Chris Boles is one of the curators behind the Double Mirror Exhibit, (a bimonthly art show at Delaine's Coffee in Pittsburgh's South Side) and the art manager at Red Fish Bowl, (a Pittsburgh based artist collective). He's the most productive yet laid back person I've met and seems to know anyone making anything in the city. In this chat we learn about it all!
Before you hear our conversation however, there are a few chats I collected at the 2014 Greater Pittsburgh Art Council's Annual Meeting. Guests to the meeting were treated to performances from 1Hood, including a standout showing from Blak Rapp M.A.D.U.S.A.
The keynote speaker, Roberto Bedoya, (executive director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council, which includes the PLACE Initiative), spoke on the theme of belonging and how art and culture connect us to more than just a place but also to a way of living. I'm happy to say that he didn't pull any punches or speak only on the cheerier topics of art, culture, and bringing people together. Instead, he got right into social justice and the history of what George Lipsitz called "white spatial imaginary," which has actively criminalized non-white, non-Christian culture and ideas in the United States. The audience hung onto his words, specifically when he described Rasquachification:
"The Rasquache spatial imaginary is a composition, a resourceful admixture, a mash-up imagination that, through objects and places, says, I’m here—whether that be New Orleans, East L.A., the Bronx or South Tucson—and I’m part of the many and I walk down these streets with a Rasquache passport that says I belong."
— Roberto Bedoya, "Spatial Justice: Rasquachification, Race and the City"
This hits us hard here in Pittsburgh where it's easy to feel like an outsider. The dominating voice that seems to demand a focus on all things "black and gold," pierogis, and now $15 cocktails just doesn't include everyone.
After Bedoya's speech, Janera Solomon of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater mentions the new hotel being built next door. She explains how very nice the chain is and predicts that the latest building will be equally so—offering free WiFi in an open lobby where people will be encouraged to work on their laptops, even if they are not guests. It's a part of the "revitalization" happening in East Liberty. While a nice invitation, Janera stresses that part of the gesture requires the hotel to create a welcoming atmosphere and is skeptical whether it is possible for everyone in East Liberty and the surrounding neighborhoods to feel that way. She wonders also if the art she makes in her theater can be viewed as a threat to those hypothetical hotel patrons.
You may ask, why are you going on about this before a chat that seemly has nothing to do with this topic. Well, I'm writing all of this here because we didn't get to it in the soundbites from the meeting or in the chat with Chris, (that was recorded before the meeting in mid-November). I'm writing all of this, because since the GPAC meeting there's been even more evidence in the headlines of why belonging and place-making, place-keeping, and welcoming are important ones. I'm writing this here because if I did this in a separate post with a different headline then you probably wouldn't have clicked on it. I'm writing all of this because I'm still trying to figure out where I belong. Even though on the outside it looks like I should fit right in with the dominating voice I mentioned above, I don't feel that I do.