Dear Friends,

This season I’ve been working with several artist-run collectives in one-on-one sessions—from South Carolina-based Black cultural organizations to Boston-run Black arts collectives, from For Freedoms to the 2020 winners of the Whiting Foundation Literary Magazine Prize, and, of course, Black Art Futures Fund grantees. Almost 20 groups! It’s certainly a challenge and a privilege to see the ways in which artists, culture makers, and storytellers also use the vehicle of the institution to bring a community together, inspiring me to endure the zoom room marathons.

This year, Red Olive articulated, in writing, our Core Values, one of which is: Use Global Views to Problem Solving—The Answer Could Be Anywhere. In no way is my work prescriptive, simply because art forms and regions and context and people change things, but there have been two big conversations I’ve had with folks and subsequently meditating on these last few months, and they are resonating with me louder than ever.

1. Artists who start institutions can and should see the institution as an extension of their artistic practice.

The ways in which I run Red Olive—the services we offer, our focuses and projects— bloomed once I realized they were as urgent and necessary as the poems and stories I write, the quilts I stitch, the music I play. The urgency around THE WORK of Red Olive shifts when I hold it as an art project that also generates resources for my team, moves people and resources for the organizations with which we partner, and encourages community collaboration. 

2. If you can, find other ways to fill your cup.

The trapping of calling Red Olive and its projects my artistic practice is to potentially conflate the wells with which I may turn for community, meaning making, etc. I am able to let Red Olive be so much more to the world when I begin to invest in other interests and passions. 

Recently, I’ve taken up horseback riding—a childhood dream so financially out of my reach until now. I have a Black woman training me and each session I have to work to overcome my fears, to find a new language in my body to collaborate with another living thing with its own mind. Three mornings a week, as I approach the stable, I ask: What does it mean to have the horse work with you instead of for you? What does it mean to “say” the same gesture over and over with reins until I know what it is I need, and so too does Blue, the horse I ride. I then come to the Red Olive work table ready to listen and speak differently than I had before even this stretch.

Tell me! Where do you go to fill your cup? What global views (or new experiences) do you adapt to get at what you’re trying to say? How is it giving you new language for THE WORK?

In Black love,  

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