a relative or they themselves were deported. A phone number also accompanies each piece; after dialing it, viewers will hear the audio recording of the represented story — which are available online on Ortiz’s blog as well; people may also leave their own messages, perhaps sharing their personal stories of deportation.

Michelle Angela Ortiz, "Familias Separadas/ Se Siente el Miedo" (2015) (photo by the artist) (click to enlarge)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, “Familias Separadas/ Se Siente el Miedo” (2015) (photo by the artist) (click to enlarge)

“I wanted to shift the focus from the statistics and numbers of people that have been deported and have others see the individual father, mother, or brother who has been torn apart from their families,” Ortiz said. “The temporary image that will eventually fade reflects the fading presence of the person who has been deported. I want to bring the stories of the deported back to the places where they worked, dreamed, and loved, and I want others to see the humanity that lies there.”

On Monday, Ortiz painted a large stencil of the slogan “WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS, RISKING OUR LIVES, FOR OUR FAMILIES & OUR FUTURE” in front of the US office for Immigration Review, aided by over 30 volunteers and community members from Juntos. The words form a quote by Ana, an undocumented immigrant mother who was initially forced to return with her daughter to their native Guatemala. In her interview, she recalls a chilling visit at 3am by two immigration officials who ordered her to leave her detention center, where she had lived for almost a year. A judge recently deemed the decision unjust, allowing them to return to the United States; Ana’s words now border the building where decisions to deport immigrants are made.

Other sites Ortiz has chosen include City Hall, where she painted for her first project a large compass enclosing a portrait of a family still divided today; and the city’s JFK Plaza (also known as Love Park for its Robert Indiana sculpture), where she has represented a gold necklace one immigrant mother wears to remember her daughter she was forced to leave. Even if the works are temporary, their location at such heavily visited sites ensures that many will hear the stories that express experiences familiar to only select communities.

“Philadelphia is a sanctuary for immigrants, and honoring their contributions to the growth of the city is crucial, especially during the current national anti-immigrant climate,” Ortiz said. “For these reasons, this project is important because it offers a platform to tell the stories of our undocumented immigrant communities that are often unheard in our city.”

Ortiz has not yet revealed the fifth and final work, which will appear next week in South Philadelphia near Dickinson Square Park, but it will tell the story of a woman who suffered domestic violence and is still today separated from her children.

Michelle Angela Ortiz, "Eres Mi Todo (You Are My Everything)" (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, “Eres Mi Todo (You Are My Everything)” (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, "Te Amo (I Love You)" (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik, all photos courtesy the artist)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, “Te Amo (I Love You)” (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, "Eres Mi Todo (You Are My Everything)" (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, “Eres Mi Todo (You Are My Everything)” (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, "Eres Mi Todo (You Are My Everything)" (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, “Eres Mi Todo (You Are My Everything)” (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, "Te Amo (I Love You)" (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik)

Michelle Angela Ortiz, “Te Amo (I Love You)” (2015) (photo by Steve Weinik)

Volunteers and community members from Juntos help place "Somos Seres Humanos (We Are Human Beings)" on October 12 (photo by Jose Mazareigos)

Volunteers and community members from Juntos help place “Somos Seres Humanos (We Are Human Beings)” on October 12 (photo by Jose Mazareigos)

Volunteers and community members from Juntos help place "Somos Seres Humanos (We Are Human Beings)" on October 12 (photo by Jose Mazareigos)

Volunteers and community members from Juntos help place “Somos Seres Humanos (We Are Human Beings)” on October 12 (photo by Jose Mazareigos)

Volunteers and community members from Juntos help place "Somos Seres Humanos (We Are Human Beings)" on October 12 (photo by Jose Mazareigos)

Volunteers and community members from Juntos help place “Somos Seres Humanos (We Are Human Beings)” on October 12 (photo by Jose Mazareigos)

Familias Separadas continues through the end of October at select sites around Philadelphia. 

Read original article here. 

Nicole Bindler writes for Thinking Dance


by Nicole Bindler
October 9, 2015

In June 2015 I traveled to Bethlehem, Palestine to make an evening length dance with three young dancers from Diyar Dance Theater, a Dabke company. I was invited by the director, Rami Khader to make a new piece with them about their experiences as women living in the occupied West Bank. What follows are excerpts from my writing about our rehearsal process, the challenges we faced and the questions that arose about cross-cultural collaboration. This piece is also a document of what I observed crossing checkpoints and borders, the prison-like conditions that Palestinians face and how it affects them on a bodily level.

At the studio I meet the three young dancers who I’ll be working with: Hala Abusada, age 23; Dima Awad, age 18; and Christy Daboub, age 16. I ask them questions about their lives as women in Palestine and the conversation is stilted. They report that there is nothing extraordinary about their experience as women: there are fewer opportunities for women than men in Palestine, as is the case everywhere. Of course men speak over them and don’t respect their opinions. Men do that everywhere.
I let go of the conversation and guide them through a contact improvisation leading/following exercise where the follower moves with eyes closed. Afterward they report that moving with eyes closed feels very relaxing, but that the role of the leader is challenging for them. I want to investigate the role of the leader more. Why is it difficult for them to direct?
I ask them to create a monologue about a time when something didn’t go their way. They practice both in Arabic and English because they will be expected to speak both languages depending on where they are performing. I have them perform their monologues simultaneously with movement phrases they have created.
Dima tells a story—as she swings her arms from side to side and bends her legs into a deep second position plié—about how she was humiliated at a checkpoint. She was forced to go through the metal detector multiple times while a soldier interrogated her about whether she was wearing an underwire bra. As compelling as this story is, Dima feels hesitant to perform it onstage. The women can’t even find a socially acceptable word for bra in Arabic that could be said in mixed company. I feel frustrated that we must let go of such rich material because of cultural conventions, but in this collaborative process the dancers must approve of all the material.
Hala tells a story about when she bought a pair of shoes especially for a trip to the U.S. When she arrived she took them out of the box and discovered that they were both right-footed shoes. Hala practices ballet and she performs the story while in relevé, sternum held high. The juxtaposition of her elegance and the awkwardness of the anecdote is captivating. She agrees to perform this and I plan to buy her two right-footed shoes.
When the director Rami and I go to purchase the two right shoes for Hala, we run into his brother-in-law, who insists we come into his clothing store to have orange juice. He gives me mango juice instead, which I’m allergic to, so he runs to the store to get orange juice. The hospitality here is delightful and unnerving. We miss an appointment and Rami is late to pick up his daughter from daycare.
I walk through the streets recording the noise of the city for the sound score. We visit the wall.
Banksy’s murals were originally created in solidarity with the Palestinian people, but they have become a tourist destination with prints for sale. Rami describes this as an act of resistance turned into a commodity.
Here is an original Bansky mural framed inside a souvenir shop.

Rami shows me his favorite mural, a powerful piece created by Palestinians. He’s disappointed that it’s not framed like Banksy’s art, but instead relegated to a trash dump.

Rami and I discuss his work at Diyar and he tells me that much of his time is spent fundraising. International funding for projects in Palestine have enabled a growing middle class to have seemingly normal lives with cars, mortgages, and private school education for their kids (minus freedom of movement.) But this current economy is precarious because it relies so heavily on aid and project-based funding. Plus, much of the energy that was previously spent on resisting the occupation is now spent fundraising for humanitarian projects that actually require the occupation to exist. Rami confides that in essence, the NGO economy creates conditions where some Palestinians have accepted the status quo and are simply working to survive under the current apartheid situation. Rami says he doesn’t believe that resistance and participating in this NGO economy are mutually exclusive. Diyar’s work resists the occupation by maintaining Palestinian art, which is endangered due to cultural  appropriation and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. But it’s sometimes difficult for Rami to keep his eye on the prize when he’s swimming in a sea of paperwork.
I ask the dancers to help me brainstorm some iconic and omnipresent images in Palestine which we could use in tableaus:
Handala by Naji Al-Ali
Camel of Hardships by Sliman Mansour
Faris Odeh throwing stones
Palestinian loss of land
Palestinians (most often men) flashing V for victory
Palestinian Keffiyeh
Banksy images on the wall
Parkour in Gaza
Christy shows us an image of unknown origin that she found on Facebook of a woman playing a violin among soldiers with guns. She suggests that instead of throwing a rock like Faris Odeh, or a bouquet like the Banksy image, that she throw a violin.

I work with Hala and Dima on an intimate scene where they braid each other’s hair and discuss the nonexistence of professional dance opportunities in Palestine. While it’s difficult to choose dance anywhere, there are no dance jobs at all in Bethlehem, so they have both chosen alternate career paths. It’s painful to hear their disappointment. Dima had wanted to study dance in the U.S. and I had tried to get her a scholarship to a Philadelphia university but was unable to get her the full award. Instead she’s going to Birzeit in Ramallah this fall to study nutrition.
I spend the day working on the sound score. I integrate the Arab music we’re using in rehearsal with my field recordings from the Bethlehem market, downloaded sounds of fighter jets, the sea, and war exercises. I take a break and walk to Bethlehem from Beit Sahour. At a bustling traffic circle I have a hard time figuring out how to cross the street. A man in a truck stops and says to me in English: “Do you need help?”
On my way home I see a car in a tree.

Rami gathers rocks from the rubble that can be found on the side of every road, and we use them to create a map of Palestinian cities. It is sad and chilling to watch the women name the cities in Arabic that now exist across the  Green Line under Israeli names.
Dima creates a new monologue about how a man in her community recently told her it’s not okay for her to wear a tank top. She points to her t-shirt and says: “Why is this ok?” then pulls the sleeve up to reveal her shoulder: “And this is not ok?”
The dancers are confused about why they’re speaking about seemingly unrelated things as they dance. I tell them about the surrealists, the concept of juxtaposition and show them this image by Hans Hemmert, that beautifully illustrates counterpoint.
Rami has invited me here to instill in the company new practices and ideas. He wants us to make a provocative, feminist work together. I want to gently prod the women toward the unknown but also learn from them and maintain a safe space. They are accustomed to hierarchical structures where the choreographer tells them exactly what to do. That is what feels familiar and safe. I am asking them to develop the dance with me based on their interests, goals, and dreams. I sometimes feel that I am foisting a collaborative process onto them and wonder if there is a tyranny to this strange democracy I’m proposing.
We play sounds of the Israeli military ordering people home as the dancers perform the tableaus of iconic Palestinian images. Then we add the sound of fighter jets to the hair braiding section. As they perform these sections, the women begin to recognize juxtaposition as a powerful tool to illustrate the simultaneous banality and terror in their lives.
We create a new section with sea sounds and water bowls at the edge of the Palestine they have created with rocks. They dabble their fingers in the bowls and travel to the Mediterranean in their minds. They have all been there (only an hour away) just a few times. They tell me they were unable to relax because they felt like foreigners in their own home.
I’m headed to Jerusalem. At a checkpoint there are 100 people waiting to get through a single turnstile that unlocks with a green light about once every five minutes. The crowd swarms around the turnstile. There’s no line, no order, and people argue about whose trip is more urgent. The Palestinian travelers, some of whom are commuting workers and many of whom are going to pray at the mosque for Ramadan, turn against one another in this senseless, sadistic human experiment. When the crowd becomes rowdy, a soldier with a machine gun runs out on a catwalk above to yell menacingly. Many people turn around and decide to go home.
Hala stands in the middle of the rock-map of Palestine and charts the cities on her body. She suggests she name destroyed villages instead of existing cities, but we realize we have to find out their names and locations because we only know of a few. Rami laments that many Palestinians have forgotten the names of the villages destroyed in 1948.
I receive a Jewish Currents article from a friend. I learn that one of my dance heroines, Liz Lerman, created a  dance similar to Hala’s solo for Israel’s 50th anniversary, but instead of destroyed Palestinian villages, she names Israeli cities. On her website it describes her piece: “In one of the piece's most striking segments, Lerman invites the audience to imagine that her body is the map of Israel, using text and movement to literally and figuratively demarcate the state's contentious borders and boundaries. Pointing to her forehead, she locates Haifa, and uses her hands to draw a line from her feet up past her head to represent the sprawl of resorts in Eilat...”
I have lunch with Basem Sbaih from  Badil, an organization that advocates for Palestinian refugees. He spends an hour pouring over pre-1948 maps to help me find the names and locations for Hala’s monologue. 

He takes me to Beit Jala and points to  Al Walaje, a village on a hill to the right of us that is surrounded by settlements and is entirely enclosed by the wall. Inhabitants must use a special permit to enter and use a single road to access their town. They are cut off from their neighboring communities and their families there who are not allowed to visit them. There is one doubly imprisoned family from the village whose house lies outside of the wall. It is too expensive to man a checkpoint at the wall for a single house so the Israeli government has come up with an absurd solution. They are building a tunnel from Al Walaje center under the wall to the home and surrounding it with an electrified fence so that the tunnel is the only way in or out and the family is caged in like cattle..

We have our first rehearsal in the theater and spend the whole time mapping out the space. This dance uses the whole stage space, including the edges of the back curtain, the lip of the stage and all four corners. Sometimes the dancers creep toward center, as if the edges are an unpleasant place.
I bring up the idea that if we’re telling the story of the marginalization of Palestinian women, we need to use the margins of the stage space. There are often activities in the center, but what’s interesting is how those activities relate to what’s happening at the periphery. How can we bring what and who exists at the margins into the light?
Two hundred people show up to see the performance on a Wednesday night during Ramadan, which is a great turnout. The trio dances beautifully, yet I see how the piece is still unfinished. The poignancy of the grief about land loss and yearning for the sea is cut short by an upbeat ending that needs more explanation. But how can we expect to have a finished work in three weeks? Even though the piece needs some filling out with content, the dancers fill in the holes with their convincing and committed performances. They are in it.
At the Q&A members of the audience want to understand what all the images mean. Why are the dancers naming rocks as cities? Why are there water bowls? Is that supposed to be the sea or does it represent water scarcity? Why do so many of the scenes repeat with different music? Why is there so much stillness and silence? Many of them have never seen nonlinear performance before and I wish we had given them more of a way in, to allow the images to wash over them, to have multiple interpretations and to not worry about “getting it.”
We celebrate our achievement over ice cream and hold on to the positive response we received from several women in the audience who said they saw their feelings and experience reflected back to them from the stage.

Rami and I have an evaluation conversation at a cafe near my apartment. We want to develop the piece further and create some audience engagement activities so that it can be contextualized for either Middle Eastern or Western audiences. We brainstorm curtain speeches and conversation starters for Middle Eastern audiences who may have not been exposed to Western concert dance. We get excited about educational programming that could support the dance in the U.S. and Europe. We want to hold Dabke classes and lectures on Palestinian culture, its history, and how it is appropriated. We come up with a preliminary plan for fundraising and touring.
We say goodbye, certain that this is just the beginning, and I head back to Tel Aviv. The bus is full and we are stopped at the checkpoint and forced off the bus for inspection. We wait in the noonday sun next to the hot exhaust of the idling bus. It takes the Israeli soldiers 30 minutes to inspect the bus and our IDs. When I get back on the bus my skin is tender and red.
I arrive in Tel Aviv that afternoon and spend the evening with the parents of an Israeli friend. They give me a purse to remember Israel.


It looks just like the purse the dancers gave me to remember Palestine.


Read original article here. 

Betsy Casañas’ Mission Unites Art and Activism

Written by A.M. Weaver for The Philadelphia Inquirer
August 6, 2015

Betsy Casañas' Mission Unites Art and Activism

Betsy Casañas is an artist on the move. When she isn't zooming around the city from her A Seed on Diamond Gallery in Kensington to social events in Southwest Philadelphia, she's jetting to Peru or Dubai.

The 40-year-old muralist, educator, and activist thrives on engaging communities, wherever that takes her, and telling their stories, her mission for the last 20 years.

"Murals are a starting place," Casañas said. "They provide the opportunity to transform spaces, and, in particular, take back spaces for underserved communities. Art is a necessity for life."

On Front Street between Allegheny and Westmoreland is a block-long mural by Casañas titled Aqui Se Respira Lucha(Here We Breathe Struggle) that chronicles the history of Latin people. The intensely patterned motif with two monumental figures in a warm embrace, possibly a mother and daughter, graces the Asociación de Puertorriqueños en Marcha building. "It Has to Come From Here, Forgotten but Unshaken," a quote from the Julia DeBurgos poem "Farewell From Welfare Island," frames the underlying context of Casañas' powerful imagery.

Casañas, whose family is from Puerto Rico, was born and raised in North Philadelphia. Last year, she received the Hispanic Choice Vision Award as artist of the year for her dedication to improving communities and empowering their residents through her artwork and community gardens. Casañas' first garden, Semilla Arts Initiative Children's Garden, is now a landmark at Fourth and Somerset Streets in North Philadelphia.

"There are not a lot of art venues in the North Philly area, and Betsy's gallery gives access," said David Acosta, a local poet and arts activist. "She had the vision and foresight to put it together to help improve the community. She is someone who is connected to North Philly, and her life reflects that connection."

Casañas says her goal is to get people, young and old, actually working on art projects.

"I'll go into any neighborhood, and work in some that are dangerous; I feel that there is a need for that," Casañas said. "I'm not afraid, but there is an element of violence in the streets based on a combination of things, such as the lack of resources in the community and the school system [that] does not truly serve inner-city kids. The impetus for working in the neighborhood is a desire to facilitate change. I wanted to help create a community where my own children can live and thrive."

Casañas started out as an educator working with young people before attending Moore College of Art at age 19, and it is through this prism that her activism grew.

"CHAD [Charter High School for Art and Design] was a mural studio/workshop for me, so every year my groups assisted me in creating murals," she said. "They learned about everything from life drawing, portraiture to color theory." She also invited artists from diverse disciplines to work with the students.

Her most important lesson for her students was for them to understand how they could change their environment using very simple approaches. She conveyed to them that "your community is more than your bedroom." She emphasized basic concepts like "keeping the community clean and working to make it beautiful."

Despite her hardly imposing 5-foot-2 frame, "I never had discipline problems," she said. "The students were exceptional."

Casañas also worked for more than 20 years with Network Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and has taken her work overseas, creating murals in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and several cities in Peru.

Casañas' invitation to Dubai came from Lebanese mother Ghia Haddad, who during a trip to Philadelphia in 2012 took a tour of the city's murals. She hoped to launch a "Be" campaign in her city and invited Casañas to create a mural for her project because of the artist's collage techniques and work with children in making large-scale murals.

Though Casañas didn't work with an underserved community in Dubai, she did talk with a local parent-teacher group of her experiences working with communities in Philadelphia. And she managed to produce two murals in 14 days, which she unveiled during a repeat visit four months later.

In 2013, Casañas shared her communal approach to murals with residents in Peru, including in the cities of Cuzco, Piura, and Lima. The invitation was arranged by Monica Rodrigo, a Peruvian board member of Raices Culturales in North Philadelphia who had heard about Casañas' work in Dubai.

Casañas worked directly with the indigenous populations as she traveled through the hills of Cero Agustino in Lima. "I really connected with the people," she recalled. "You had to finish your work by five o'clock in the evening, because it became really dangerous [at night]. The Lima community was riveted with issues of alcohol abuse, domestic problems, and violence." Casañas' work was seen as a vehicle to facilitate change within the community. She worked in tandem with educators, Jesuit community workers, adults, and teenagers.

Challenges endemic in Latin communities throughout the United States and the Americas in general are of particular concern to Casañas.

Her A Seed on Diamond Gallery was an outgrowth of the collective Semilla, initiated in 2007 with Philadelphia artist Pete Ospina; the gallery opened in 2010. A recent project is "Las Desaparecidas de Ciudad Juárez: A Homage to the Missing and Murdered Girls of Juarez," featuring the work of Diane Kahlo. The portraits painted from 150 photographs of missing and murdered girls are a stark reminder of the murders of women not only in Mexico, but all over the world.

And Casañas takes on the recent horror of the murdered and missing students in Ayotzinapa Guerrero, Mexico. She is working to secure funding for a series of murals to be created in various parts of the city to honor the lives of these students, transforming their anonymity to heralded presences.

For now, she continues to grow deep connections between artists and activism in her gallery. And she shows no signs of slowing down.

"Casañas is extraordinary and energetic," says Thora Jacobson, executive director of the Art Alliance. "She is ultimately an artist who makes it happen."

Read the original article.

Image credit: Michael Bryant

Grantee Recap from the Allied Media Conference in Detroit

By Lynda G. Black 
Summer 2015

As an artist, does my work exploit another person's experience? Am I taking advantage of someone’s misfortune for my own gain?

These questions and more remain with me after attending the Allied Media Conference 2015, an amazing forum for media makers engaged in social justice. The four-day event, which was held in Detroit, MI in June, brought together an incredible mass of over 2,000 people to share their work, teach, and collaborate with others about effective social justice strategies.   

My interest led me to sessions about storytelling and story-sharing. In one such session, a presenter discussed her experience completing her organization’s grant application, which included an anecdote from a local community member. “I give you my story. Now, what do I get in return?” that same community member asked her. The admonishment forced her to revisit her process. Another presenter recited a comment someone made to her during a community meeting. “They only discriminate when they get your story.”

I rarely use names or detailed stories to accompany my fiber work. It’s mostly a few sentences inspired by a stranger or a prominent news story – as in the case of the frequent police brutality events. I never connected their lost with my gain.

As artists, stories are often a profound source of inspiration, a part of our process. And, of course, stories are its own art form. Sometimes they are intended for grant applications. Whatever their use, they can be a powerful tool for connecting, healing and conveying ideas. And more of us are recognizing the power of the medium and using it.

So if we use stories in our work or if they are our work, here a few questions we might want to consider.

Am I being ethical in storytelling and story-sharing?
As artists, how do we make the story process or our use of stories more democratic?
How does one create trust when “mining” a story?
As artists engaged in social change, are we remembering and giving back to the people that inspired our movement and from whom we may have capitalized? Should we?
What challenges do I experience when I engage in storytelling and story-sharing?

Maybe some of these questions apply to you. If so, let’s talk about it.

Building Equity and Inclusion by Assessing Demographic Data: Two Case Studies

Building Equity and Inclusion by Assessing Demographic Data: Two Case Studies

Denise Brown and Judi Jennings 
Summer 2015

Judi Jennings and Denise M. Brown

With the much needed and welcomed national attention now being given to equity in arts and cultural funding, there is growing discussion — and debate — about the importance of collecting, analyzing, and reporting demographic data relating to grantmaking. The Grantmakers in the Arts Statement of Purpose on Racial Equity in Arts Philanthropy recommends advocating for research and data collection that accurately represents the demographics served by and serving in arts organizations and foundations. In fall 2014, D5, a five-year coalition to advance philanthropy’s diversity, equity, and inclusion, announced a partnership with GuideStar to help set standards for how data about diversity within the nonprofit sector is collected. The Cultural Data Project is currently seeking to expand nationally and released a new report in April 2015 calling for fostering a culture that values data to improve the effectiveness of the art and culture sector.

All of these are worthy and important goals, but demographic data collection and analysis are not always easy or comfortable for arts and culture funders to do. Paying attention to the demographic dimensions of grantmaking goes to the heart of the complex relationships between grantmaker and grant recipients. It calls into question some deeply held ideas about privacy and legality. It raises the specter of resistance to providing such information on the part of grantseekers and raises doubts by some grantmakers about the accuracy of the information provided. Most of all, collecting and assessing demographic information pivot on establishing trust between grantmakers and grantseekers.

In summer 2014, as leaders of two foundations with similar missions operating in very different contexts, we presented case studies about the foundations’ history, values, and practices relating to demographic data collection at a meeting of the Grantmakers in the Arts Racial Equity Learning Community at the Ford Foundation in New York City. Our presentations sparked a wide range of questions, comments, and reactions among our colleagues. We followed up by distributing more information about each foundation’s grant review processes and assessment practices to the Learning Community and talking to each other in more depth about the two foundations’ similarities and differences.

Shortly before his retirement, Tommer Peterson asked us to write up our case studies to offer inspiration, information, and new questions to consider to arts and culture grantmakers large and small across the United States. Since then, Judi Jennings has also retired, so here she presents information about the Kentucky Foundation for Women as it was in June 2014. We hope these case studies further the fostering of a culture that values collecting demographic data as core to equitable grantmaking and raise interesting questions about what we need to collect, who we are collecting it for, and how the ways we go about collecting data can affect the communities we serve.

The Kentucky Foundation for Women (KFW), founded by Sallie Bingham in 1985, is a private independent foundation supporting feminist art that advances social change throughout the state. Bingham is a contemporary and colleague of Gloria Steinem, and KFW is part of the women’s funding movement that includes the establishment of the Ms. Foundation for Women in 1973 and the first conference of the Women’s Funding Network in 1985. KFW did and continues to surprise those living outside Kentucky because of its focus on feminist art. Yet it did and continues to surprise those living inside Kentucky even more by having a statewide focus.

Kentucky is marked by sharply different geographies stretching from the coalfields of Appalachia in the east to cotton farms along the Mississippi River in the west. Almost the entire northern boundary of the state is shaped by the curving and dipping of the Ohio River as it meanders from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cairo, Illinois. The long, flat boundary that divides Kentucky from Tennessee in the south is more like the surveyor-straight lines marking off the old Northwest Territory.

In thinking about collecting demographic data, it is critically important to be aware of what story you are telling with the numbers and what questions the numbers might raise implicitly or explicitly. Here Jennings describes KFW’s context by the numbers because so many stories, true and false, are told in the media about Kentucky with little or no documentation. In 1985, when KFW was founded, Kentucky’s population numbered 3,695,000. According to the 1980 census, 78 percent of the people living in Kentucky were born there. That included Jennings, all of her family, and almost everyone she knew. In 1980, 91 percent of Kentuckians identified as white, 7 percent as black, and .0008 as Spanish. Nearly half of the people of the state, 49 percent, lived in rural areas.

In 2000, fifteen years after KFW’s founding, the state’s population had increased to 4,041,769 with 90 percent white, 7 percent black, and 3 percent “all other.” Men comprised 49 percent of the population, women 51 percent; 44.2 percent of Kentuckians lived in rural areas, and 55.8 percent in urban. Those living below the poverty line made up 15.8 percent of the population. As a still relatively new executive director then, Jennings began taking closer looks at demographic information characterizing applicants who received grants and those who did not, and, most importantly, those who were not applying at all. Over the next few years, the staff and board of KFW discussed values and worked together to develop policies and practices to achieve statewide equity in KFW funding, taking many different factors into account.

Funded by an initial gift from Philadelphia-based artist Linda Lee Alter in 1993, the Leeway Foundation was established “to promote the welfare of women and to benefit the arts” in the five-county Philadelphia area. Grounded in a set of feminist principles similar to KFW’s, Leeway’s founding materials say the “Foundation’s program of grants to individual women artists… encourages their increased recognition and representation in the arts community.” Leeway quickly established itself as an important member of the philanthropic ecology of the region.

In the late 1990s, Leeway’s leadership began to engage with women artists who were actively working toward community transformation and to reflect on how the foundation might support this work and express its commitment to art as a vehicle for achieving social change. Inspiration for this commitment came from organizations and activist groups in the region and nationally that were dedicated to working at this intersection, making the connection between art, culture, and social change. Individuals in the Leeway community, including board and staff, believed strongly in the powerful potential of this link. Leeway’s leadership saw the opportunity for the foundation to support practitioners and the communities they work in and thereby contribute to larger movements for social justice.

In 2003, Leeway began a program redesign to further its commitment to explore the intersection of art and social change with a focus on community transformation at its core. Denise Brown, who was then associate director of the Bread and Roses Community Fund, an activist-controlled fund and member of the Funding Exchange (FEX) network, was invited to be part of this process. Leeway’s donor family, board of directors, advisory council, staff, artists, activists, community partners, and allies in the region and beyond actively engaged in and supported the process. Over the next few years, the foundation transformed from being almost exclusively white and woman-focused to engaging people of color in positions of influence and examining the dynamics of racism in organizational practices, policies, and programs. Leeway changed its governance and decision-making authority from a family-run, one-member structure to a board comprised of people from the community committed to an active framework of personal and political transformation.

The board implemented new grant programs focused on practitioners of art for social change in 2005. In 2006, Leeway expanded its eligibility criteria to include trans artists as an extension of the foundation’s efforts to support artists underrepresented because of their gender. (Note: The foundation uses the term trans in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.) As stated in its mission, Leeway’s leadership is committed to using its grantmaking to promote “artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins.” Identifying where those margins are has made the collection of data an important planning and engagement tool.

As these brief histories show, KFW and Leeway are sister foundations in that they focus mainly on individual women and trans social change (aka feminist) artists, but the foundations operate in very different social, economic, and geographic contexts. While the contexts are remarkably different, there are surprising commonalties regarding values, processes, and practices relating to collecting and assessing demographic data. There are also significant differences, as one would expect given the significantly different contexts. First, we look at the similarities.

Shared Organizational Values That Build Trust

The missions of both KFW and Leeway focus primarily on individuals creating art and cultural expressions that advance positive social change. Both foundations allocate staff time and resources to intentionally cultivating transparent, respectful, and face-to-face funder/grantee, grantseeker, and staff relationships. Each year, Leeway staff organizes and publicizes applicant support and grant information sessions at community partner sites around the city, often focusing on neighborhoods and constituencies they want to engage. Additionally, the staff welcomes in-person meetings and offers application feedback to grantseekers. KFW staff holds informational workshops open to the public every year in each of Kentucky’s six congressional districts. The two foundations provide application information in both hard copy and digital formats, recognizing that not all constituents have equal access to technology.

This relationship building is partly a result of both foundations being geographically defined. The staff and boards are members of the communities they support, and they know grantseekers by face, because they see them in grocery stores and bookstores and at gallery openings, community meetings, and performances. But more importantly the value of staff and boards’ accessibility is based on shared commitment to equity and positive social change. That commitment requires that the staff and boards work to build trust and demonstrate fairness to all as they seek out and engage with those most affected by inequity in their communities.

Shared Practices in Information Collected in Applications

Both Leeway and KFW collect demographic information relating to age and location in their application process. Leeway has an age requirement of eighteen or older, which KFW does not, and both have residency requirements related to their geographic scope. Because both foundations focus mainly on individuals creating social change, both also ask applicants for information relating to their own identities as artists and their relationship to the community they seek to engage through their art. There are also significant differences in how and what demographic information each foundation collects, which we explain below.

In the early 2000s, KFW reimagined and redesigned its grantmaking programs. As part of that process, the board designated a set of “priority populations” for funding. It was a difficult and contested process, but in the end the board agreed that given equal artistic merit, grant reviewers should give priority to certain populations including (but not limited to) women of color, especially African Americans, lesbians, rural woman, and women who did not complete high school or college. The priority populations are listed on KFW’s application form, and applicants have the option of providing that information or not. When the practice was first initiated, several applicants expressed dissatisfaction, but there has been little resistance since then. A great majority of the applicants opt to provide the information. KFW staff later added a question to the foundation’s Art Meets Activism application about the demographics of the community being engaged by the artist.

With the focus of art as a tool for social change in mind, Leeway decided that with the new programs it was critical that the foundation “recognize women and trans artists whose work is often ignored, silenced, and marginalized because of what they create or who they are — including people of color; immigrants; gay, lesbian and bisexual people; poor and working class people; and people who take risks with art form and content to share their social change vision.” To that end, Leeway created an application process interested in how artists work with and in communities, both their own and others, and recognizing the value of life experiences outside of formal structures to an artist’s development. Leeway asks applicants to define their community, their relationship to the audiences or communities they work with, and how the community will be engaged in the work. Résumés or CVs are neither required nor accepted. Instead applicants are asked to complete an “experience page,” which asks for four to ten artistic, personal, political, professional, or social change–based experiences that are relevant to a project or their practice. These experiences are often life changing and have a deep impact on the individual artists and their practice. Often, these are the spaces where the desire to create change began. As in the case of KFW, there was some resistance to these changes when they were implemented. With time many applicants have come to appreciate the application as providing a framework for a new way of interrogating their work.

Shared Practices in the Grant Review Process

Both foundations use a peer panel review process to demonstrate their commitment to transparency and fairness in grantmaking decisions. Using the peer review process also builds trust between staff and grantseekers. Since the staff do not make funding decisions, grantseekers can view them as sources of support and information and be more open about the strengths and weaknesses of their applications. Both foundations consider equity in the selection of peer reviewers, looking at age, identity, and geographic location in selecting all panel members. Both also consider artistic discipline and practice. KFW includes one out-of-state member on every review panel. Jennings often asked Brown to recommend expert and skilled social change artists to serve as out-of-state reviewers for KFW. Leeway’s Art and Change Grant panel is convened for a year (currently two funding cycles) and comprised of artists and cultural organizers from the funding region. The Transformation Award panel is national and always includes a former recipient of the award.

Both foundations also provide information to reviewers about considering inclusivity and equity in their assessment of applications prior to the review panel meeting. KFW provides reviewers with “Questions to Consider” as they prepare their written assessment. These questions relate to the applicants’ views on social change and the history of art making for social change as indications of their commitment to equitable values. Reviewers are also given the board’s directive to consider priority populations at the review panel meetings. Leeway’s review criteria include assessing the applicants’ social change work in the community in which their work takes place or with the audiences engaged as evidence of equitable and inclusive working relationships. Leeway’s charge to the panel includes a set of key considerations and guiding questions that have come from previous panel deliberations and are offered as an opportunity for the panel to create its own framework for decision making. Leeway also asks the panel to uphold a set of values that includes caring, creativity, inclusion, and respect for all.

Shared Practices of Accountability to Boards and Community

Leeway and KFW staff both analyze demographic information collected during the grant review process and present it to their boards as indicators of equity and inclusion. The KFW staff assesses demographics within the geographical boundaries of each of the state’s congressional districts to ensure statewide analysis and also relate to the demographic differences within the districts. Within each district, staff looks at age, identity, educational level, income level, and physical ability to see if the applicant pool and grant awards are distributed equitably across the state in each category. At the end of the program year, the Leeway staff presents an analysis of age, county, neighborhood (zip code), pronoun choice, number of first-time applicants, and whether applications were submitted online or by hard copy as indications of equity and inclusion.

The staffs of both foundations use the demographic analysis relating to their grant programs to make recommendations and take action for more equitable engagement. Both, for example, intentionally schedule grant information sessions in locations that show up as being underserved in the grant analysis. Both consider strategic engagement to correct for “types” of applicants, for example, based on age, that might be underserved according to the grant analysis. In short, both use the demographic information in iterative processes to improve equity across the region or state being served.

Even more importantly, however, both foundations publicize the grant award winners, listing their location and describing their proposed grant activity on the foundations’ websites and in the media. Leeway also produces an annual Grants and Awards book highlighting that year’s recipients. Community members then see and assess for themselves how equitable and inclusive the grant awards have been, contributing to further conversations and trust building through open discussions with staff concerning the overall grantmaking process.

Differences in Collecting Demographic Information

Leeway does not currently collect data about race or gender identity. Applicants may indicate their preferred pronoun; however, providing it is optional. The foundation’s inclusion of trans individuals and its work engaging applicants from immigrant communities raise complex questions related to the value of capturing identity-based demographic information, particularly when working with communities that have often been marginalized or policed through the use of identity-based data. The foundation also discusses how and what kind of demographic data it should or wants to collect and from whom, including applicants, grantees, community partners, and communities affected by the work.

Because Kentucky is a predominantly white state and KFW’s board has established priority populations, KFW applications ask directly about racial identity using the same language as the US census. However, the status of these priority populations has not been revisited since the early 2000s, and important demographic and social changes have taken place since then. Between 2000 and 2010 the US census–defined Hispanic population increased 121 percent in Kentucky. Also, the language used for sexual identity still includes only the term lesbian. The state is also a center for the resettlement of Eastern European, African, and Russian immigrants, and these demographics are not identified in the application.


We hope these two case studies help move discussion of the purpose of collecting demographic information beyond “checking boxes.” Both KFW and Leeway care about the identities of the artists and culture bearers the foundations fund and the identities of the communities with which these artists interact. Both collect demographic information from the ground up to advance equity and inclusivity in the grantmaking process. Here are some of the lessons, we have learned:

Know your community context through hard data and regular interactions with community members.
Set clear intentions about equity and inclusion, and communicate them frequently to applicants and reviewers throughout the grantmaking process.
Integrate demographic analysis throughout the grantmaking process, not just after the grant is made.
Regularly assess how equitable your grantmaking is, and take corrective actions to balance identified gaps.
Be accessible and willing to meet people where they are.
Building relationships and engaging with communities require a commitment of organizational resources.

Here are the challenges we have faced and continue to grapple with:

What standards of equity are we using? So, for example, is funding population groups in proportion to their current numbers in the community the right standard, or should a higher standard be used to correct for historic imbalances?
How do foundations balance leading social change in a specific geographic area and respecting sincere and deeply held religious and political views that can constrain change?
How do foundations devise systems of data collection that are respectful of the communities they engage?
How can foundations that collect demographic information avoid tokenism or the appearanceof tokenism?
How can foundation staff and board balance current national language about identity with the language used by communities who choose not to participate or are excluded from these national conversations?
How are the old frames about identity and demographics shifting? And how can foundations support new thinking and innovation?
How do foundations shift the age-old qualitative versus quantitative debate? What are all the ways to tell the story? To describe the shifts?

Collecting demographic information from the ground up undoubtedly contributes to fostering a culture of mutual trust, fairness, and accountability between funders and grantees. Clear intentions and good communications between grantseekers and grantmakers mean that both understand why demographic questions are or are not being asked and know that answers and information will be used to advance equity. Yet, many questions and challenges remain and will undoubtedly continue to arise, so sharing case studies and field-based information is an important component of the national movement for greater equity in arts and culture philanthropy.

Judi Jennings, now retired, was the director of theKentucky Foundation for Women. Denise M. Brown is the executive director of the Leeway Foundation.

Click here to read the original article.

Leeway Foundation Announces Spring 2015 Art and Change Grantees

The Leeway Foundation recently announced $49,400 in grants to 22 women and trans* artists and cultural producers in Greater Philadelphia, supporting their work to address a range of social change issues. 

Leeway’s Art and Change Grant provides project-based funds of up to $2,500 to women and trans artists and cultural producers who: propose a project that impact a larger group, audience or community; have financial need; and live in the Delaware Valley area. The grant supports artists practicing a variety of disciplines including performance, crafts and textiles, and visual arts.

The following 22 artists were awarded grants (in alphabetical order): 

Ana Guissel, West Kensington, Crafts & Textiles/ Folk Art
Anula Shetty, Fishtown, Media Arts
April Gilliam,Southwest Philadelphia, Multi-Disciplinary
Emily Abendroth, West Philadelphia, Media Arts
Fernanda Marroquin Gozalo, West Philadelphia, Literary Arts/Visual Arts
Genesis Crespo, Kingsessing, Multi-Disciplinary
Kate Gallagher, Cedar Park, Literary Arts/ Folk Art
Kathryn Pannepacker, Germantown, Crafts and Textiles/ Visual Arts
LaNeshe Miller-White, Delcroft, Performance 
Lauren Vargas, Hunting Park, Visual Arts
Lily Hughes, West Philadelphia, Performance/Media Arts
Melissa Talley-Palmer, Germantown, Multi-Disciplinary
Nicole Bindler, South Philadelphia, Performance
Pascale Boucicaut and Adachi Pimentel, West Philadelphia, Folk Arts/ Visual Arts
Sarah Milinski, South Philadelphia, Media Arts
Sinta Penyami Hite, South Philadelphia, Folk Art/Performance
Suzanne Cloud and Rhenda Fearrington, Collingswood and Morton, Multi-Disciplinary
Tara Felicia Jones, Worcester Township, Literary Arts/Visual Arts
Tayarisha Poe, West Philadelphia, Media Arts/Visual Arts
Wesley Flash, West Philadelphia, Multi-Disciplinary

Art and Change Grants are distributed twice a year and evaluated by an independent peer review panel.  The March 2015 review panel consisted of facilitator and artist Qui Dorian (ACG '14), quilter and doll maker Ra’sheedah Bey (LTA '10), and filmmaker Wazmah Osman

Applications are made available on the Leeway website, and may also be obtained by calling 215.545.4078 or emailing info@leeway.org. Potential applicants are encouraged to attend one of the many support sessions offered throughout the year, or schedule an appointment with a staff member for one-on-one support. The next Art and Change Grant deadline is August 1, 2015.

Press inquiries and photo requests should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.

The Leeway Foundation supports women and transgender artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change. Through our grantmaking and other programs we promote artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins, promotes sustainable and healthy communities, and works in the service of movements for economic and social justice. For more information about Leeway, its grant programs, grantees and events, visit www.leeway.org.


Download Spring 2015 ACG Press Release

Download 2015 ACG Panelist Bios

Bailout: Exploring Credit Card Debt and the Iranian-American Immigrant Experience

Bailout: Exploring Credit Card Debt and the Iranian-American Immigrant Experience

Written by Sara Zia Ebrahimi for Ajam Media Collective
May 14, 2015

Many years ago I was bemoaning my credit card debt to a friend and her brilliant response was: “Having credit card debt doesn’t make you a failure, it just makes you American.” Later that day, I wrote that statement down. I sensed its importance, though I wasn’t sure why. Little did I know at the time that the statement would become the anchor for my new web series, Bailout.

Set amid the financial collapse of 2009, Bailout follows the story of Shalah or “Shay,” an Iranian-American woman living in Philadelphia, who struggles to hide her own entrapment in the most American of traditions — credit card debt — from her family members who all harbor their own untold secrets. The episodic narrative is divided into 5 episodes, each 10 minutes long.

The series engages challenges and contradictions that many first generation Iranian Americans — and many other immigrant groups in general — grow up with in relation to money and work.

Lida Darmian stars as Shalah, an Iranian-American woman who is dealing with credit card debt and a host of other problems.

On the one hand, you are told how much your parents have sacrificed to allow you to not have to work as hard or grow up under a fundamentalist regime. In Persian, the drama and fanfare of the sacrifice is ten times more intense than the English language could really ever properly convey. On the other hand, there are constant complaints — some underhanded, and some direct — about how lazy you are and how you don’t know how easy you have it.

The result? You never feel like you’re doing enough. You never quite feel at ease.  It’s difficult to make life decisions because you don’t know which voice to go with. It’s a contradiction that is the reality for many of my first generation immigrant friends, not just Iranian-Americans.

In my case in particular, I grew up with a lot of mythology about my family’s success. I call it mythology not to doubt their truth, but because of the seemingly god-like positions the stories put my family members in. One uncle got on a bus at a young age after quitting high school, headed West from Iran, and eventually became the CEO of a successful company. Another left Iran for Germany at a young age, taught himself the language while in medical school and became a beloved doctor in a small Bavarian village. My aunt moved to Austria with two kids and only a few yards of cloth and became a fashion designer catering to high-society Viennese women.

And my mom? She was the first woman at a prestigious engineering university in the United States (not Iran, where she studied with plenty of women!) to receive a PhD, and was one of 3 women out of 257 men in the College of Engineering when she started on faculty at the University of Florida. There wasn’t even a women’s bathroom in the College of Engineering at that time in the mid 1980s — she had to fight for it.

I spent most of my 20s paralyzed by this culturally-informed feeling of ineptness. I got stuck in a loop in my head of these conflicting narratives that I couldn’t resolve.

On top of this weight, I was ashamed that I had dug myself into an indebted financial hole and resentful that I hadn’t recieved any guidance from my family to protect me. To be fair, it wasn’t all my fault. Predatory lenders are just that: predatory. They find people who have enough to make a little payment, but also need more cash flow and stay in debt.

The more I wrote about it and explored those feelings emotionally, I realized that credit cards were a source of cultural difference between myself and my mother.

She couldn’t imagine that someone would hand a 21-year-old a $5000 credit line. How could she protect me from something she didn’t know about? And I was growing up as a young adult in an environment where all of my American friends had at least a several thousand dollar balance on their credit cards. It was completely normalized for me.

The story line of Bailout captures those cultural differences between children and parents in first-generation immigrant families using predatory lending as the focal point of tension. Credit cards are such a quintessential manifestation of American dominant aspirations and visions of success in America, allowing us to live our lives among surplus and excess so that we can feel like we ‘made it’. The reality is that most of the “middle class” if you consider their debt-to-income ratio, are in fact “poor.” I am struck by how, in countries that don’t have the illusion of a vibrant middle class, poverty looks so different than debt-laden American poverty. It’s the tension of this aspect of American culture that has most interested me when writing this script.

Sara Zia Ebrahimi directs Lida Darmian in the opening scene of the web series, while art director Claire Boustred manages visual details.

It is also important to me to create media that offer a wide spectrum of representation of people in various roles. White people in America are afforded a wide spectrum of representation. All of us, no matter what race we belong to, are trained by the media to believe that white people can be nerds, artists, engineers, rich, poor, shy, outgoing, etc. But the rest of us as marginalized groups are not given that range. Our representations are narrow, and as a result, often very stereotyped. The reality is that every racial group has the counter-culturists, the conservatives, and the various subcultures; there’s no one way to be ‘Latino’ or ‘Iranian’, even though the media tries to convince us otherwise, and many of us buy into that and recreate that in our communities. The issues that I am exploring in this script add dimension to otherwise flat representations of women of Iranian descent in the diaspora.

The first episode of Bailout is now up on YouTube. Information about the series, cast and crew can be found on the project’s website. We’re also doing a Kickstarter to raise money to shoot the remaining episodes.

Read the original article.

Finally There’s a Children’s Album on Gender Freedom

Finally there’s a children’s album on gender freedom

Written by Associate Editor for LGBT Weekly
April 21, 2015

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter Chana Rothman was unsure what to do when her son, a toddler, asked to wear a dress to school. She searched for children’s music rooted in messages of gender freedom to engage in positive parenting but came up short. After reaching dead end after dead end, Rothman decided to write her own album on gender identity and expression – the groundbreaking Rainbow Train, which debuts May 12.

Rainbow Train, Rothman’s first children’s album, offers guidance to parents and teachers who want to support healthy gender development by disarming the gender binary that society currently imposes on us all.

“Today’s young people need songs that show them all the choices and possibilities that they are allowed to become. The more they can see beyond the ‘pink” and ‘blue’ that gets pushed on them, the happier and more confident they will be. This goes for adults too,” Rothman says.

A soundtrack for gender liberation, Rainbow Train covers all the bases – anti-bullying, love, acceptance and pride – and strives to create a world where children are free of the expectations and pressures embedded in gender constraints and stereotypes. It also harks back to the mid-1970s’ “Free to Be… You and Me” by Marlo Thomas and Friends, which served as inspiration for her album, Rothman notes.

Though created for children, the album is musically advanced – full of catchy hooks and melodies that adults won’t mind listening to on repeat. Rainbow Train has a style for everyone: folk, ballad, hip-hop, disco, pop, spoken word, rock, Latin jazz, and children’s voices in dialogue.

Rothman grew up in Toronto before moving to New York City and eventually settling in Philadelphia to start a family. She’s performed her music all over the world, and she hopes Rainbow Train can become a valuable resource for parents and children dealing with issues of gender identity and freedom.

Read original article here.

Image Credit: Chana Rothman

‘Post Ferguson’ Art Features Mother-Son Relationship

'Post Ferguson' Art Features Mother-Son Relationship

Written by Samaria Bailey for the Philadelphia Tribune
April 22, 2015

A collection of portraits depicting Black single mothers and their sons are on display through May 31, as part of the “Post Ferguson — My Son Matters!” art exhibit at the Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG).

The 35 portraits in the collection — some of which include only Black male youth — were taken by Denise Allen, a photographer, educator and single mother. Allen said she was inspired to create “Post Ferguson” upon the spate of killings of unarmed Black men and youth at the hands of white men, who went unpunished.

She wanted to communicate a sense of humanity and a positive image, something she said was missing from the narratives in the media.

“I’m a single mom and when I adopted my son, I had a list of what I wanted to teach him,” said Allen. “When Trayvon Martin got killed, it [became] a whole different piece that I was not touching on and it needed to be [discussed].”

Allen’s first project, “By the Content of My Character,” which responded to the Trayvon Martin case, was the photography of 20 Black male youth, wearing hoodies in various settings — at church, school, playing instruments and in the gym. She showed these portraits at a Glenside art gallery in 2012.

Then, she said, as the “murders kept happening,” she observed how the media would “stick the microphone in the mom’s face” and ask them how they were feeling. This observance led her to create “Post Ferguson.”

“This show is to erect a platform to celebrate our sons and document some of the concerns we have while raising our kids,” said Allen. “How do we explain what’s going on and don’t stifle our sons’ spirits?” She added that she chose to depict single mothers because it reflects her own experience and because “single women go through so much.”

The portraits of the sons and their mothers show various expressions, some are smiling, others are pensive and straight-faced and some are embracing. All the photos are accompanied by brief paragraphs or essays about how the mothers discuss race and racial profiling with their sons.

One mother, “Vashti,” wrote of the difficulty she has had with teaching her son about the issue, since his dad died in a car accident. Part of her essay stated, “He wonders why I pressure him about grades and all this other stuff when he has to travel home on high alert for police or criminals who might view him as a target for different reasons … He resents the role-plays I’ve tried to offer to prepare him for a police stop. I wish for his father in these moments.”

Andrea Lawful Trainer said she discussed racial profiling with her two sons at an early age, a move she believes paid off in the long term. “I started the conversation when they were 7 years old and I’m glad I did,” she said. Trainer explained that her eldest son, when he was a teenager, had his hand broken by a police officer who arrested him on a misdemeanor charge of “resisting arrest.”

Trainer fought the charges up until they were thrown out. She said she knows her son’s spotless record was one of the main reasons his name was cleared.

“I teach them what you do on the front end will help you on the back end. That police officer walked out of court with his head down,” said Trainer. “We fought until his [her son’s] record was clear, because I knew if we didn’t, it could follow him for the rest of his life.”

JeNa’ Nickerson, a mother of a son and daughter, said she teaches her son a similar approach.

“The area we live in is a mixed area and there are more [whites]. I come from a mixed background, so when I speak, I have to speak to both sides,” she said. “It’s a lot of racial profiling I see and I just want to teach him, in every aspect of his life, he has to carry himself in a way that he’s not labeled or stereotyped.”

Allen said she hopes when people view “Post Ferguson” they are more enlightened.

“It’s a plea to other mothers, saying ‘help, look at what I have to go through,’” she said. “Once people know, things have got to get better.”

Click here to read the original article

Image Credit: Samaria Bailey

Portraits of African-American Mothers and Sons Declare ‘My Son Matters’

Portraits of African-American mothers and sons declare ‘My Son Matters’

Written by Tara Lynn Johnson for the Broad Street Review
April 14, 2015

Photographer Denise Allen is an African-American single mother, who has always taught her son to be respectful and do what’s right. “Now I realize that I also have to teach my son how to survive in a world where he will be treated differently because of the color of his skin,” she said. Because of that, she was inspired to create her My Son Matters photography series, to honor young men of color and their mothers. More than 30 of her portraits are displayed through May 31 at Mt. Airy Art Garage.

“In light of the events of Ferguson and South Carolina, and based on the quality of Denise’s work and the heart she puts into it, we felt it our responsibility to share her vision,” said Mt. Airy Art Garage president and cofounder Linda Slodki. “This is the first time we have mounted an exhibition specific to Mother’s Day. We have the ability to speak for all mothers.”

Don’t wait for tragedy to strike

Allen, the adoptive mother of Jordan, 15, previously did an exhibit of young black men in hoodies after Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida while wearing one. That tragedy opened her eyes and inspired her to show that the boys, who enjoy activities like choir, their jobs, and tutoring others, shouldn’t be judged for their clothes or skin color.

My Son Matters is a reaction to the fact that more and more murders occur, she said, and when they do, the media asks moms to comment on their deceased children. She decided there’s no reason to wait until children are killed for the world to discover who they are.

Vashti DuBois and her son, DuBois Ellington Stewart, 16, were photographed together for the first time since her husband Al’s death in a car accident a year ago.

“We know how difficult it is to lose someone you love suddenly and violently,” she said. For that reason, “my heart breaks every time I see a mom crying over the death of her child on the evening news. We are not supposed to outlive our children.”

Everyone is at risk

DuBois is like millions of other mothers, she said. “I love my two sons, my daughter, my grandson….because they are funny and great and talented and good people who are already making this world a better place because they are here,” she said. “I want the world to know that our children have families and friends, dreams, passions. When something happens to one child, it happens to a community.”

DuBois hopes the exhibit will start a conversation about creating change. “We are fighting for our humanity as a country,” she said. We’re doomed “if we do not understand that if any child is at risk, all children are at risk.”

Allen also hopes for dialogue and that her photos show the reality beneath the skin’s surface — they are mothers with their sons, the children they love deeply. “Our sons are just as important as anyone else’s.”

See My Son Matters at Mt. Airy Art Garage, 11 W. Mt. Airy Avenue, Philadelphia, through May 31. The opening reception will be Friday, April 17 at 6pm. Regular gallery hours are Wednesday and Friday from noon to 7pm, Thursday and Saturday from noon to 6pm, and Sunday from noon to 5pm.

Click here to read the original article.

Image Credit: Denise Allen

Whose Burden?

Whose Burden?

Written by Sara Zia Ebrahimi writes for Mutha Magazine 
April 7, 2015

Everyone warns you that having a young baby in your life will involve lots of bodily fluids and little sleep. You’re warned about toddlers and their seemingly endless source of energy and how you have to be sure to tire them out. In some ways those things haven’t seemed so bad since I was prepped to expect them.

No one warned me how difficult it would be to stay connected with the arts and activist communities I used to share with child-free friends. There’s general sweeping statements of how your life will change forever. But somehow I was completely unprepared for the level of inaccessibility to communities I had previously been a part of.

Full disclosure: I’m not someone who ever dreamed of having a child. My daughter was a delightful surprise, but one I can’t imagine living without now. When my partner and I discovered I was pregnant, one of our many conversations amidst the flurry of panic and excitement was about our commitment to our art practices. No matter how hard it was, we would not stop being artists.

We were determined to not to become parents whose lives only centered around their children, not as judgement against those people, but because we knew we wouldn’t be happy. And I have to say, we did a pretty good job all things considered, and both completed major creative projects in 2014.

Despite our ability to continue on with our art practices, we both still felt disconnected. My social options were suddenly minimal after having a kid. I receive invitations from friends, well intentioned and in the spirit of inclusion, and over and over again have to ask them: is there childcare at this event? Is there a space set up for kids?

I no longer can go to workshops on filmmaking, join a writing group, attend literary salons and poetry readings, or board game night at a friend’s–because there is no space for children made.

I can go to mommy groups and talk about breastfeeding, poop, or how tired we all are. But that doesn’t feed me. I don’t feel whole or alive in those spaces. And, they are segregated spaces for parents only.

I describe my cultural background as “kebab, grits and kale”–I am an Iranian-American, raised by hippies in the U.S. south. I grew up in communities where intergenerational connections were strong, and where I was able to witness adults as whole people who were fun, and a little crazy. They were people who danced, recited poetry, made jokes, and cried. When someone threw a party, there was always a room set aside for the kids. The older kids took care of the younger ones. It’s how I learned to take care of babies from a young age and eventually started babysitting.

I hoped to be able to offer the same experience to my daughter.

Whenever I talk about this to people, I manage to strike a nerve one way or another. On and off-line, I’ve experienced a wide spectrum of being shamed, praised, challenged as well as the receiver of many sad confessions of similar feelings of isolation.

One of the consistent things that emerges from these conversations is a repetition of iterations of the word “choice.” I choose not to have children, so I shouldn’t have to make space for yours. It was your choice to have a child, so you should just accept that you have to prioritize them first.

The undercurrent to these discussions is: children are a burden. Some people are saying it’s one they don’t think they should have to carry. Others, that it was one that if I’m a “good mom” I should be willing to sacrifice my interests and desires fully for.

The question on my mind now is: has the medical technology of birth control and insemination made us into individualists? Is the ability to “choose” now a pass to not be interested in supporting the inclusion–and liberation–of all people? (And by the way, it is not a choice for everyone in the U.S. as long as women’s reproductive health options are limited).

When did children stop being seen as a part of all of our existence and survival? Even if you are a dedicated self-identified radical, don’t you need more children to continue to carry out the revolution? And, we were all children once. Why isn’t it in everyone’s interest to want to provide more intergenerational spaces where children get to witness more of the world and connect with more people?

As someone who never wanted kids originally, I understand the resistance to “taking on the burden” of other peoples’ children. Culturally, most communities don’t respect peoples’ choices to not have children. People who choose to be child-free often feel marginalized. It’s further compounded with the weight of heteronormativity, patriarchy, and all the feelings of being devalued that come with them.

But I don’t think isolating yourself from people with kids is the answer to that oppression. I understand it as a reflex, but it does not move us forward as we build movements for social change. It doesn’t move us forward as humans.

As parents, we can help shift that cultural tendency by taking actions that prioritize and celebrate the accomplishments of friends without children, too, with the pomp and vigor that hetero-normativity celebrates baby-making. Buy cards and send flowers to friends who have art openings, cook food for community members when they have the flu, buy treats for their pet who is a beloved member of their family, throw themed parties.

Being in monolithic groups has never been how I moved through the world. Yes, some parents are all about their kids and that’s all they talk about. We’re not all like that. That’s hard for me too, even as a parent, because I mostly want to talk about art and culture and creative process. I don’t think I should have to give that up because I had a kid. That statement has proved to be more controversial than I could have imagined

If I work toward creating a world where you aren’t burdened with the expectations of having children, can you work toward one that allows me, and my child, to be included?

Read the original article here.

Image Credit: Sara Zia Ebrahimi

Philadelphia City Paper Reviews RELEASE

Spring Guide: A new exhibit shines a light on women living in Pennsylvania’s prisons

Written by Owen Lyman-Schmidt for Philadelphia City Paper
March 26, 2015

In the last 35 years, Pennsylvania’s state prison population has risen by more than 550 percent, an unprecedented increase now known as mass incarceration. The overwhelming majority of those prisoners are men, but RELEASE, an exhibit at the offices of the Leeway Foundation open through June 30, highlights the often overlooked stories of women caught up in the same juggernaut of prison expansion.

The first half of the exhibit is a series of portraits from local painter Mary DeWitt, who has been working with female prisoners serving life sentences at SCI Muncy since the late 1980s.

Case summaries are scrawled in the margins of each portrait, but it’s the accompanying audio clips that deliver a more powerful blow. These clips are not claims of innocence or legal defenses. Instead, DeWitt has chosen stories of childhood memories, frustrated dreams and resilience — compelling testimony to the humanity and personality of the women depicted in her raw, close-up portraits. Critiques of the state aren’t necessarily explicit, but DeWitt is happy to articulate them in person.

“It’s become a documentation of the United States prison system,” she says. “It’s particularly interesting since Pennsylvania has the most juvenile lifers in the world.”

She’s referring to the fact that Pennsylvania holds a tenth of all the people in the United States serving life without parole, and almost a fifth of those who received that sentence as a juvenile. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court found mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court blocked retroactive re-sentencing, leaving women like Sharon Wiggins, featured in two portraits, to die in prison in 2013 after being denied commutation 13 times.

“Each of their stories is like a microcosm of how mass incarceration happened in this country and what a mistake it is,” says DeWitt. “I like the idea of them just telling their stories, so that it isn’t polarizing, it just is.” 

If DeWitt hopes to show, Mariame Kaba and Rachel Caidor are happy to tell. They co-curated No Selves to Defend, the second half of the exhibit, which is less a collection of portraits and more a historical survey of women of color who were criminalized for their response to gendered violence.

It begins in 1855 with Celia, a slave in Missouri convicted of murdering the man who owned and raped her from the age of 14. A judge denied her claim to self-defense on the grounds that she was property, and therefore had “no self to defend.” From this point of departure the exhibit follows the stories of 16 women, until it reaches Marissa Alexander.

In 2012, Alexander was convicted in Florida on multiple counts of assault with a deadly weapon for firing a licensed gun when threatened by her estranged husband. Her defense team said it was a warning shot against a longtime abuser. A judge agreed with the prosecution that Alexander seemed angry, not fearful, and a jury found her guilty in 12 minutes.

“This country is still invested in an idea of people who are not fully human. That influences who has ground to stand on,” Caidor says. “A Black person is never going to be the ideal victim.”

For women and transgender people of color, living at that intersection of racial and gendered oppression can mean being a target for both sexual violence and state violence, a fact even their defenders often fail to recognize.

“Either people mobilize along the lines of race and ethnicity, or people mobilize around the lines of gender oppression,” Caidor explains, citing the defense committees of Joan Little and Inez Garcia as notable exceptions. She calls those collaborations a “moment that happened in history,” a moment she notes “is not happening now.”

“While the Black Lives Matter movement is gaining momentum and gaining visibility, it’s still largely focused on the way the criminal legal system comes down on cisgendered black men,” says Caidor. “When Marissa’s case came up, there wasn’t the outcry one would expect from national groups for women who are suffering domestic violence. We need to think through why that cross-issue solidarity has fallen off.”

The portraits in No Selves to Defend, rendered beautifully in distinct but largely compatible styles by nine different artists, are supposed to inspire us to take up the cause.

“We’re living in a time where art is crucial because it gives us a language that our words don’t necessarily cover,” says Caidor. “It gives us a point of entry that’s gentle, but also confrontational enough that it makes us think.”

RELEASE through June 30, by appointment, Leeway Foundation, 1315 Walnut St., Suite 832, 215-545-4078, leeway.org.

Image Credit: Maria Pouchnikova

Read original article here.


Generocity Features the Gender Justice and Mass Incarceration Town Hall

Gender Justice and Mass Incarceration: Bread & Roses Hosts Town Hall Event 

Written by Erin Kane for Generocity
March 19, 2015

The Bread & Roses Community Fund, a grantmaking organization that has awarded more than $10 million to support grassroots organizing over the past 40 years, is hosting a gender justice and mass incarceration town hall on March 25.

The event is part of RELEASE, an exhibit and program series presented by Bread & Roses in partnership with the Leeway Foundation. RELEASE features original art and the narratives of women and transgender people who have experienced incarceration. The exhibit runs through June 30.

At the town hall, activists, artists and organizers, along with the formerly incarcerated, will engage in discussions to discern fears and barriers and build a “shared vision for community safety and individual safety that doesn’t rely on imprisonment,” according to an announcement about the event.

Aarati Kasturirangan, the director of programs at the Bread & Roses Community Fund, explained that as coalitions are forming in the wake of Black Lives Matter to address mass incarceration and community policing practices, women and transgender people are notably absent from leadership roles.

“There are folks who feel that the people who are standing in front look a lot like the people who were standing in front in the civil rights movement,” Kasturirangan said, referring to men and members of the clergy.

Noting that Black Lives Matter was formed by three queer women of color, she added: “Where are the women who we know are leading these efforts, where are the transgender folks, and where is their visibility?”

The town hall, which is expected to draw upwards of 200 people, is a space to explore those questions using the mediums of art, poetry, music and storytelling.

A goal of the event, Kasturirangan said, is to create “cross-dialogue to elevate this conversation to the next phase and make it a central point of conversation that grows from here on forward.”

Image Credit: Nicole Myles

Read the original article here.

Generocity Profiles Betty Leacraft, Neighborhood Time Exchange Artist-in-Residence

New West Philadelphia Program Connects Artists and Community

Written by Kristen Gillette for Generocity
March 16, 2015

The Neighborhood Time Exchange program gives selected artists studio space in return for their work on service projects in the community.

Betty Leacraft, a mixed media artist, educator, and lecturer, has lived her entire life as a resident of West Philadelphia. She remembers going to Sunday school and summer camp at New Bethlehem Baptist Church, which is celebrating 100 years later this month.

Now, as part of her work with Neighborhood Time Exchange, a new artist residency program in West Philadelphia, Leacraft will be working with members of the church to put together a quilt using historical photographs from throughout its history.

“I think the main thing this residency has done for me; it has allowed me to be able to do something that I wanted to do but wasn’t sure how, and that was to do projects within the community where I grew up as a child,” Leacraft said.

The residency, which consists of three cohorts from January to September 2015, gives selected artists studio space in return for their work on service projects in the community. Artists will work in neighborhoods within the West Philadelphia Promise Zone, a place-based revitalization initiative launched by the Obama Administration last year. The zone includes the neighborhoods of Belmont, Mantua, Mill Creek, Saunders Park, and West Powelton.

Neighborhood Time Exchange is a program organized by a slew of organizations in the city: the Mural Arts Program, The People’s Emergency Center, and The City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) as well as the Canadian-based Broken City Lab.

“We want to challenge our artists to do something in this community — Mantua, Belmont, Lancaster Avenue, with a social purpose. We believe that art should have a social purpose,” said Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program. “We believe you should stretch art as far as it can go and when you think you’ve stretched it far enough, you know what — you go further.”

Neighborhood Time Exchange had over 200 applicants, with some applying from as far away as China. An artist from Dublin, Ireland will be a resident in the third cohort.

“The main thing I think I like about this opportunity is the fact I can meet other artists from other disciplines that are totally different from mine and learn something from them and have a really great exchange,” Leacraft said.

The first cohort’s local artists are Leacraft and Ian Sampson, a cartoonist, printmaker and teacher. Visiting artists are Kandis Friesan and Phillipe Leonard.

“We also wanted to make sure we involved a significant component of our local artists because that was very important to us,” said Helen Hayes, chief cultural officer at OACCE. “We needed those local artists to anchor what we’d be doing here in the community.”

Sampson has lived in West Philadelphia since 2008, and his goal for the residency is to use comics to document the neighborhood.

“My goal coming into this was to do some more sort of nonfiction documentary work about the neighborhood,” he said. “Really I just wanted to use this whole thing as an opportunity to get to know the neighborhood better and feel more a part of the place I live.”

Sampson also said that typically his work is fiction, and that this seemed like an opportunity to change that and create work with a practical or social aspect.

“I’ve been concerned about the issues facing West Philly, and particularly the school issue has been huge. When I moved here, I thought it would be temporary, and now I’ve been here for long enough, and it looks like I’ll be here for a long time and it’s time for me to be apart of this community and do something meaningful,” he said.

In addition, Sampson is documenting the process of Neighborhood Time Exchange for the entire six months it is running, in a comic strip to be posted on the OACCE’s website.

Community projects the first cohort will be working on, which have been directly requested by the community members, include beautifying abandoned homes along Belmont Avenue, window treatments and banners at New Bethlehem Baptist Church (in addition to the quilt) and weekly community meetings in the neighborhood to help create a brochure for the New Freedom Historic Walking Tour for the New Africa Center.

“This is an opportunity for the artists to make their work be more social and by that extension, make themselves more social,” Sampson said. “You get to be a part of that community and get to understand those issues in a way you wouldn’t if you weren’t working through it.”

The Neighborhood Time Exchange project will run through September 2015. The studio space, located at 4017 Lancaster Avenue,  is open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Image Credit: Mo Manklang.

Read the original article here.


Rachelle Lee Smith’s Photography Vandalized

Homophobic Vandals Damage Philly Artist Rachelle Lee Smith’s “Speaking OUT” Exhibit

Written by Bryan Buttler
March 9, 2015

Philadelphia artist Rachelle Lee Smith‘s traveling exhibit Speaking OUT: Queer Youth In Focus, which caused quite a positive stir in town when it was exhibited on the corner of Broad and Walnut in the now-defunct Robinson Luggage store (some of the prints are still there), has fallen victim to homophobic vandals during an exhibit in Connecticut.

Assailants allegedly broke into the display at the University of Connecticut‘s student union art gallery and used markers to damage the pictures. The exhibit was to be part of the upcoming True Colors Conference, according to Smith.

"There [was] a binder [left in the exhibit] that says 'God hates the gays,' two prints have penises on them and I was given a mustache," says Smith. "If the prints themseleves get damaged, it's a big deal. They are one-of-a-kind, handprinted in an almost obsolete darkroom machine. And each image comes with a  handwritten message by the subjects, some up to 13 years ago." She shares some of the vandalized images below:

The University has reached out to Smith for guidance regarding how to handle the situation and new frames have been purchased for some of the works. Smith also said a police report has been filed and she's been working with the vice president of student affairs at the University.

According to Smith's website, she describes Speaking OUT as "an ongoing photographic essay that gives members of the LGBTQ community a voice. Over the last decade I have worked both as artist and activist to use photographic portraits with the subjects’ own words to highlight the myriad differences and commonalities of queer identity."

Anyone who might have information regarding the defacement of the exhibit can submit an anonymous tip via U Conn's police department website.

Read the original article here.

Philadelphia Tribune Profiles Pheralyn Dove

Artist Pheralyn Dove moves from words to photographs

Written by Bobbi Brooker for the Philadelphia Tribune
March 13, 2015

As a self-described “word-warrior,” Pheralyn “Lady” Dove has long established herself as a poet, spoken-word artist, author, essayist, playwright, educator and workshop facilitator. While her words have captivated many over the years, Dove has quietly harbored a passion for photography. She began documenting her world through the eyes of a camera lens when film and dark rooms were the norm. This month the wordsmith is debuting her first photographic exhibit, “The Art of Nature.”

“I have always been a nature girl, so when I lived in North Philly/Strawberry Mansion, Fairmount Park was my playground and I would collect sticks, rocks and buttercups in the course of my day,” recalled Dove. “Then my family moved to Mt. Airy when I was in elementary school, so Valley Green became my playground. As a young woman after college, I started going to Valley Green and taking pictures with my Canon SLR. I was really taking pictures as a young woman almost exclusively of nature.”

In the 1980s, Dove put her camera (and all the heavy equipment that went with it) down to tend to child-rearing and concentrate on her other skill: writing. Save the four years she attended Hampton University, the Delware Valley has always been home for Dove, whose work has been showcased nationwide and internationally. Dove was selected for the juried NYC International Fringe Theater Festival, performed at Vision Festival in NYC, and Jazz a la Villette in Paris. She is the featured poet on Khan Jamal’s “Return from Exile” and Tyrone Brown’s “Moon of the Falling Leaves” CDs.

Over the next 20 years, she built her reputation as a wordsmith (including working as the Arts reporter at The Philadelphia Tribune), but photography was still on her mind. It was the gift of a digital camera prior to a 2008 trip that opened the door of photography again.

“I enjoyed it, and I found even in capturing news articles I had good landscapes and nature shots in the mix of all of that,” said Dove. “Then, my daughter gave me an iPhone. After getting into my photography again, I upgraded to a DSLR camera. I got into the habit of always having my camera with me so I would capture the sunrise, the dew on the roses or just photographs of nature while walking.”

Dove continued: “I have always been a nature lover and have always appreciated flowers and natural settings, and I feel my skill set is suited towards nature photography because nature is so patient,” explained Dove. “It is there and it doesn’t move. For the most part when you’re shooting brooks, streams, flowers and pastoral settings, it is there for you. I find that my own piece of mind and creativity comes from being in nature, so taking the pictures became a thing for me.”

“The Art of Nature: A Photographic Exhibit by Pheralyn Dove” is on view through March 31 at the Gold Standard Café, 4800 Baltimore Ave. On March 13 at 10 p.m. Dove will discuss “The Art of Nature” with J. Michael Harrison, host of “The Bridge” on WRTI 90.1 FM.

Read the original article here.

Chestnut Hill Local Profiles Kay Wood

Mt. Airy artist/novelist overcomes ‘dead arm’

Written by Alicia M Colombo for Chestnut Hill Local
March 17, 2015

Art wasn’t considered a viable profession for women in the 1970s, but Mt. Airy resident Kay Wood pushed through all the negativity to follow her passion, even after her high school guidance counselor advised her not to pursue the arts. “I studied illustration at Philadelphia College of the Arts (now University of the Arts) because it was as close to painting as my parents would let me,” said Wood. Despite the negative perception, Wood says it was actually much easier to make a comfortable living through art years ago.

“Back then, all you needed were some basic art supplies — watercolors, a T-square, triangle and radiograph — and that was it. I was earning $30 an hour doing illustrations. Now, you have to spend thousands for computer equipment and special programs, and you make a lot less money.”

While her formal education was in illustration, she always wanted to be a painter. “I switched back and forth from illustrations to painting when I needed money,” said Wood, who’s made her living painting and drawing, mostly medical or scientific illustrations, for more than 40 years. “I learned to draw figures, which gave my art a strong framework. The teaching practice of painting in most colleges at that time didn’t teach a student much in the way of real skills. Painting in real life is an exacting practice involving both physical and intellectual effort and skill.”

After graduation, Wood moved to Marietta, Georgia when her first husband received a lucrative job offer. She sold many paintings while living in Georgia, but when her husband’s job took them to Boston a few years later, she began to struggle in a larger, more competitive metropolitan art scene. “I had more trouble selling my work in Boston. I wasn’t recognized because I hadn’t gone to school there and wasn’t established locally,” said Wood, who grew up in a small suburban town in northern New Jersey, returned to Philadelphia in 1986 after a divorce and has lived here ever since.

In the early 1990s, her career was thriving. She had art studios in her home in Center City and also in New York City. Then suddenly, everything changed. ‘I just woke up one day, and my right arm was dead,” said Wood, who is right-handed. “I had a one-person show coming up, and I was terrified.” When the random arm numbness turned into persistent neck pain, her ability to paint was affected. Wood does not know the specific cause of her pain, but thinks it may be the after-effects of an earlier car accident, mixed with decades of repetitive motions from painting.

In an attempt to work through the pain, she started scaling back the size and detail of her paintings. “I began to paint the backgrounds with my left hand and fill in details with my right,” said Wood. She then switched from oil to acrylic, which put less strain on her neck. About 10 years ago, she made the difficult decision to stop painting entirely. “Even handwriting is painful. But for some reason, drawing doesn’t bother me as much except for rare days when I can’t even lift a glass because the pain is too great.”

Wood, 63, started writing and drew inspiration from the news to pursue a new vehicle for her artistic talents. In 2010, an underground BP oil pipeline had ruptured, spewing thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean. “What was often called an oil ‘spill’ was actually a massive uncontained leak into the Gulf of Mexico. It was horrifying,” said Wood.

Nature had been a theme in many of her previous works, including a series of 30-plus large-scale oil paintings. “My work is about nature and how we perceive it. We don’t live within nature; we are part of it. And I think we forget that at our peril,” said Wood, who drew the lush green flora for a gigantic collaborative mural, “Dinosaurs in Their Time,” at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

Her love of nature, coupled with support from her husband, led her to take up graphic novels. Wood’s husband and companion of 34 years, Michael Silverstein, is a business writer and former senior editor at Bloomberg’s Market magazine. “That’s why we’re so great together, we encourage each other,” said Wood. “I realized I could make a story out of the struggle for corporate greed over human sanity. Laughing at the world and what people do seems the only way to stay sane,” she says.

After three-and-a-half years of hard work and a successful Kickstarter funding campaign, Wood published her first graphic novel, “The Big Belch,” in July, 2014. It was awarded a Leeway Foundation Arts and Change grant in 2014 and is available on Amazon.com. “The Big Belch” is a satirical adventure of environmental crime fighters. The main characters, Maureen and Monty, resemble Wood and Silverstein in appearance only. “They look like Mike and myself just because we’re the most readily available models,” she said.

The title refers to “a hastily concocted and volatile new oil spill cleanup method” that releases possibly harmful methane gases when oil-eating bacteria are unleashed into the waterways. Wood has already amassed notes for subsequent books in the series. The next story will have a local spin. “Set in Sketchadelphia, Pencilvania, it’s going to be about fracking and what it’s doing to the local waterways,” said Wood, who adds it will be a couple years before it is finished. “All those drawings take time.”

Even though she still experiences pain at times, she’s found a way to work around it. “When the pain gets too bad, I just have to stop. Everyone has their roadblocks. But I’m an artist first. Whatever gets in my way, I will find a way to create art. So many people have far worse problems.”

Read the original article here.

Image credit: Alicia M Colombo. 

At the Intersection: Leeway’s RELEASE Illuminates Stories of Gender and Mass Incarceration

At the Intersection: Leeway’s RELEASE Illuminates Stories of Gender and Mass Incarceration

Written by Emily Mayer for Groundswell
March 6, 2015

Walking into the Leeway Foundation’s new exhibit RELEASE, it’s hard not to notice that you are surrounded by faces. From the large paintings of artist Mary DeWitt to the campaign ephemera curated by Mariame Kaba and Rachel Caidor, the show’s project is clear: to bring women and trans* peoples’ narratives of incarceration and state-sponsored violence out of the shadows.

Coordinated by the Leeway Foundation, which aims to “support women and transgender artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change,” in collaboration with the Bread & Roses Community Fund, RELEASE is both “an art project and a history project,” according to Caidor. “In this moment, we are seeing more and more women being subjected to the criminal legal system, and mass incarceration is really ramping up the ways that especially women of color are imprisoned.” Coming out of organizing for Marissa Alexander, a Florida woman who was convicted for aggravated assault after her husband attacked and threatened her life, Caidor said she and Kaba realized that “[Alexander’s] not the first person who had this experience of having to defend herself against an abuser and then ended up being victimized by the criminal legal system that’s supposed to protect her.”

Kaba and Caidor’s portion of the exhibit uses newspaper clippings, campaign ephemera, and photographs to tell the stories of women who have been incarcerated as a result of self-defense throughout American history, beginning with a woman slave who killed her owner and ending with Alexander. Carefully curated, the room serves as an echo chamber of historical resonance, as it marks how women of color have not only been victimized by the courtroom but also fought back against the violence of their daily lives. “It’s time for people to hear women who are incarcerated, hear the voices of trans people who are incarcerated, not only to highlight that they are existing but that they are resisting too,” remarked Caidor.

Mary DeWitt’s portraits demonstrate resistance on a more intimate scale by depicting women serving Life without Parole (LWOP) in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is one of six states in which LWOP remains legal. DeWitt has spent the past twenty five years painting locally incarcerated women, recording their stories and scrawling text from interviews on the canvas so that their voices are included in the work. Calling her subjects “a microcosm of the whole system,” DeWitt said her Leeway grants have allowed her to provide a mirror for women dehumanized and homogenized by prison IDs and uniforms. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played women’s recordings back and they’ve said, ‘I really like who I am.’”

Taken together, the work of DeWitt, Kaba, and Caidor speaks to the inextricable ties between art and movement-building. The exhibit is in fact part of a program series that will also host a Town Hall on Gender and Mass Incarceration on March 25th. “Movement building relies on art, whether it wants to admit it or not,” remarked Caidor. “We can’t separate activism and mobilization from art and aesthetics from healing and caring from all work of social justice.” In a city and state where mass incarceration and disinvestment from education loom large, RELEASE provides a much-needed window into the stories that are often erased, and the tools many are already using to liberate them.

*Leeway uses the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.

For more about RELEASE, visit http://www.leeway.org/release.

Exhibit hours are by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 10:00am - 5:00pm. Visitors are asked to call 215.545.4078 to schedule a viewing. In addition, organizations are invited to reserve space at the Leeway Foundation to view the work in conjunction with related events and/or discussions.

Read the original article here.

Generocity Profiles Leeway Foundation

Leeway Foundation Looking To Fund Women And Trans Artists To Prompt Social Change

Written by Erin Kane for Generocity 
February 23, 2015

The Philadelphia-based Leeway Foundation, a grantmaking organization that supports women and trans artists using art to create social change, is seeking applicants for its upcoming art and change grant.

The project-based grants of up to $2,500 are available to artists of all mediums, traditional and nontraditional, who reside in Bucks, Camden, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery or Philadelphia counties. Grant applications are due on March 1 and August 1.

A look at a previous grantee

Qui Alexander is a self-described queer and trans person of color who lives and works in West Philadelphia. In 2014, he was awarded an art and change grant to produce Bodywerq, a collection of filmed yoga instruction along with a documentary that highlights queer and trans yoga practitioners.

The project is designed to help queer, trans, and people of color feel comfortable practicing yoga. Alexander is currently a yoga instructor at Studio 34.

“Even though I was teaching these classes,” he said, “I wasn’t getting a lot of queer people or people of color.”

Those who did come often did not venture back because they felt out of place in the classroom. “The average yogi has no idea that many people feel isolated from the yoga community,” he said.

With an idea to help more queer and trans people benefit from yoga, Alexander applied for a grant from the Leeway Foundation, a process he called “super accessible.”

Similar to many of his peers, Alexander’s support from Leeway represents his first grant. It has lent his work a new level of credibility.

“It’s really important to think about wellness and healing from a social justice perspective,” he said.

In addition to a project that addresses some element of social change, artists are required to have a “change partner,” a person, organization or business, usually in the community, which is connected to the work.

Change partners may include mentors, editors, collectives, art spaces, theaters, nonprofits, dance studios, radio stations, and production companies.

“We support artists that engage in a reciprocal process with the communities that they are working with,” said Sham-e-Ali Nayeem, the program director at the Leeway Foundation. 

Discovering unknown talent in the community

Founded in 1993 to support women artists in the Philadelphia area, the Leeway Foundation began to examine its direction soon afterward. By the late 1990s, “the foundation expanded to contribute to larger movements of social justice,” Nayeem said, and in 2006, grant eligibility included trans artists.

Most of Leeway’s grantees are working in communities and may not even consider themselves artists, Nayeem added, because the fine arts world tells them they are not.

Leeway has supported culinary artists and hair braiders, for example, and some of its artists do not have formal training or fine arts credentials.

To reach applicants who may not be aware of its grantmaking, Leeway partners with a range of community-based organizations, including Art SanctuaryGALAEI and Juntos.

Artists can bring their ideas to frequent grant information sessions for “one-on-one help,” Nayeem said. “If you have an art for social change idea that involves your art practice impacting your community, please consider applying for a Leeway grant.”

In addition to the art and change grants — roughly 42 are awarded each year — Leeway also offers the transformation award, unrestricted support of $15,000 for women and trans artists who have demonstrated their commitment to social change work for at least five years. The deadline for that award is May 15.

Read the original article here.

Image Credit: LouRok Photography. 

Leeway Foundation and Bread & Roses Community Fund present RELEASE

PHILADELPHIA – Leeway Foundation and Bread & Roses Community Fund present RELEASE, an exhibition and program series that explores the intersection of gender justice and mass incarceration. On view from February 26 to June 30, RELEASE provides shared spaces for women, transgender, and gender non-conforming survivors of the prison industrial complex, as well as local artists, cultural producers, and activists to critically reflect and build power for change.

RELEASE includes a collection of portraits and narratives curated by Chicago-based activists Mariame Kaba and Rachel Caidor. Mariame and Rachel follow the history of women who have been incarcerated as a result of self-defense, dating all the way back to a woman slave who killed her owner, up to the recent federal case surrounding Marissa Alexander. The original artwork by Micah Bazant, Molly Crabapple, Billy Dee, Bianca Diaz, Rachel Galindo, Lex Non Scripta, Caitlin Seidler, Cristy Road and Ariel Springfield are accompanied by ephemera and artifacts documenting the campaigns that demanded the freedom of some of these women.

The other half of the exhibit showcases paintings by Philadelphia artist and Leeway grantee Mary DeWitt. Mary DeWitt’s portraits narrate the stories of women serving life sentences without parole in Pennsylvania. Mary’s paintings are striking images of women who gaze directly at the viewer. She scrawls text from interviews directly onto the portraits and audio of the women’s voices complement each piece, offering deeper insight into their lives and the conditions they have faced. Mary believes these women are “inaccessible to the public, yet their histories illuminate a crisis in our country that needs to be witnessed and rectified. They have so much to teach us about race, class, gender and the evolution of the prison industrial complex unique to the United States.”

Co-curator Rachel Caidor and featured artist Mary DeWitt will be present on Thursday, February 26 from 5:30-8:00pm for a tour of the exhibit and opening reception at the Leeway Foundation (1315 Walnut Street, Suite 832, Philadelphia, PA 19107). Press are invited to join us for a special preview from 4:30-5:30pm before the public opening.

Mariame Kaba shared in a recent interview about the collection: “This project and this exhibition were working to illuminate the logics of incarceration and how they structure our lives in various ways. And we’re in a moment right now when there is a greater ability to reflect on these issues than there has been in the past. But in the rise in consciousness around mass incarceration, one of the things that’s been missing has been a conversation about gender, whether that means transfolks or LGB folks or women-identified folks. Many of the conversations have been dominated by talking about men of color because they have been caught up in the system in such high numbers. But wherever there is the possibility to deepen and complicate that story, people have been interested and wanting to engage with it. This project has been a part of that.”

Exhibit hours are by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 10:00am - 5:00pm. Visitors are asked to call 215.545.4078 to schedule a viewing. In addition, organizations are invited to reserve space at the Leeway Foundation to view the work in conjunction with related events and/or discussions.

Leeway Foundation and Bread & Roses Community Fund has partnered with Philadelphia organizations to host public programs that grapple with issues of gender justice and mass incarceration. Program details follow:

Wednesday, March 25, 5:30-8:30pm
Friends Center - 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102

Local artists, community organizers, and activists will gather to discuss ideas and build a roadmap to ending mass incarceration and gender-based violence. Participants will make art, have access to resources and support, and collectively explore efforts towards a safer society where the lives of all people are valued and protected. Free and open to the public.

Tuesday, April 21, 5:00-8:00pm
Location TBA

The Philadelphia premieres of the feature-length film Out in the Night and the trailer of Free CeCe will be shown. These two documentaries offer firsthand accounts of how acts of self-defense against gender-based violence have impacted the lives of those involved. Filmmakers and subjects from both films, as well as members from Hearts on a Wire— a local organization of trans and gender variant people building a movement for racial and economic justice— will be present for a post Q&A with the audience.

About Mariame Kaba

Mariame Kaba is the founder and director of Project NIA, a grassroots organization with the long-term goal of ending youth incarceration. Her work focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and supporting youth leadership development. Kaba has a long history of educating and organizing against violence. She has co-founded several organizations including the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Young Women, the Rogers Park Young Women’s Action Team, and the Chicago Freedom School. Kaba runs the blog Prison Culture where she writes about issues of juvenile justice, prisons, criminalization, and transformative justice.

About Rachel Caidor

Rachel Caidor has worked in Chicago rape crisis and domestic violence crisis centers since 1997. She has been active in Incite! Women of Color Against Violence and was a founding member of the radical feminist dance troupe, Pink Bloque. She currently works at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

About Mary DeWitt

Mary began working in prisons almost immediately after she finished her graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania in 1988. She taught painting to men and women in the state correctional system, traveling throughout Pennsylvania. Believing that those serving life without parole were the most helpful and enthusiastic students, she continued to work with the same life-sentenced women over 25 years later. Mary’s hope is to communicate who these individuals are, on the Internet and by exhibition, using portraiture, video and the voices of the life-sentenced women.

RELEASE is presented with the support of our community partners:

1Love Movement, Address This!, Art Sanctuary, Attic Youth Center, BlackStar Film Festival, Books Through Bars, City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Restorative Justice Program, Decarcerate PA, Feminist Public Works, GALAEI, Gender Reel, Girls Justice League, Hearts on A Wire, I’m Free, Institute for Community Justice, Juntos, Let’s Get Free, Morris Home, National Clearinghouse for the Defense of Battered Women, PA Innocence Project, People’s Paper Co-op, PhillyCAM, Reconstruction Inc, Scribe Video Center, Sisters Returning Home, The Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation, Trans Justice Funding Project, Trans Oral History Project, Trans Wellness Project, Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, Inc., Why Not Prosper?, William Way Community Center, and Youth Art & Self-Empowerment Project.

About Bread and Roses

Bread & Roses Community Fund provides grants and technical assistance to support communities in the Philadelphia region that are taking collective action to bring about racial and economic justice. Since 1977, Bread & Roses has distributed over $10 million. For more information, visit www.breadrosesfund.org.

About Leeway Foundation

The Leeway Foundation supports women and transgender artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change. Through our grantmaking and other programs, we promote artistic expression that amplifies the voices of those on the margins, promotes sustainable and healthy communities, and works in the service of movements for economic and social justice. For more information about Leeway, its grant programs, grantees, and events, visitwww.leeway.org.

Press inquiries should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

Photos and images are available upon request.


Download a PDF of the Press Release here

The Advocate Profiles J Mase III, Founder of awQward

5 Artists You Need to Hear Right Now

Written by Sunnivie Brydum for The Advocate
February 10, 2015

These spoken-word artists are serving up unapologetic realness about being a trans or queer person of color in America. Sit back, listen up, and prepare to be blown away.

After decades of making noise, kicking ass, and fighting for queer visibility, the iconic record label known as Riot Grrrl Ink fell silent in November. The self-proclaimed "largest queer record label in the world" has represented roughly 200 artists over the past 15 years, including Indigo Girl Amy Ray's solo projects, Bitch, Staceyann Chin, and Nervous But Excited. 

But in the wake of escalating national tensions over police use of force and deadly interactions between law enforcement and communities of color, the label's founder and CEO, Gina Mamone, decided the energy she spent promoting bands was misplaced. And so the leader of the company that has "never pretended to be a traditional record label" took the website offline in November — shortly after a grand jury decided not to indict white former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. Today, clicking on the URL RiotGrrrlInk.com shows viewers a "parked domain" notification, complete with a GIF of a sleepy kitten. 

"We are closing for the rEvolution," wrote Mamone in an email sent to Riot Grrrl Ink supporters in December. "Being an ally is a verb, only you know your strengths and resources. This is us acting with ours."

Instead of promoting the bands on its roster, Mamone redirected her efforts — financial, legal, and otherwise — to supporting awQward, a new talent agency started by and for trans and queer people of color. 

As founder J Mase III eloquently explains in a Huffington Post Gay Voices article, Mamone's decision to shutter the iconic record label garnered almost no media attention. But this decision wasn't about attention, he learned. It was about solidarity. 

"Suddenly, here I was talking to someone who was an expert in her field (now my field), that wanted to make sure I had the support I needed," writes Mase. "In the weeks that followed, we spent hours talking about radical capitalism, legal supports, benefits for my employees and what my 10-year financial goals are for every artist on our roster. This felt like a revolutionary moment."

Here we present five of the most compelling spoken-word performances from artists currently on awQward's roster — which the organizers hope to expand in the near future. These artists have voices — and they're ones we should be listening to.

Read the rest of the original article and more about the other four artists profiled here.

Check out the video of J Mase III performing at Leeway's 2014 Trans Literary Salon.

Niv Acosta Featured In Art In America

niv Acosta

Written by William S Smith for Art in American
February 2, 2015

The performance niv Acosta was rehearsing when we met sets a science-fiction narrative to disco beats and uses theoretical astrophysics as a lens through which to examine issues of race and gender. DISCOTROPIC, which premieres this month in New York as part of the New Museum's Triennial, features a cast of four, including Acosta, who will deliver a fragmentary script the performers composed collectively via text message, while performing choreography that borrows equally from the high-modernist dance tradition and underground Bronx nightclubs of the 1970s.

Acosta, a transgender man of Dominican descent, described this new work as "futuristic," though his show's aesthetic hardly evokes space-opera clichés. The set of DISCOTROPIC will include decidedly homespun props: crocheted beanbag chairs that resemble giant limp phalluses. The future Acosta imagines is informed by the speculative literature of Octavia Butler and Samuel R. Delany, black writers who used a minor literary genre to articulate progressive ideas about racial and sexual identity. 

DISCOTROPIC is in some ways a departure for the 26-year-old Bronx native, who developed precise choreography for it rather than relying on the types of improvisation that structured his previous works. Most notably, however, the piece is "absolutely not about Denzel," as Acosta insisted in a recent studio visit. Denzel Washington has been central to the artist's work since 2009, when Acosta began a cycle of six pieces that grapple with his relationship to the movie star, an icon of black masculinity. With titles like denzel, denzel prelude and denzel again, the works typically involve a spoken monologue set to music, followed by Acosta's improvised movements, including ecstatic voguing.

The most recent installment, i shot denzel, presented at New York's Judson Church in 2013, began with a monologue about life, death, destruction and regeneration that was addressed to Washington and set to Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. When the monologue ended and the room went silent, Acosta repeatedly sprinted across the stage, pounded his fists against one of the church's massive columns and collapsed on the ground.

Though Acosta ultimately finds little affinity with Washington, he views the actor as a relatable figure, a popular foil—"one of the few consistently positive representations of black men in the media"—whose name makes even the most difficult performance appear accessible to a wide range of audiences. Like disco music and science fiction, "Denzel" has broad cultural appeal, an asset Acosta leverages to speak about his own multifaceted identity. 

COMING SOON Works by niv Acosta in Surround Audience: The 2015 Triennial at the New Museum, New York, Feb. 25-Apr. 24.

Read the original article here.


Ursula Rucker Delivers Poems At Church

Ursula Rucker Delivers Poems At Church

Written by Ariene Edmonds for the Philadelphia Tribune
February 5, 2015

Spoken word artist, poet and songstress Ursula Rucker of Germantown delivered selected epic poems at her home church last Sunday, Feb. 1. After the morning Mass at the St. Vincent’s Catholic Church, 309 E. Price St., all were invited to the fellowship hall for refreshments as Rucker opened its Black History Month series. The selections are part of a larger work the artist is proud of called “My Father’s Daughter.”

The artist’s mother, Palmina Rucker of Mount Airy, recalled how the title of the epic poem came about. It was during a heated moment in their household that her late husband reminded Ursula Rucker “she was her father’s daughter,” according to Palmina Rucker, a member of the St. Therese Church in the Holy Cross community.

“I am very proud of Ursula’s courage in doing this work,” Palmina Rucker said. “So many people don’t get to do what they love and express what they want to say. This is what she’s always wanted to do. This is her story. I just praise God that she did this at her church, and I hope that God will always have a hand in whatever she does.”

The Rev. Sy Peterka, pastor of St. Vincent’s, called Ursula Rucker “one of the treasures in our own backyard.” Peterka came to the parish last year after serving at a congregation in Baltimore. He was a frequent guest preacher at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal in Germantown. So, when he was planning the church’s Black History Month program, many congregants suggested Ursula Rucker be included.

“I thought her presentation was powerful,” Peterka said. “It’s amazing that she was able to recite each poem that was more than five minutes long from memory. She did ... in such a real manner, with so much passion and even using song. So many just told me that they were moved by it.

“I am glad she selected the poems from her collection that were related to Black History Month. I didn’t realize that she had so much expertise. The crowd just found her to be so refreshing. We were all very touched by the poems and we were just blessed to have her,” Peterka said.

Rucker, who is half African American and half Italian, wrote “My Father’s Daughter,” inspired by the story of her parent’s interracial marriage and sometimes violent relationship. This is one of her first major works after she made her fifth album, “She Said” more than four years ago. This is a story she openly shared at St. Vincent’s in the presence of not only her church family but three of her four sons who were in the audience.

For the artist, performing comes easily. She has taken her work abroad to the Montreal Jazz Festival, the Australian Freedom Festival, Amnesty’s global “Stop Violence Against Women” and even concerts in Fabrick, Hamburg in Germany. She has performed with The Roots and other popular recording artists and done solo tours across the country. It was in 2001 she recorded her debut album, “Supa Sister,” and then came works like “Silver & Lead” in 2003, “Ma’at Mama” in 2006 and “She Said” in 2010.

“I get my inspiration form just being awake,” Rucker said. “I am a child of God, and I am tolerant of other people’s experiences. I am respectful of others. I am humbled by the fact that as I look at the world around me I see what’s going on and sometimes I don’t like what I see. So, I write about it. I also share art as an option for those who are [restructuring] their lives.”

Read the original article here.

Image Credit: Ursula Rucker

Ursula’s Ultimate: Performing Her Memoir Live On Stage

Ursula's Ultimate: Performing Her Memoir Live On Stage

Written by Sheena Lester for Philadelphia Weekly
February 4, 2015

It’s been 20 years since velvet-voiced Philadelphia poet Ursula Rucker was introduced to the world on The Unlocking, the vividly visceral, sexually super-charged stanzas that closed out Do You Want More ?!!!??!, the sophomore album by The Roots that served as their major-label debut. Six solo albums, 177 guest appearances/mixes and some 270-plus credits later, it’s clear to anyone paying attention that this native sister and mother of four’s been as much an ambassador for her city as her amazing talent’s been a source of pride for it. (How many Philadelphia figures have solo murals in their honor etched onto a building? Exactly.)

A day before heading to Allentown for her teaching gig at Muhlenberg College and ahead of her highly-anticipated performances of the brand-new My Father’s Daughter at the Annenberg Center, the always enthralling Rucker spoke with PW about an array of subjects, including her latest epic work and what audiences can expect to encounter this weekend.

PW: So, how and when did the whole teaching thing start with you? Is that something you’ve been trying to do for a while? 
URSULA RUCKER: Well, I think it happened because I had a relationship with Muhlenberg College. I did a full residency [there] in 2009, and then I did a mini-residency back in October. So, I’ve had a little relationship with them, and since my mini residency, I’ve talked to the professor and we’ve became friends. He asked me if I wanted to teach, and I told him that that’s what I really want to do.

That’s great!
He was like, “Hey, let me talk to somebody for you,” and I was like “Really?!” He made it happen very quickly. And you know when something happens very quickly, you’re like “Oh, wait a minute now!” So I thought, I’m gonna be teaching every week for a whole semester. Is this what I wanted? It’s awesome. I’ve taught workshops and things like that, but now I’m hired as a teacher. I’m not a guest artist. I’m on the payroll now. It’s a small class; Muhlenberg is a small school. Maybe around 12 students. It’s nice, though. It’s just enough students. I just have to keep them interested and keep them moving every Saturday. The name of the class is "Page to Stage: Writing and Performing Poetry." I didn’t make up “Page to Stage.” I heard that many times before, and I’m like, “Well, it’s just that, so I’m gonna steal it.”

Do they call you Professor Rucker?
Actually, one of the students sent me an email calling me a professor, and I was like “What?! No, no, I don’t think so! But okay.” (Laughs)

Is there an approach you take to teaching that you may have learned from a specific teacher that taught you? You said its something that you wanted to always do, so is this all you, or do you take elements from different teachers you’ve had?
That’s a great question. I never really thought of that. I believe it’s all me because I’m so not organized, and many of my other teachers were very organized. I teach from a point of going with the flow, so when I had to write the syllabus—which was my first syllabus—it stressed me to no end. I’m sitting there like, “I have to predict what I’m gonna be doing?!” I don’t know what I’m gonna be doing! I had to do it because it is a formality, but really, I just go off of what the response is from the students and what they need—what their strengths and weaknesses are. So, it’s really just going with the flow, but within that flow, of course, having the structure of teaching the writing of poetry, the masking of rhythm with the writing and teaching of speaking the poetry—hearing your own voice, if they weren’t familiar with it, then performing it, then performing it with music. It’s kind of like a step process. I’m just teaching from my experience, and they can take it and see what works for them.

Is your approach to teaching—going with the flow but within a structure—your approach to writing poetry too? 
Yes. It’s my process for everything. Sometimes I say it to people, and they look at me sideways and are like,”Well, that’s the opposite,” but that’s how I work. It’s everything. It’s balance. That’s how everything works for me. When I’m working with my guitarist, Tim [Motzer, her longtime collaborator], I’m always using those opposites, but he understands me now. I’ll say, “Let’s do this” and give him two opposites, and he totally gets it. It’s just all about the balance. So, when we do a show, like the [one coming up], there’s a lot of structure there. But still, when we’ve been talking, and I’m like, “Okay, I still need to feel like I can move around so that I’m not stuck or confined. Everything is timed, and I don’t like that.” I can’t work like that. So, there is structure, but there is also room to move around. 

Is it just going to be the two of you on stage at the Annenberg?
Yes—and Tim’s girlfriend, Dejha Ti, is doing the visuals, which I’m super excited about because she’s amazing. She’s really spectacular. I can’t wait to see what she’s doing because it’s going to be a surprise. We haven’t really worked out a lot of things. It’s going to be very spontaneous.

Obviously, you have hometown fans on lock excited about this show. Is there something they are going to experience at My Father’s Daughter that they haven’t seen before? 
Oh, for sure—a lot. I still have the same heart, and that’s familiar, but this is all new territory to me. This is a live memoir so I’m approaching it differently. I’m reading a lot of it ‘cause it is like I’m reading out of my journal, but there is some performance in it as well. There are a few songs, a couple of poems, but the rest is really journaling; I’m kind of sharing a love journal. It’s a little bit of everything. I don’t really know what is going to happen. 

Have you ever performed any of it before? 
Oh, no. I have been working my ass off. I wrote this whole piece working with Tim. It’s all new. I’m actually scared to say some of the things that I’m going to be saying. My brother called me and asked what day he should come see the show, and I was like, “Uh, are you sure you want to do that? I’m gonna be putting our shit out on the street.” I had to tell him, like, “Look, I’m goin’ in—all the way in.” It’s definitely been a journey, and I guess the journey is going to continue because I haven’t performed it yet. I would have a handful of tissues at Tim’s house whenever we rehearsed.

Aside from your talent, there’s such bravery in what you reveal. Even on social media. You open yourself up and are so vulnerable. Is that easy for you? Is it natural?
It’s definitely not easy. But I don’t really know if it comes naturally. I feel like its something in the moment that I just have to do. I’m a Virgo, so I think about everything that I do. I would love to say that I’m totally capricious and whimsical, but I’m not. I want to be. When I’m writing, even if it’s just on a social network forum, if its something personal or whatever, I just look at it and think about it, and then I’m like, “Fuck it, go ahead.” So, I guess, yeah, it is part of my nature, but it is something I think about.

Do ideas for poems haunt you until they come out?
Definitely. The piece I’m doing now has haunted me for 20 years, from the moment I thought about it up until I started writing it. I carry little thoughts in my brain or I’ll write it down on paper, then lose it and find it two years later and be like “Yeah, that’s right,” and then I’ll hold onto it until the right time. Sonia Sanchez teaches that if you’re a writer, you should write every day. And even though she’s my mentor, that doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried to do it, but … it’s empty. I’m only able to do it when its time.

With [My Father’s Daughter], I’ve been talking about writing my mother’s memoir for 20 years, so this is, for me, a way of cheating because this is an experiment. I’m not writing a book; this is a live version of it. My mother has been asking me to write it, and I didn’t want to while my father was on this planet because a lot is about him, and I didn’t want to dis him while he was still walking the earth. Since my father died, my mom’s been like, “Come on, come on—you’ve gotta write this,” but I don’t think my mother knew really what that meant. And when I told her this is gonna be raw—you know me—she was just like, “Yeah, you’re gonna tell the truth.” I thought, Yeah, okay, she’s got it, but nah. My mom is really old-school. Eventually, she’s like “Am I going to be embarrassed?” I couldn’t really tell her how she would feel. I was just like, “Mom, that’s on you if you feel embarrassed. I can’t tell you whether or not you will be. But really, it’s about your triumphs. If you could see through everything else that I’m saying, in the end. it’s about your triumphs and celebrating you.” I told her: “If you don’t wanna be there, you don’t have to be there.” I don’t think she’s coming. My mom is a complicated being. And so the story [tells] why that is and how that complicated being affected me—and still affects me.

How long has your dad been gone? When did you lose him?
Three years on January 10. I can’t believe it’s been three years.

How has being a parent changed you? How have you raised your sons, and how have they raised you?
First of all, I was a spoiled brat, so it completely took me out of that. Even though I still feel notions of getting my way, everything that I do is for them. We do everything together, and now that I’m a single mom, we really do. We fight together, we celebrate together, we struggle together. If I’m having financial troubles, like it or not, we’ve gotta work together; we gotta get through this. This is the life of an artist. I have to drill it into them: This is my life, this was my choice, and I hope it inspires them to approach their life knowing that money isn’t the most important thing; you have to do something that is meaningful. I’m on their asses. I’m not like, “Hey, let’s sit down and do your homework together.” That’s not me. But I am that mom that when something happens, I’m giving a speech. I am on the pedestal. I am in your ear. I am on your ass—it’s gonna be like this, you know? My 16-year-old is probably most sick of me ‘cause I’m most sick of him! I just say, “If I survive you, I can survive anything.”

It’s funny—you don’t really realize or understand that your kids are raising you while you’re raising them. Nobody tells you that part of it, and sometimes you don’t really want that in the way they kind of force it on you! Has that been your experience at all with parenthood?
Yes, all the time! I’ve learned so much—and I didn’t know I was going to have four! They’re all different; the dynamic is crazy. You really have to deal and learn their different personalities and adapt. I think that’s the biggest thing: Adapting. That’s something a lot of people don’t learn. We just go along our way, and do it our way. I can do it my way, but I also have to do it their way sometimes. I don’t want to admit it, but its not always my way or the highway, although that is what I tell them. I’m not a super disciplinarian—their dad was. And now that we’re not together, that’s a difficult thing. Even when you’re stagnant, you can always rely on your kids to do something, even if its something like breaking a window. It’s the most challenging job I’ve ever had.

In the midst of last year’s turmoil with the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, what kinds of conversations did you have with your sons, and what were their reactions to it all?
So many conversations. Lots of watching the news together and being disappointed together. It was a moment of sadness as well as pride because I know that their reactions have everything to do with how I raised them and what I teach them, so there was the dual thing—like, “Hey, this is fucked up, but I’m glad that you care.” My 16-year-old walks around so unaffected, but even he is like, “Wow, this is real; you could be doing whatever, and in one second, its over–and it’s in front of the whole world’s eyes, and there is no legal retribution against the murderer.” It just blows your mind, and no one can tell me anything different. I know I’m a conspiracy theorist, but this has nothing to do with that. This is so clear and certain, and our country is the only one who’s nuts. Everyone else is looking in, like What is wrong with you all?

The last meaningful conversation I had was with a friend who is Swiss; me and him were talking, and what he said was like a bomb drop. He was like, “I’m looking at this, and we don’t understand this. We don’t understand why everyone walks around with guns. The only people who have guns here are hunters. We’re looking at that, like, 'What the hell is wrong with America?' And we don’t want to come there. It’s not human.”

I’ve been grappling with the fact that during this time, I had so many things going on in my personal life—my mom’s illness, lots of emergencies—and I couldn’t be on the front line for any of those [protests], and I felt so bad. First of all, I always talk about it and put it out there, and secondly, I’m going to record something relating to it to talk about these things. I make protest art, and I make it to last.

I saw people on Facebook a few weeks ago talking about the fact that Do You Want More ?!!!??! turned 20—so I guess that means The Unlocking turned 20, too.
Yeah. I was pregnant with Sudan.

Do you ever think about your introduction to the public and what it was like before then … and since?
Yes—in moments of intense gratitude for being a poet, which always blows my mind. Not that poets can’t rise to a certain level, but the shit that I do with my poetry? I would have never thunk it. I would have never believed what poetry has allowed me to do—the people, places, experiences, the relationships and the pieces of art that have been created. I was just thinking yesterday in the middle of the night about this time that I was in Amsterdam. I was just starting to record, and I was there to meet the A&R guy from the label I was going to be on, and everything was a blur. It was this whole big show at the Paradiso, which is this huge venue. It was me, Jill Scott–who was just starting, Rich Medina, King was spinning, Common was performing, and we were all on the same bill. Rich was just at the beginning of transitioning from being a poet to being who he is now, producing and all that. It was a magic moment. And I was just thinking about that and how much of a defining moment it was.

I’m looking just at the numbers online that say you’ve made 25 releases, 177 appearances, have 272 credits as a poet … 
Girl, I have never seen that in my life! I’m about to fall on the floor! I way low-balled that.

Well, luckily someone else is keeping track for you. 
That’s amazing. I’m telling you … this is the bug-out. The thing that I posted last night was one of those things that I thought really hard about posting, and it was a few days ago, but when this person said it to me, I checked them politely because they were older than me, and I had to respect them. They didn’t really mean any harm, but they said, “Ursula doesn’t work nowhere”—basically saying she’s struggling since she’s an artist and doesn’t have a regular paycheck. I knew what she was saying, but as soon as she said it, I was like, “Uh, excuse me—I do work somewhere. A lot of places. A lot. I work hard.” And she was instantly like, “Oh, no, I didn’t mean it!” I just wanted to clarify: When I’m not working, when you think I’m not working, I am working.

Read the original article here.

Martha McDonald’s Weeping Dress Featured On WHYY’s Friday Arts

Martha and the Lost

Produced by Michael O'Reilly for WHYY
January 12, 2015

The figure singing and moving slowly among the tombstones is dressed entirely in full mourning regalia from the 1800’s; a black dress complete with hoop skirt and veil. She looks out of place or lost, somehow. This is the artist Martha McDonald, and through her performance here, she is mourning the history of the Woodlands, and all the living things that have been lost with the garden. McDonald has been performing and making objects and costumes for years, but it is only relatively recently that she has been combining all of this. She is making installations and doing performances within the space and with the objects (she calls this “activating” the space and objects). One of her most successful “activations” was THE WEEPING DRESS. While in Australia, she spent scores of hours fashioning a replica of a 19th century mourning dress entirely from black crepe paper. She stood under elaborate plumbing designed to mimic the volume of tears shed by the grief stricken, and performed while black dye pooled under her petticoats. The dress, now almost light blue after losing most of its color, sits in a corner of her studio in Philadelphia. After that productive time spent abroad, FRIDAY ARTS visits Martha while she fashions THE LOST GARDEN – “a site-specific installation and performance at The Woodlands exploring impermanence and the fragile nature of memory.” Drawing on the language of Victorian handcrafts like jewelry made from human hair and wax flowers under domes, we see how Martha brings it all together, gathering performance, installation, history and handcrafts into her latest work, worthy of its own glass dome to keep and contain these disparate elements together.

Read the original article here.

Mary DeWitt: Portraits of Women Serving Life

Mary DeWitt: Portraits of Women Serving Life

Written by Misha McGlown for Of Note Magazine
The Imprisoned Issue - Winter 2014/2015

An 18-year-old Avis Lee was asked to be a lookout for her older brother and his friends while they committed an armed robbery. “What do I have to do?” she asked.

She was told that her job was to whistle if she saw anyone coming.

The robbery took an unexpected turn. There was a tussle and the victim was shot. Her brother and the others fled. Avis stayed behind, flagged down a bus, and called for help for the wounded man. Ten hours later, the victim died.

Avis was a willing participant in a crime for which she was assigned to pay her debt in prison. But, 35 years later—despite her exemplary record, her dedication to service from behind bars, and the fact that she did not commit the murder—she is still serving a life sentence without parole at the State Correctional Institution in Cambridge Springs, Pennyslvania.

Her recent request for a hearing before the parole board was denied. Lee will not be granted even a glimmer of an opportunity to demonstrate the evolved woman she has become. This common and recurring scenario would grow to compel Mary DeWitt’s work.

A mosaic featuring a selection of visual and audio portraits Mary DeWitt has created over the years of women serving life sentences. [Image courtesy of the artist via marydewitt.net]

Through audio and visual representations, Mary DeWitt has been profiling twenty similarly imprisoned women since 1994 when she received a New Forms Regional National Endowment for the Arts Grant that offered her the option to work with children or with people in prison. DeWitt decided that her talents would be best utilized in the prison system, and quickly discovered that lifers—those serving life sentences—were most receptive to the creative process.

DeWitt’s work is not as much about innocence as it is about humanity. The indignity suffered by these women lies in the severity and permanence of their punishments, and the near complete erasure of their identities in the process.

In the state of Pennsylvania, all life sentences are without parole and only the governor can grant a pardon. With governors increasingly unwilling to put themselves politically at-risk, pardons have become fewer and farther between. This system bodes particularly poorly for women, whose maximum security facilities are tucked away in exceptionally remote locations. These women are effectively hidden and silenced.

“Because of their total lack of visibility. . . no resources and extremely low self-esteem, they just are warehoused in prison for decades,” says the artist. DeWitt’s portraits give face and voice to a flawed and degenerating system in which these women would otherwise be invisible.

This work started with visits to Pennsylvania penitentiaries, where DeWitt would speak with women serving life sentences. Her subjects were recommended by prison staffers for a number of reasons, including discrepancies within their cases, outstanding behavior and service. Each of the women would have been highly eligible for parole almost anywhere else in the country. Many of them were victims as well—some battered and even forced to witness or assist in fatal crimes. But, DeWitt’s work is not as much about innocence as it is about humanity. The indignity suffered by these women lies in the severity and permanence of their punishments, and the near complete erasure of their identities in the process.


Avis Lee describes her life in 1979 and her life in present day after serving 34 years in prison. A visual portrait of Lee unfolds as she shares her story in this audio and visualwork by DeWitt. (“Avis Lee, Then and Now,” 2014)

In the beginning, DeWitt was able to sit with her subjects and render them from life, while recording hours of testimony. Harsher rules—aimed at protecting victims’ families and further disappearing people in prison from the public eye—have more recently prevented her from having close contact with the women. The artist has had to be more creative and discreet about garnering footage and keeping the project alive.

Some of the women speak about their lives in prison. Some share stories about their families, lives before prison, and even dreams. Some talk about the transformative work they have been doing while incarcerated, and some discuss their crimes. These conversations have been on-going and recorded for decades, with DeWitt repainting the women’s portraits at various stages of imprisonment, through a series she calls Then and Now. Their images and words have appeared on canvas, tiles, glass and inpublic murals. Their voices can now be heard at exhibitions and have, ultimately, found a permanent platform on YouTube. Many of the women are hearing themselves for the first time and have, through this work, begun to recognize their own self-worth.

Mary DeWitt in front of the public mural of Cyd Berger who is currently serving a life sentence without parole. The mural is located at Kaplan’s Bakery in Philadelphia. Photo by Andrea Brown, 2012.

DeWitt’s overarching goal is make her subjects “visible, real, known and valued.” She adds, “I want them to be very vivid, in their own words. . . .using their own faces.” She hopes to bring this project before the parole board one day, and is optimistic that the incoming Governor, Tom Wolf, will turn a kinder ear to issues faced by lifers.

Moving forward, DeWitt has juvenile lifers clearly in her focus. (Pennsylvania has more juveniles serving life sentences than any other state.) She also hopes to work with veterans convicted of serious crimes. She currently has several works on exhibit at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral and will be featured in a group exhibition, The Bigger Picture, presented by the Arts Council of Princeton, NJ, from January 17 to March 14, 2015.

Read the original article here.

The Bigger Picture: Mary DeWitt Blogs for Arts Council of Princeton

The Bigger Picture

Written by Mary DeWitt for the Arts Council of Princeton Blog
January 20, 2015

SCI Muncy, 1992, left, Sharon Wiggins, Cyd Berger middle front, Betty Heron on the right, and Mary DeWitt on the ladder

I started the work that led to the four portraits I have exhibited in “The Bigger Picture” by teaching painting in the state prisons in 1988. The most interested and helpful students were women serving life sentences. I didn’t know until then that they were caught in an unjust system with no visibility. We began classes focusing on portraiture – their self-portraits and my portraits of them. At that time, I could paint them from life and record their thoughts. They could make portraits using equipment that would be inconceivable to have in prisons today, for example sharp instruments to create linocuts. The staff and administration back then selected this group believing that they were candidates for pardon. A core group of eight women have been working together ever since, although Sharon Wiggins died in 2013. (Please follow the link to learn more about Sharon.)

Eastern State Penitentiary, 1997, portrait of Cyd Berger, 5’x5’ on glass, reversed

We did all kinds of projects, from creative writing (I remember one book we read, an anthology of poems and essays called This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, as well as articles by inspiring authors like bell hooks), to painting the activities basement floor. The group has also exhibited at sites like Philadelphia City Hall Courtyard, Bucknell University, Moore College of Art, the Smithsonian Institution and Eastern State Penitentiary.

Most of the women were very young when they came to prison. All in the group were first-time offenders. Two were only 17 years old, qualifying for their cases to be reviewed if Miller v. Alabama (please click the link to learn more about this important 2012 Supreme Court decision) is deemed retroactive in Pennsylvania. Three were in their late teens, two in their early twenties. Only one of the women in our group came to prison when she was in her thirties.

Cyd Berger

Each of my paintings in “The Bigger Picture” is accompanied by a video of the portrait developing from the beginning, with the subject’s interview in voice-over. You can scan the QR codes when you are at the exhibit, or you can go to www.marydewitt.net, to see the videos. Each video contributes to the bigger picture of our prison system in the United States over time, from the early 1970’s until now.

Avis Lee

As of today, Cyd Berger and Avis Lee (top two portraits) have collectively served over 70 years of life-sentences in Pennsylvania, a state where all life-sentences are issued without parole. In a 1993 recording accompanying the development of this 2014 portrait, Cyd Berger (top left) describes missing her children, her accomplishments in prison, and her intentions for a future outside of prison. She reveals the hope for pardon that hundreds of prisoners shared in Pennsylvania in the 1990’s. Avis Lee (top right), in a 2013 recording, describes her crime in 1979 and her work in prison now. Her determination to give back to society is consistent with the women I know who are serving life-sentences with no parole. They have been warehoused for decades too long in a broken system.

Kennetta Andrews and Laura “LJ” Kittle were a couple devoted to each other and the women they served at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy (in Muncy, PA, outside of Williamsport, formerly known as the Industrial School for Women), until Kennetta’s death in 2012.

Kennetta, in a 1995 recording made after she retired, describes the prison in the 1970’s. Muncy had no fence and beautiful oriental carpets, and was like “a plantation.” The guards were called “matrons” and were “elderly,” with the exception of Kennetta. She was in her early twenties and hired “on the spot” in an effort by Governor Schapp to have “more blacks” in the system.

LJ Kittle and Kennetta Andrews

 LJ Kittle, who retired in 2014, relates the extreme change during her tenure from 1985 until 2014, with the development of the Prison Industrial Complex. Her poems are included in the videos of her and Kennetta Andrews.

More awareness of the Prison Industrial Complex and the ruling on Miller v. Alabama gives me some hope. We in the United States are facing a humanitarian crisis in our prisons, one that requires immediate and radical change.

I feel fortunate to bring the plights of these women to the public’s attention through this exhibition and also through this article that appears in this month’s Of Note magazine.

Read original article here.

Leeway Foundation Announces 2014 Transformation Awards

Nine women and trans* artists representing three counties in the Greater Philadelphia area have been named 2014 Leeway Transformation Awardees, the foundation announced today.

The Awards are granted annually to artists who have demonstrated a practice of art and social change for five years or more. The 2014 awards were presented to a diverse group of artists and cultural producers working in a range of disciplines including literary, media and performance arts. 

“In our ninth cycle of the Transformation Award, the brilliant women and trans* award recipients we have supported are doing crucial work at a critical time,” says Program Director, Sham-e-Ali Nayeem. “In the midst of bleak times, they are creating art and impacting communities in innovative and purposeful ways. They each guide us towards the world we want to see.”

Leeway’s Transformation Award recognizes women and trans* artists and cultural producers whose work has impacted a larger group, audience, or community. The $15,000 award is merit-based; project proposals are not required and the funds are unrestricted. 

Out of over 70 applicants, the following nine artists were selected to receive the 2014 Leeway Transformation Award (in alphabetical order): 


A national panel convened to review applications and work samples in two stages. The 2014 panel consisted of: writer and producer fayemi shakur; poet and professor Lorna Dee Cervantes; performance artist and arts educator S.T. Shimi; media artist and documentarian Seyi Adebanjo; and media artist and previous Transformation Award recipient Yowei Shaw (LTA ’13, ACG ’13, ’12, ’11, ’10, ’09). Sage Crump, cultural strategist, facilitated the second stage. 

The selection process began in the spring of 2014 with an open application. A panel of national artists, activists, and cultural producers representing a variety of artistic and cultural practices met in the summer and made selections for a group of finalists to move on to the second stage. In the winter, the panel reviewed the second stage applications along with work samples, and made final decisions for the awards to be given to a group who, as emerging, mid-career, and established artists, fully embody Leeway’s mission.  

Applications are made available on the Leeway website, and may also be obtained by calling 215.545.4078 or emailing info@leeway.org. The next Leeway Transformation Award deadline is May 15, 2015. Potential applicants are encouraged to attend one of the many workshops and support sessions held throughout the year, or schedule an appointment with a foundation staff member for one-on-one support. 

Press inquiries should be directed to Denise Beek at (215) 545-4078, ext. 14 or dbeek@leeway.org.

*We use the term “trans” in its most inclusive sense, as an umbrella term encompassing transsexual, transgender, genderqueer, Two-Spirit people, and more generally, anyone whose gender identity or gender expression is nonconforming and/or different from their gender assigned at birth.

Download a PDF of the 2014 LTA Press Release with Artist Profiles and Panelist Bios.

Aja Beech on A.M. Weaver’s Ceremonies of Dark Men for the Huffington Post

Ceremonies of Dark Men

Written by Aja Beech for the Huffington Post
December 11, 2014

A. M. Weaver has devoted much of her working life to social awareness and activism through the arts. With her latest project, Ceremonies of Dark Men, she is taking participants on a journey through the American landscape through a lens not often enough explored.

Photo by Donald Camp, text by Fred Joiner.

It was in the mid 1990s when Weaver met Donald Camp, a newspaper photographer working on a side project she found interesting. "He used art forms that represented black males, educated black males," Weaver told me over the phone on a cold Monday morning after making herself some coffee. "Photography of black men to counter what he saw in the media." This work of countering media portrayals of black men, called "Dust Shaped Heart," is now an ongoing project. The title of the work was inspired by the Robert Hayden poem, Heart-shape in the dust.

Photo by Michael Platt, text by Major Jackson.

After seeing Camp's work and "Boxing in the Shadows," an unpublished manuscript by poet Afaa Michael Weaver, curator A. M. Weaver saw the potential for photography and poetry by black men, about black men, to create a true and authentic view into the lives of black men that is so desperately needed on a large public scale.

Photo by Stan Squirewell, text by Affaa M. Weaver.

Friday December 12, Ceremonies of Dark Men, or CoDM, Multimedia begins at the Lincoln Theatre, ushering in "a moment in time, poised as an opportunity to celebrate, revel and reflect on the lives of black men in new contexts." Part of the Washington, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities 5 x 5 Project, CoDM consists of five curators, Weaver being one of them, who then choose five different artists to work with, and Weaver has multiplied these connections of five to an exponential degree, creating an experience that encompasses the participant, and the Washington, DC area. The opening event for CoDM will feature some of the artists whose work appear in the billboards, such as poet Major Jackson, as well as live musical performances by The Cornel West Theory.

"It's always been my mission to continue a positive narrative for the black male within the racist constructs of the world," said musician and international DJ King Britt, who will be performing at the CoDM in collaboration with film makers Larry Cook, Rashid Johnson, Alexis Peskine and Jefferson Pinder. "I always love to contribute to my comrades' journeys as well." Britt continued, "This is one of those journeys. I feel my role in this show is right within my vision, change through sound." Britt has been doing quite a lot of changing through sound in Philadelphia, as he has partnered with The Village of Arts and Humanities to bring access to music-making technology, very literally, to the streets, with programs like The Stoop, where every Monday from August through October he held listening parties for youth. Playback Music is the result of that work as he continues to be an activist for black youth. Britt recently incorporated police scanner recordings, from the night of Mike Brown's death, into an emotional score for a multimedia live show at St John's Church in St. Louis, Missouri while participating in marches in Ferguson.

The billboards and banners of photographs and poems for CoDM will be in and around Washington, DC. They will feature work from photographers Donald Camp,Larry Cook, Isaac Diggs, Michael Platt, and Stan Squirewell are paired with poems from Kenneth Carroll, Major Jackson, Fred Joiner, E. Ethelbert Miller, and Afaa Michael Weaver will be displayed on five billboards throughout the city. Through a Layar App, audiences will be able to obtain more information about each photograph and poem, read and hear recitations of the related poem, and participate in actions through online mediums. This outdoor interactive experience through the art forms of poetry and photography are meant to directly counter dehumanizing aggressive media portrayals of black men by showing black men, as they are: complex people, and not racialized caricature. People who go to work every day, people who love their families, people who create the world around us.

CoDM in Multimedia
Lincoln Theatre, Washington, DC
December 12, 2014
7:30pm - 10:00 pm

Read original article here.

Board Member Heath Fogg Davis on Sex Classification Policies for The Feminist Wire

The Signs and Boxes Tell Us So: On Sex Classification Policies

Written by Heath Fogg Davis for The Feminist Wire
November 13, 2014

Sex-classification policies that bureaucratically and physically sort us into the binary categories of male or female may seem necessary and benign. But I challenge this deeply rooted social and legal custom in my research by showing that legitimate policy goals such as fraud prevention, safety, security, privacy, and even fair athletic competition can often be met by alternative means that do not subject individuals to the harm of administrative gender judgment and exclusion.

Most cities and municipalities have interpreted their gender identity non-discrimination laws to require the assimilation of transgender and gender variant people into existing binary sex-classification policies. Philadelphia, for example, now requires all new city-owned buildings to provide gender-neutral restrooms in addition to traditional sex-segregated restrooms. But why not use gender identity nondiscrimination laws to question the need for traditional sex-segregated bathrooms, locker rooms, and retail store fitting rooms?

Some restaurants in Manhattan and Philadelphia have built a series of gender-neutral floor-to-ceiling partitioned  bathroom stalls around a common area of sinks and mirrors. The floor-to-ceiling partitions establish privacy. Not only is this a more efficient use of space, it also eviscerates the impulse that some people feel to police public restrooms for individuals who appear too masculine or too feminine, or too androgynous to be sharing a restroom with them. Moreover, caretakers of opposite gender children and adults would be allowed to monitor and attend to those in their care without having to enter or bring someone else into the “wrong” bathroom.

We assume that gender markers are necessary for the provision of medical care. But “male” and “female” are not always accurate proxies for a person’s physiology and endocrinology. The goal in a medical setting is to administer the best health care to a particular patient. If, for example, a physician or dentist wants to know if a person is pregnant or may be pregnant due to the damaging effects of x-rays on a developing fetus, then that question should be asked directly instead of using sex markers as a proxy for that possibility. Some transgender men who have uteruses and ovaries can become pregnant, and some cisgender women cannot. Some transgender women have prostate glands, and some do not. Sometimes a person’s transgender experience is relevant to medical care and sometimes it is not.

In sports, sex markers serve the twofold goal of attempting to level competitive advantage and facilitating same-gender social bonding. The International Olympic Committee and the NCAA currently require that any female with a testosterone level in the normal male range may not compete as female, but may compete as male under the reasonable contention that higher testosterone levels increase physical strength and endurance. In non-elite athletics such a college club sports and recreational athletics, sex-segregated softball teams can be justified by the desire for same-sex social bonding. But when the competitive stakes are low, deference should be given to gender self-definition.

A major part of the justification for women’s only colleges such as Mount Holyoke, Mills, Smith, Wellesley, and Barnard is to remedy historical and ongoing institutional sexism by providing a space for female leadership, social bonding and professional networking within a larger male-dominated society. These private schools are exempt from Title IX, the 1972 federal law barring sex discrimination in public education. But that does not foreclose the question of whether Mount Holyoke’s recent decision to open its admissions process to everyone except for male-born and male-identified people, is the only or best way to achieve the legitimate and important goal of undermining institutional sexism.

A world with fewer sex classification policies would not be a world without gender distinctions. What sometimes gets overlooked in the current media treatment of transgender civil rights is the fact that many transgender people feel a strong attach ment to the male-female binary. Even those who are grouped under the transgender umbrella and define their gender as neither male nor female, gender fluid or gender variant are using the gender binary as something to push against. Gender theorists such as Judith Butler and Jack Halberstam are often misread as wanting to obliterate gender, when in fact they both argue that binary gender, although neither innate nor linked to particular bodies, anchors all of our social interaction. It is precisely because gender identity is so important to us that we should take care not to institutionalize situations that deprive individuals of the authority to embody and enact the gender identity that feels most right to them.

Of course sex-classification policies do not require or explicitly sanction transgender discrimination. Just because the person managing a Starbuck’s with separate male and female single-stall restrooms, or charged with processing sex-marked job or college application forms has the administrative power to inspect and evaluate gender in discriminatory ways does not mean that she or he will do so consistently, or ever. The problem is that sex-classification policies prompt and permit this kind of gender policing, which is always complicated by intersectional race and class judgments that are also often irrelevant to the policy goal at hand. It is the arbitrariness of this policing and enforcement that is the hallmark of gender identity discrimination.  One never knows when one will be subjected to de jureor de facto gender policing.  But one knows that such policing is administratively possible. The signs and boxes tell us so.

Read original article here.

Tina Morton on Toni Cade Bambara for The Feminist Wire


Written by Tina Morton for The Feminist Wire
November 23, 2014

It was a warm day in May 1994; the third annual Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema was about to begin, and the city was buzzing. I was late arriving to a moderated film discussion.

Here comes one of the filmmakers now.

These are the words I heard Toni Cade Bambara say as I entered a crowded coffee house in Philly. I quickly turned around, anxious to see the filmmaker coming in behind me. No one was there. Oh, was that me  she was referring to? I thought with my one eyebrow raised. I smiled at her she winked at me. See, that’s the thing with Toni; she could recognize who you were long before you realized it.

I was formally an x-ray technician at a large center city trauma center. I had the idea that I wanted to make a little film, so someone told me about Louis Massiah’s Scribe Video Center. That is where I met Toni Cade Bambara. She was conducting a scriptwriting class. It was such a safe space to explore and learn. In that class, Aishah Shahidah Simmonswas working on what ultimately became the groundbreaking film, NO! The Rape Documentary. I remember giving Toni two short sentences of an idea I had for a film. She gave me three pages of feedback and ideas to implement that vague vision. The result was the film Severed Soulsabout Corrine Sykes, the first African-American woman legally executed in Pennsylvania. Toni never saw the film, but she was so vital to its completion.

“Severed Souls” ©2001

When Toni became ill, the Image Weavers (A Black & Brown Women’s Film Collective) got together with raw chef extraordinaire Zakiyyah Ali to prepare her meals. Nadine Patterson, Zakiyyah, and I would bring Toni her dinner. We would spend hours listening and laughing at Toni’s stories and adventures. It occurred to me one day that while we are scarfing all this delicious food, Toni was not eating. I think she really just enjoyed the laughter and the love.

So fast-forward 20 years later. I quit my job as an x-ray tech, went to graduate school for film, and I am now an Associate Professor in theSchool of Communications at Howard University. This happened because Toni Cade Bambara gave me permission to be what I could not even imagine myself to be…a filmmaker.

I love you, Toni. I thank you, and I miss you.

“If You Call Them” ©2002

Read the original article here.

Photo credit: Carlton Jones

Executive Director Denise Brown featured in Al Dia

Leeway Foundation Sets its Sights on Women and Trans Artists

Part of The New Face of Nonprofits in Philadelphia

Written by Arturo Varela, Al Dia
February 2, 2014
English translation

Denise Brown is the executive director of Leeway Foundation, a granting organization that supports artists who promote social change and community transformation in their practice and whose work is not always recognized in the mainstream.

The foundation was established in 1993 by Philadelphia artist Linda Lee Alter with the aim of supporting women artists in the region. Over time it has evolved to additionally support all transgender artists.

"As an organization that supports artists who are marginalized because of their gender, it made sense to include trans people," Brown said.

With an annual budget of $900,000 a year, the foundation awards $225,000 in grants to artists.

These include the Art and Change Grant (ACG), which provides up to $2,500 for art and social change projects. The next application deadline for this award is March 1, 2015. 

The Leeway Transformation Award (LTA) provides $15,000 in unrestricted funds for artists who have demonstrated a commitment to art for social change for five years or more in the Delaware Valley region.

Amongst the projects that Brown recalls with special affection is MamaCITA Collective’s (ACG ’11) project "One Year," an installation of 331 wire sculptures to represent the number of murders in Philadelphia in 2012, highlighting public apathy surrounding urban violence.

"Our approach is to create an environment in which this work is supported, but we do not have an agenda related to any particular issue," Brown said.

Latino artists who have received a grant from Leeway include muralist Michelle Angela Ortiz (ACG ’13, ’12, LTA ’08, ACG ’05), who in 2012 created the mural "Here and There" which explores the impact of the South Philadelphia Mexican immigrant community.

"When you apply for a grant to an organization, the quality of your work is usually only seen according to gallery standards,” said Ortiz. "But Leeway Foundation sees the impact your project has on the community in which you work and recognizes that it is as valuable as the quality of the work itself."

For Denice Frohman (LTA ’12), a spoken word artist and slam poetry champion, receiving the Leeway Transformation Award enabled her to focus on the production of the album "Feels Like Home" which focuses on the intersections of race, gender, and sexual orientation.  

According to Brown, diversity is not an end in and of itself for the foundation, but rather a result of their efforts to face a variety of systemic problems, fight against race and class oppressions that affect all people, and make an effort to challenge social norms and attitudes about sexuality and gender identity.

For that reason, every time Leeway awards a grant to an artist, she feels proud of the achievement.

"I feel privileged and honored to do this work to motivate the work of artists in the Philadelphia region," Brown said. 

Read original article in Spanish here.

Image credit: Elisha Lim

Executive Director, Denise Brown on Aesthetics and Social Change


Finding Beauty In Another Reality     

Writen by Denise Brown for Animating Democracy
November 18, 2014

A decade ago, when the Leeway Foundation decided to support artists and cultural producers interested in community transformation and working at the intersection of art, culture and social change, there were a lot of questions raised about the aesthetics of such work. The general presumption of the majority of our critics was that our interest and appreciation for the aesthetic value (aka artistic excellence) of the work would be lost and, as a result, the nature of the work we supported would take on a more didactic form. This was a nice way of saying it would be bad art, because there seemed to be a belief that both things – beauty and social change intent – could not exist in a work of art or cultural act that would satisfy an aesthetic ideal.

There are so many definitions swirling around – relational, social, cultural, but most often we speak of aesthetics as if there is a single context that should inform our relationship to beauty that presumes a common framework and set of experiences. Perhaps in a way there is; or rather, we’re taught to recognize high art and fine art traditions as the standard by which every other form of artistic and cultural expression’s value is judged. Artists who use different modes of creating, who have a different vocabulary, who make a familiar set of aesthetic choices (to them, their families, their communities) illuminate the beauty they find where they are. It takes shape as culturally specific, community-based, and engaged work; work that articulates and reflects struggle; work informed by identity, politics, or socio-economic circumstance; work that intends to give shape and voice to hidden realities on the margins and further outside the circle.

In this context, how can we as ‘outsiders’ assign value, aesthetic or otherwise, to the power and beauty of this work to the people it represents?

The more I involve myself in conversations about the nature and substance of aesthetics as it relates to ‘socially engaged’ art and cultural practice, the more I find myself thinking of a quote I read recently, “That beauty applied to some things and not to others, that it was a principle of discrimination, was once its strength and its appeal. Beauty belonged to the family of notions that establish rank, and accorded well with a social order unapologetic about station, class, hierarchy, and the right to exclude.” (Quote from Susan Sontag’s, An Argument Against Beauty) So, given what Sontag’s suggesting, how do we engage with the aesthetics of this way of working without bias?

At Leeway, it’s important to us that we create a framework for decision-making that acknowledges that bias – how power and privilege play out in who gets to claim space as an artist. I tell panelists that our process asks for their curiosity and willingness to believe that another reality is not only possible but also valid; and I encourage them to take risks as they imagine what could change in the world if these artists accomplish what they’ve set out to do. I ask them to honor the honesty and bravery of the applicants, to hold their stories and let them lead us into their communities and their hearts. In my experience, if we do that they will always show us where beauty lies.

Denise Brown
Executive Director

Read original article here.

Image credit: Rachel Heidenry

Board President Amadee L. Braxton on Toni Cade Bambara for The Feminist Wire

My TCB Experience 1991-1995

The Feminist Wire
November 25, 2014

I first met Toni Cade Bambara when I was a researcher for the documentary film W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices, directed by Louis Massiah and for which Toni was the coordinating writer. I was an undergraduate student then and would eventually drop out of school for a period to work full-time on the project. During the making of that film from 1991-1995, I came to view Toni as my mentor and an important role model who profoundly shaped how I see myself as an artist, cultural worker, and Black woman.

You may have noticed that Toni’s initials, T.C.B., also stand for Takin’ Care of Business, and I believe it’s no coincidence. Toni was no nonsense, sharp as a tack, and extremely quick, always ahead of the curve. She was a voracious student of the culture and a cultural critic, constantly tracking, digesting, interpreting what she saw, heard, and felt happening around her. She seemed to have seen every new international film release its opening weekend, and she tracked trends in hip-hop and every new slang or expression that would enter into the vernacular. When I met her at age 20, she was more up on hip-hop and pop culture than I was. I remember her asking me what I thought of the re-emergence of the word “nigger” among young Black people—was it a commercial gimmick or was it some legitimate expression of how young people were feeling about themselves? I wasn’t sure, I told her, maybe a little of both? I was always surprised that I felt a bit behind the times around her, because I prided myself on having my finger on the cultural pulse. But Toni was always two steps ahead. She was thorough. She also was glamorous—in the way that a confident and complex woman just is. She embodied all that I could hope to become as a woman.

I worked closely with Toni during the Du Bois process, responding to her research requests as we all tried to get right the often hidden history of Du Bois’ life and times. She would preside over the creative meetings with Louis, fellow writers Thulani DavisAmiri Baraka, and Wesley Brown, and director of photography Arthur “AJ” Jafa. I would sit there at the ready like a grateful sponge, absorbing the wisdom spinning about, taking notes on additional research assignments the meeting would produce. These meetings could go on for hours, and were kinetic affairs covering all manner of topics, deep musings and political extrapolations tying Du Bois’ story and our history to contemporary analysis of America and our Black experience of it. If these meetings were a seven-course meal, the car rides home with Toni, Louis, and AJ, were the digestif portion of the evening, conversations where I could process all that I had been privy to.

In the midst of our work on Du Bois, Toni invited me to take her documentary scriptwriting class at Scribe Video Center, the community media haven founded by Massiah that is still thriving. At the first class, Toni presented a 12-page thoroughly put together syllabus for this 4-session course that went well-beyond scriptwriting and included everything one would ever need to produce their first short documentary. At the bottom of page one of the syllabus was the heading:


with a lot of blank space underneath.

Toni began class by having everyone introduce themselves, identify what skills and knowledge we had, and getting agreement that we should all share our phone numbers, because we could act as crew and provide resources for each other. She set us up to be a community, whether we had planned that or not. Toni told me later on in our relationship that she was always about building community and getting people organized to be useful to each other, regardless of setting. To her, this was a practical matter. If she was standing in the grocery store and the line was moving too slowly, she would start talking to the others in line as well as the cashier to build a plan for what they ought to do about the situation.

Page three of her syllabus began:


It went on,

To be responsible creators, we need to recognize that we have been trained to invisibilize people in several ways that are likely to undermine our projects. Note the following unethical habit 

1) Trafficking in missing-qualifier usage: saying ‘feminist,’ for example, when we actually mean ‘European American feminists of the USA’;

2) Engaging in delusional thinking: claiming ‘objectivity,’ as though statements can be, or should be, free of self-interest, bias, or a particular perspective; claiming ‘universality,’ as though difference, diversity, cultural specificity do not exist, or that anyone is in position to know what’s ‘universal’ if everyone does not have an equal power to be heard;

3) Reducing the world to ‘Black and White,’ as though this binarism/dualism reflects reality or is an ‘innocent’ habit of speech.

AS SPECTATOR: Who is talking to you? Who does the filmmaker assume you are? Who are you?

AS CREATOR: Who are you? What is your relationship to the subjects (people/characters) of your project? Who is your intended audience?”

Toni could couch the most subversive or controversial notion into a most matter-of-fact sentence. Like when she told me that “Tragedy” was an overrated western construct and that, as Black people, she didn’t feel we had time for it. That’s why her stories focus on struggle, resilience, getting organized to do what needs to be done, or at least how to figure it out on the way to knowing the answer.

Toward the end of the Du Bois project, Toni received her cancer diagnosis. She offered to pay me $10/hr to help organize her papers, and asked me if I thought that was a fair wage. I told her yes (as it is well above the minimum wage in many places now, almost 20 years later), and I commenced to taking the suburban train out to her co-op apartment in the Germantown section of Philadelphia once a week. Actually it was two apartments combined into one, and I would sit, legs spread into a V, hunched over piles of what seemed like random scraps of paper and sorting them into file folders labeled by story title. There were lines of dialogue on a bar napkin, settings sketched out on backs of envelopes, a character name penciled on the inside of a match book. Bits of inspiration she had recorded for later. And she had reached later.

On days when her energy was good, I would sit there enthralled, losing blood circulation in my butt, sorting her papers as she would tell me stories about her life—like the time she went to Brazil for a spiritual retreat during a difficult period in her life, and was so not herself that she became completely preoccupied with an attractive young blind man who she eventually realized was not blind at all.

Or when she got the notion that it might be easier to make money being a contestant on Jeopardy than by writing—she always got every answer on Jeopardy correct, she told me—and so she went to Atlantic City when they were holding the east coast try-outs. In the first scene—Toni’s storytelling was always in scenes—she is in a huge casino ballroom with masses of white people all there to try out for the show. Most are men, and they are cramming trivia, reading books, looking at flash cards, and no one is talking to each other. She is the only woman of color in the place, and her eyes scour the room for someone to talk to, but no one will catch her eye. She spots a Chinese-American man across the way and approaches him to find out what he knows about the process. The two of them start talking and sharing ideas and everything they know. Pretty soon a crowd has gathered around them to listen in. At lunchtime, one of the crowd— middle aged white man—invites the group back to his hotel suite, which is filled with encyclopedias and almanacs. He orders room service, and they eat and share strategies, get to know each other. His wife tells Toni he’s been trying to get on the show for years, and never makes it past the first round.

This story has many more scenes, but to cut to the chase, in the final scene, Toni is in the last round before you get to be a contestant, the one where they have you in a studio scenario to see how you handle the pressure. Under the hot lights of the fake set a question forms itself in her mind,

What the ____ am I doing here?!?

It dawns on her that in all the time she has spent going back and forth to Atlantic City for weeks, through round after round of Jeopardy try-outs, she could have written her next book. She walks off the set. End scene.

All of the stories Toni shared with me were a way of conveying her own life experiences as entertaining insights for my benefit. But the most enduring insight Toni offered me gave me a profound sense of freedom that has shaped my sense of agency in the world to this day. I was entering my junior year of college, a time when I was expected to have figured out my professional path and planned the latter part of my studies accordingly. I had developed a habit of attending all these lectures in high cultural theory, and the intellectual stimulation of that stuff made me want to stay in academia, maybe teach in higher ed. At the same time, being part of the amazing Du Bois Film project had me wanting to be a filmmaker. I also saw myself as a writer, and maybe there was something else out there I ought to be doing. (1st world problems? Maybe.) I asked Toni outright for advice on which direction I should choose. As usual her answer was very matter-of-fact:

What’s stopping you from doing all those things? Don’t feel you have to be locked-in to one thing for the rest of your life. I’ve been a teacher, a waitress; I worked on a lobster boat one summer. I’ve always been a writer, and now I’m also a filmmaker. I’ve found that you need to reinvent yourself every so often. Take what you learn from one pursuit and translate it into the next. There’s no reason you can’t do that.

I have since passed this same insight on to many confused young (and older) people who’ve come after me. I call it the TCB Art of Reinvention talk.

Thank you, Toni.

Amadee L. Braxton
Philadelphia 2014

Read the original article here.

Image credit: Harvey Finkle.

Executive Director Denise Brown on Toni Cade Bambara for The Feminist Wire

For Toni and the Sisterhood, with Love...

The Feminist Wire
November 25, 2014

I knew Toni Cade’s voice before I met her. I first heard/found her voice in the preface to the ground breaking 1970 anthology The Black Woman

We are in a struggle for liberation: liberation from the explosive and dehumanizing system of racism, from the manipulative control of a corporate society; liberation from the constrictive norms of ‘mainstream’ culture, from the synthetic myths that encourage us to fashion ourselves rashly from without (reaction) rather than from within (creation). What characterizes the current movement of the 60s is a turning away from the larger society and a turning toward each other. Our art, protest, dialogue no longer spring from the impulse to entertain, or to indulge or enlighten the conscience of the enemy; white people, whiteness, or racism; men, maleness, or chauvinism: America or imperialism… depending on your viewpoint and your terror. Our energies now seem to be invested in and are in turn derived from a determination to touch and to unify. What typifies the current spirit is an embrace of the community and a hardhearted attempt to get basic with each other…

It’s all in there: her ear for language; her cadence and use of complex rhythms; her wry humor and empathy; her passion and love for black people; her honesty and curiosity; her foresight expressed as allegory; and like all work with the power to transform the culture, her words seems outside of time and prescient these almost 45 years later.

The first time we actually spoke was after a screening at International House (aka IHouse) in Philadelphia; it was 20 years after the publication of that seminal work and long enough ago that it was okay for us to smoke [inside] while dissecting the night’s screening. By then, I had read more, including Gorilla, My LoveThe Seabirds are Still Alive, and The Salt Eaters, in which she asked THE question that I have been turning around in my head for the last 30+ years like a Zen Buddhist koan:

Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?… Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.

At IHouse that night, I discovered Toni was an embodied storyteller. She was completely animated, so alive and present, so totally within the narrative and focused on the object of her attention, her powers of seduction so strong she made believers of us all. I know she made a believer of me. I told her the story of Phuoc Phan, my Kung Fu Sifu, a master of Seven Mountains Spirit Fist King Fu, and his journey from privilege to re-education to the great post Vietnam War migration to the U.S., and just like that she invited me to join a scriptwriting class she was teaching at Scribe Video Center. I think she asked something like, 

"Did you ever think about making a film about him? Why don’t you come to my class at Scribe?"

Of course I hadn’t thought about it, but suddenly, it seemed not only possible but also important, so I went to the class, which was actually for community organizations that were part of Scribe’s Community Visions program. It was the beginning of my connection to Toni and Scribe and the international community of artists, cultural workers and organizers committed to the use of art and culture as a tool for social justice of which I’ve become part; a commitment that continues to define my work today.

Toni once told me that as black women we’re part of a sisterhood and have a responsibility to hold each other up in the world; we can certainly find that is the case throughout her work—certainly The Black Woman is a form of testimony to that reality and intent, or as she says, “…a beginning—a collection of poems, stories, essays, formal, informal, reminiscent, that seem best to reflect this preoccupation of the contemporary black woman in this country… Many of the contributors are professional writers. Some have never before put pen to paper with publication in mind. Some are mothers. Others are students. Some are both. All are alive, are black, are women. And that I should think, is credential enough to address themselves to issues that seems to be relevant to the sisterhood.”

It is in that spirit that I have sought guidance from the sisterhood and from a black woman’s trinity that often includes—my Mother, who gave me the capacity to love and trust in the possibility of me, all that I am and can be; Audre Lorde, who taught me not to be afraid of fear and gave me a message about connecting to the source of my power, who’s words have provided inspiration and solace in times of personal struggle; and Toni, who gave me a message about joy and empathy and action and helped me see how we can foster deep connection through art, culture and community to transform our communities and the world. Her life is a stunning example of her belief that “a writer, like any other cultural worker, like any other member of the community, ought to try to put their skills in the service of the community.” She taught me about the nature of leadership and community in the way she lived, and like all truly great leaders, in the lineage she has left behind, each of us connected to the other through our love and respect for Toni—her humanity; her work as writer, cultural worker and organizer; her love of [all] the people; and her joy in the effort. As Alice Lovelace said about her,

Thanks to her capacity to share of herself and her knowledge, she has many sprouts and branches…She taught us about the social responsibility of the artist.

I believe Toni’s stories and legacy have a lot to teach about our need to adapt and evolve; about keeping pace and being relevant; and about staying connected and being responsible for and accountable to the members of our community. I am so grateful to have known her. I miss her; she made everything irresistible.

…The book is dedicated to the uptown mammas who nudged me to “just set it down in print” so it gets to be a habit to write letters to each other, so maybe that way we don’t keep treadmilling the same ole ground.


Denise M Brown
Philadelphia 2014

Read the original article here.

Colette Fu featured on NBCnews.com

Ancient Art Revives Connection to a Culture Left Behind

November 21, 2014
Written by Vanessa Hua for NBC.com


The first time Colette Fu visited China, people recognized her at once.

In the 1994, when she was traveling on a tour that stopped at a college in Kunming, in southwest China, the dean rushed out to greet her, shaking both of her hands. “I didn’t understand why he was so honored to meet me,” Fu said. “I found out my great-grandfather had been governor of the province and a general, and he’d helped found the school.”

The dean invited Fu, a recent college graduate, to teach English – launching her two-decade exploration and documentation of China’s ethnic minorities, culminating in handmade pop-up books featuring dazzling photos that spring up on ingenious mechanisms.


Growing up in New Jersey and later in Virginia, where she was the only Chinese person in her school, she didn’t feel like she fit in – not until that fateful trip to China where at every turn, strangers became family.

She stayed for three years in Yunnan province, where nearly half of the country’s 55 official recognized minority tribes reside. The first year, she hung out with expatriates. The next, she began taking pictures of her friends, and by the third year, she’d gained the confidence to travel by herself, taking pictures of strangers. In 1996, she searched for the torch festival in Sichuan province, said to be an annual tradition of her mother’s tribe, the black Yi. But she couldn’t find it. She asked for help from a travel agent who found a relative of Fu’s – a dance teacher who invited her to stay with her.

In turn, that auntie introduced Fu to a policeman, a distant cousin who took her on a 10-day journey by tractor, bus, and horse to her mother’s ancestral village of Jinyang. When Fu struggled, the cousin told her, “If you don’t get up, I’ll carry you on my back.”

Colette Fu has spent decades researching and documenting the lives of China's ethnic minorities, publishing in the form of beautiful, intricate, hand-cut paper pop-up books. Fu works in her studio in Philadelphia, Pa.

The following year, when Fu returned with her mother, her cousin took her back to the village, but this time they drove.

“Did they just build the road?” Fu asked, perplexed.

“It’s always been there,” her cousin replied. He’d just wanted to take her on the trek.

Back in the States, she earned a Master of Fine Arts in photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and learned how how to make pop-up books by deconstructing them. She returned to China in 2008 on a Fulbright grant, on a project entitled “We are Tiger Dragon People,” focusing on the minority tribes in Yunnan.

“My goal is to introduce these groups, some aspect of their culture that’s unique,” said Fu, 45, who lives in Philadelphia’s Chinatown.

Fu grew up in New Jersey and later in Virginia, one of the only Chinese students in her school. Today, she makes her home in Philadelphia' Chinatown.

Zvezdana Stojmirovic, a professor of graphic design at the Maryland Institute College of Art, praised Fu’s work in What Weekly. “Flurries of bright accents—magentas, cyans, and reds— are dispersed around neutral backgrounds creating a seductive cacophony of color. I find myself taken slightly aback by details that challenge my assumptions of beauty: creased skin, missing teeth and heads wrapped in sacks.”

The lighting for the photos in each pop-up have to match, preferably without strong shadows and with similar lighting. Fu waits awhile after shooting the photos, to a gain a fresh view in order to create a story.

First she makes a digital collage on her computer, figuring out placement and color, and then works on the pop-up mechanisms that cause her composition to explode from the page.

She mounts the photos and cuts by hand; plotting and cutting by laser is too imprecise. Over time, she’s developed tendonitis. Sometimes, when she bears down on the X-acto knife, she hears a click in her elbow, and once her elbow popped out. “Now I can’t do pushups!" she laments.

As a full-time artist, Colette Fu is a rarity among Asian Americans. “It takes juggling a lot of different tasks to survive as a working artist,” Fu said. “An old boss in the publishing industry once told me he thought it was 35 percent making art and 65 percent marketing.”

As an Asian American, Fu is a rarity in the world of working artists. A recent survey found that just 7 percent of art school graduates are of Asian descent, and 3.9 percent are working artists. The vast majority are white.

Her parents immigrated to the United States to attend college, and her father’s priorities were to support the family. To make art, Fu spends hours each week looking for grants and residencies that give her the freedom work on what she wants.

“It takes juggling a lot of different tasks to survive as a working artist,” Fu said. “An old boss in the publishing industry once told me he thought it was 35 percent making art and 65 percent marketing.”

She also teaches, works on public art projects, volunteers in the community – including running workshops in a homeless shelter – and freelances for clients including Vogue China, Canon Asia, Moët Hennessy, and Louis Vuitton, on projects that include the largest pop-up book in China, displayed at a luxury mall.

Fu returned to China earlier this year, with awards from the Leeway Foundation and the Swatch Art Peach Hotel artist residency in Shanghai, to expand her project, visiting Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Guizhou, Guangxi, and Hunan.

“I didn’t think when I started the project I was taking pictures of things that were evolving so quickly,” Fu said. But at a festival, she noticed everyone was wearing machine-made versions of textiles, some paired with modern-day platform shoes, mini-skirts, and make-up. “I panicked, thinking I had to change my project. Then I realized I just had to travel deeper. You can still go to the village, where people still look like they did twenty years ago.”

Read original article here. 

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