wherein we entertain the notions of a creature embroiled in sorting multiple identities. is she a mother? a poet? a performer? an organizer? or is she simply the product of a feminist movement in which women dreamt that simultaneously singing opera, tap-dancing, spinning plates, spouting rhetoric and solving algorithms was liberation. here are the rough drafts.
You've met Christiane D. Leach here on a few years ago. I blogged about The Formiable Christiane D. Leach in 2008 when I was thinking about folks people should know. Now, here is a story you won't believe. It's a story about the way gentrification hurts communities of color. It is a real story. And this time, it just got up close and personal.
Meet Christiane D. Leach a respected Pittsburgh artist who is internationally known for cool beats and smooth vocals. As the Artist Relations Coordinator for The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, her purpose is to make Pittsburgh a more viable and sustainable place to live and work as an artist. Part of that viability is being able to purchase a home. In November of 2013, she planned and implemented HE-HO,one of the most comprehensive conferences for artists to learn about affordable health care and home ownership.
Little did anyone know, during that conference, through no fault of her own, Leach became homeless. Her landlord sold the house she was renting, gave her 30 days to vacate and the closing date on her new home was delayed once again. Her credit score was good. She had her closing costs in hand. She had completed all the necessary paper work. She had done everything in her power to move the deal forward to a successful conclusion.
She was working with the most logical choice to help her achieve her own dream of home ownership, the FHA. The FHA has successfully helped millions of low to moderate home buyers purchase homes, moving America away from a nation of renters to a nation of home owners.
The only thing she failed to take into full account is Pittsburgh’s attitude toward Black neighborhoods. Since1980, Black population in the region has increased, while the Black population in the City Of Pittsburgh has decreased. From 1990 the Black population in Pittsburgh has dropped from 101,139 to 79,710.
Gentrification, inability to afford housing and obstacles to obtaining properties in distressed areas have all served to push Black out of the center city.
After over a year of attempting to purchase a home, Leach was informed today that the only way she will be able to purchase her home in the distressed area of Homewood is through cash or an owner financed loan. In essence, unless you have cash, the only way to be a home owner in a distressed neighborhood is to have over $30,000 on hand. Not many people today - let alone African Americans - have that kind of money sitting in a bank account.
As much as I enjoy making and creating my own work, I love being an artist in community. And sometimes, I can't stand it that not everybody knows about every massively inspiring creation I encounter in my own life. It was that same need to create, collaborate and build community that inspired a non-profit, I co-founded and ran with Christiane Leach, Sun Crumbs. Back in those days, when I encountered incredible artists, the first thing I did was scheme about a way to get them to present in Pittsburgh. Christiane and I eventually shut down Sun Crumbs because funders were more interested in changing our vision to meet their own objectives and models.
A few years ago, I decided to stop asking permission to do my art work. I applied for very few grants. When I did apply, I presented the work as I saw it within, rather than as a list of objectives funders laid out before me. Needless to say, I went unfunded more than I went funded. Not surprisingly, my work was more supported abroad than at home in Pittsburgh.
Living in London, brought about a tremendous inner freedom. My time spent at Historic Royal Palaces, University Of East London and City Lit College made me vibrate due to the positive reinforcement for being honest within my own artwork. All of these experiences lead me to artist residencies and retreats.
When I returned home to Pittsburgh, I made a conscious decision to no longer ask permission to create and produce. I was simply going to do it. So, I produced my one woman show, "She Diva Died. & Come Again?" I realized, that changes in technology would free me to pursue my own work in community with other artists. With all of this in mind, I began The Svaha Paradox Salon which responds with agility to under-exposed artists whose voices are marginalized due to the way in which they are performed in the minds of the dominant culture. And together, we share the results with audiences.
Svaha Paradox Salon resumes where the Sun Crumbs left off in 2003 to seek out artists whose exceptional work requires support from non-traditional sources. Svaha Paradox Salon provides the encouragement necessary to complete these projects.
In 2012, I noticed M. Ayodele Heath was hosting digital salons on Facebook. Inspired by the early 20th century French surrealist parlor game, Exquisite Corpse, M Ayodele Heath was offering group poetry writing exercises. (Syllabic Sundays, Metaphoric Mondays, Wildcard Wednesdays, and Free Verse Fridays). I asked him, how he was archiving these. He had thought about it. I (and other participants) encouraged him to do more than think about it. Then, I asked him if he'd be willing to let The Svaha Paradox Salon make this project our first book.
To date, over 130 of these exercises have been created by poets of all experiences and geographies – from state poet laureates to the casual journaler; from South Carolina to South Korea to South Africa. We've selected the best. The poems in Electronic Corpse: Poems From A Digital Salon reflect the way in which social media has transformed the ability of artists to engage with each other regardless of physical constraints or externally driven outcomes.
It’s a truly unique and layered book. The anthology has two sections: the collaborative poems and poems from the most frequent contributors. The reason we are publishing individual poems is our hope that by seeing the individual poem, the determined reader might excavate that poet's voice within the larger voice of the group. Almost like a soloist in a choral piece.
The most important part of this anthology is for archival reasons. Unlike pre-digital artistic communities, there will be no cocktail napkins or scrawled notebook pages to reconstruct the ways in which artistic communities engage. In regards to social media - entire conversations can be lost if one person deletes their account. This book archives one digital salon over the period of a year.
Making art and building arts community is truly amazing in the Digital Era. Some days, I wonder if the same tools had been available in 1998, whether Electronic Corpse: Poems From A Digital Salon would be the twentieth anthology I've produced. Regardless, I am happy to start somewhere. This book feels like one of the many reasons I showed up for this life.
"A closed window looks down
on a dirty courtyard, and Black people
call across or scream across or walk across
defying physics in the stream of their will.
Our world is full of sound
Our world is more lovely than anyone's
tho we suffer, and kill each other
and sometimes fail to walk the air.
We are beautiful people
With African imaginations
full of masks and dances and swelling chants
with African eyes, and noses, and arms
tho we sprawl in gray chains in a place
full of winters, when what we want is sun.
We have been captured,
and we labor to make our getaway, into
the ancient image; into a new
Correspondence with ourselves
and our Black family. We need magic
now we need the spells, to raise up
return, destroy,and create. What will be
I want to talk about something extraordinary. Two young activists (12 and 10) told me they had written to Michelle Obama and the Girl Scouts to explain why won't be participating in selling cookies this year. They told me that harvesting palm oil is one of the primary problems creating orangutan habitat loss. Seven years ago, this was brought to the attention of the Girl Scouts and they made a “pie crust promise” to find a solution. They’d like to see the Girl Scouts make good on their promise.
I’m impressed that two young women decided to commit to taking action about which something the care very deeply. They cared enough to share their concern with me. They cared enough to ask for help letting people know about a problem. Together we photoshopped images to get attention for the issue. And they started a petition on change.org
In order to understand how extraordinary this is, think back to yourself at age 10 and 12. The urge to be “part of the group” at that age is strong. This is the time in most young women’s lives when they are worried about fitting in. But, this issue is so important to them, that they chose not to do something they feel is ethically wrong just to be part of a group.
I think we should stand with them so that they will know that they belong to a larger group of people committed to creating a better world.
Share the information so people can make informed decisions.
Make a donation to the Girl Scouts and let them know you don’t want cookies. If you are a Girl Scout, simply ask for donations to the girl scouts and/or bake your own cookies and give them away as a reward.
Stand in solidarity then write your own letter. If you are a Girl Scout, refuse to sell the cookies as a member or troop and write a letter.