C. Davida Ingram fuses arts and social justice in her new role at Seattle Public Library.
C. Davida Ingram constantly pushes her own boundaries around race, community and social justice, causing everyone in her orbit to do the same. She’s an instinctive curator/artist who creates dialogues deeply rooted in the African American experience of today, ancestrally and of the future all at once. In the past year alone, she birthed multiple highly personal performances and installations. Last month, she also took a giant leap from a cushy job as the education and visitor experience coordinator at the Gates Foundation Visitor Center to become the new public engagement programs manager at the Seattle Public Library. There, she’s working with the librarians to grow cultural programming and helping the Library become an information hub and community portal that feels thoroughly relevant to citizens. We caught up with her to talk about the last year and what she’s looking forward to with her new job.
What have the last 12 months been like for you? Your career seems to be at an all-time high.
I’ve had four big projects in that time: the installation and performance project I WISH A MOTHER WOULD; my recent exhibition at the Northwest African American Museum [Eyes to Dream: A Project Room]; a collaboration with Hanna Benn in [City Arts’] Genre Bender and a group show I curated at SOIL this May. I’ve kept busy and maintained a focus on working with artists of color with a breadth of experiences and disciplines. I co-founded Seattle People of Color Salon in 2011 and this spring decided I wanted to step back and let that project have new permutations. Right now, I’m working through concepts for a new show at the Frye, and chewing on ideas that came up as I checked out the Venice Biennale.
The Seattle Public Library recruited you away from Gates Foundation Visitor Center earlier this year. Why did you leave Gates?
Why do I feel like this is the professional version of answering why did you divorce your wife? Seriously, my hope is that the Library can explore work around global health, global development, education and homelessness that the Gates Foundation tackles. This transition had a lot to do with my wanting to return to my work in the arts and a more community-centered practice. Being at a really vital public institution like Seattle Public Library is a really beautiful opportunity for me. They are really progressive and visionary.
What’s it like for you being an independent artist tasked with working from inside the walls of a large institution?
I don’t think I have the tensions I used to have around who I am as a thinker/doer and the places I work as an artist. I do social practice and cultural work, along with arts administration—they’re overlapping skill sets. I look for professional opportunities that leverage the skill set I have. I am less likely to want to be an against-the-grain hire. For example, the Library is lasering in on its social justice policies. I want to be there for that type of institutional game-changing moment. I also think it’s powerful to know who you are in institutional spaces, to be able to bring your whole self to the table. For me that means taking words like global citizen, social justice, creativity and innovation and never cheapening or bastardizing them when they get minted in large-scale settings. That takes a certain amount of rigor, risk-taking and organization because it’s easy as hell to be near-sighted in a big organization.
What are some of the things you’re most excited to undertake and design for the Library?
The Library is such a jewel. It’s a planetary organization in a way. The branches feel like constellations of unique community relationships and it is the place to go if any idea has taken hold of you. We are living through some new warp speed moment in the information age and I am enough of a sci-fi nerd to want to see what it means for local communities to really claim libraries as the centerpiece of the information age. Basically, I am in nerd heaven.
On Aug. 14, Seattle Public Library presents Legendary Children: Paris is Burning, a free event at Seattle Art Museum celebrating ball culture among queer and trans people of color.