In preparing for this exhibition, we received the input of members of Leeway’s community through a series of meetings held over a period of two years. Seventy artists, organizers, curators, and other community partners (some grantees, some not) participated in these conversations and provided their perspectives on what this milestone celebration of the foundation should represent. These conversations were mostly centered on the question “What are 1 to 3 things you would expect to see at a Leeway retrospective?”— and certain themes emerged, highlighting some of the following expectations:
We’ve used the occasion of this birthday to show work highlighting the stories of communities and identities that are often marginalized, work that shows us the nuances and complexities contained therein. From Beeta Baghoolizadeh’s tenderly crafted drawings of the quotidian aspects of everyday life in an environment that has been overtly politicized in our current hostile political reality; to Mary Dewitt’s large-scale portraits of women who have been caught up in a draconian narrative as their lives have intersected with the criminal justice system; to Maria Dumlao’s magnificently rendered History in RGB, a series of color-coded images that propose alternatives to systemic representations ordered by colonial narratives; to the wonderful women of The Colored Girls Museum installation, who through their vision provide a range of loving expressions of an identity most often represented as a trite stereotype; to the altar room created by Erika Guadalupe Nuñez and Ana Guissel Palma to honor ancestors — cultural, movement, and familial.
At last count, there are over 100 artists involved in this exhibition. I believe they have helped us create something that represents Leeway’s community and demonstrates through their contributions what we mean when we talk about the creative possibilities that exist at the intersection of our actions and clear intent. As I’ve watched this exhibit become realized and met with artists and partners and watched artwork being installed, I’ve found myself thinking – marveling really – that this thing we’ve been talking about for years, now less than a month away, is taking on its own life.
The outpouring of goodwill we’ve received from artists and allies has been heartwarming and inspiring, and though I’m currently mired in the minutiae of Pantone colors, battery-operated candles, stacking chairs and labels … I want to take time to express my immense gratitude to the staff and board of Leeway and our partners at Moore, without whom this celebration would not be possible, for their unconditional support of my vision for this exhibit. And to all of the participating artists, to everyone who came to a meeting, or patiently listened to me thinking out loud, or contributed their time and intellectual capital, in any way — THANK YOU! I am grateful for your support of the Foundation’s vision and values and appreciate how when called upon you showed up without question. We look forward to celebrating with you and hope that we’ve been able to capture some of what you shared as your vision of what this could be.
In preparing for this show, I went back to re-read Maria Rosario Jackson’s 2011 report Building Community: Making Space for Art where she states, “Good places to live have more to offer than adequate housing, transportation, jobs, schools, and commercial amenities. They have spaces in which residents can express themselves creatively, connect with one another, and engage in experiences that expand their intellect, imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and even their capacity for compassion and empathy — spaces in which art happens. These spaces can help transform residents into neighbors, mundane experiences into extraordinary and inspiring occurrences, and bland and monotonous places into communities with organic identities that grow out of the history, aspirations, passion, and imaginations of the people who live there.”
More than anything, I hope this exhibit, Making Space, is a place that gives you some idea of the ways Leeway grantees utilize their practices and mastery of medium to preserve culture, build community, and create space for new narratives to emerge. It’s just a snapshot of what we’ve become and where we are today @ 25 that we hope provides a glimpse of what the future can be.
In the words of writer, educator, poet, and former Leeway staff member Walidah Imarisha:
Leeway wants to stretch the skin
To clothe all of our bodies
So that the creativity
That flows through all of us
And bursts like capillaries
— Excerpted from the Leeway Vision Poem
Inspired by and with input from the Leeway Foundation
Denise M. Brown