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Field Notes

Space Is Where We Gather

Poetry scattered throughout the Alice Gallery the Sunday after Election Day.

 

After election day, I invited people to spend time with me in my gallery. I had no agenda other than creating a place where people could be comfortable, among like-minded people, in a refuge separate from potential harm or triggers. I offered a place to read, listen to records, sip hot cocoa and get some food in our bodies—or just be in a place where we could sit and laugh, cry, talk or not say anything at all.

People have been showing up since: artists, writers, curators and friends outside of the arts. Each day some two to eight people sit in a circle on comfy chairs and mats near the window, which is framed by warm, festive strings of bright bulbs. A bounty of candles in various sizes twinkle on a table near the record player and an array of ceramic sculptures. Everyone, including me, seems grateful to spend time away from the harsher world outside and online, where hostility toward people of color, womxn and LGBTQAI folks ramped up overnight. Here, we can sit together, listen to the sound of rain on the window and commiserate. We discuss the state of politics and how to mobilize direct action. We talk about how to continue our creative practices. We try to tease out a concrete path forward through the next four years. After the last three weeks, I’ve vowed to continue this practice each day.

I’m not alone in seeing the potential of galleries, dance spaces, retail shops and other creative spaces and places for gathering, consolation and safety. On the Wednesday after the election, Jillian Steinhauer published a post on Hyperallergic listing a number of art spaces offering a refuge. At the top of the post is a screenshot of an Instagram post from Recess Arts in Manhattan:

Over our short history, but specifically over the past year, Recess has negotiated a pressing question: How do we identify the needs of our community and address them with care? Care is different than service. Care implies a proximity—a physical closeness—and an ethos. We have asked this question together with our artists and thinkers in the context of overwhelming pain and trauma. We will continue to collectively ask and respond as best we can.

Today, Recess will offer a space of care, food, drink and rest. Bring loved ones, children, family, friends. We will be open from 12-6 p.m. Please come slow down with us, step back. We need each other.

While Recess focused on a safe space for processing, rest and healing, Artists Space in Tribeca prioritized resource-sharing and planning, with an emphasis on decolonization. Panoply Performance Library in East Williamsburg emphasized a focus on direct action and civil disobedience. Mayday Space in Bushwick offered to host a gathering of resistance and resilience alongside cooking, art making, brainstorming and strategizing. And on and on.

Throughout my five-year history at Bridge I’ve been trying to answer my own questions about how to build community space that exists beyond the sterility of a white cube and brings the arts back into daily life. But now these questions also become about how to galvanize and share our political resources—legal advice and services, LGBTQAI health care, community clinics, non-crisis helplines, stress management, self-defense, digital security, etc. How are art spaces uniquely positioned to capitalize on their capacity to gather and mobilize their communities?

If we are truly concerned about the safety of our ongoing activism, we need gathering spaces for face-to-face organizing and refuge from the mainstream culture that supports patriarchal white supremacist attitudes towards marginalized people. Art spaces can fill these needs—and they can also serve as a bridge between art enthusiasts who are outside the activism sphere with the activists who largely make up the population of art makers.

Other Seattle artists and community organizers are also using their spaces to maximize their position as leaders and activists. The Sunday after the election, artist Satpreet Kahlon hosted an event called In the Name of Survival at the Alice Gallery, where she recently signed on as a curator. The event offered a casual, low-key afternoon gathering to nurture community, read, share a meal or process emotions without judgment. White co-conspirators were welcome to join as long as they respected the need to center and hold space for womxn and femmes of color most affected by the outcome of the election.

When I arrived, the Alice was transformed from its usual bright-white life as a cube into a low-lit cozy den of softness and comfort. Rugs lined the typically bare painted-black floor. Plush, colorful pillows and stacks of soft blankets were arranged in a circle on the rugs, and throughout the space Kahlon had scattered more than 40 printouts of poetry from various authors—some from Arabelle Sicardi’s #survival tag on Tumblr—for visitors to read. She stacked up piles of books along the edge of the floor along the wall. In one end of the gallery she laid out a roll of butcher paper and provided pens, pencils and markers for drawing. In the foyer, she provided snacks and refreshments.

“After the election, I knew I needed to do something, and immediately,” Kahlon told me. “It was a matter of survival. Either I could sink into my despair, or let it energize me. So I hosted In The Name of Survival with no expectations and very little planned. I wanted to transform the gallery from a space that can often feel insular, institutional and intimidating — even for me— into a space that feels familiar, cozy, and inviting. And I think I succeeded in doing that.”

She continued, “I’m not interested in superficial efforts around diversification and accessibility. I want to continue avoiding expectations and structure around the event so that those who come can have genuine agency and freedom in the space to use it as they need and want. That feels like real community to me. Creating this in a space like the Alice is the way that I will continue to do my work and build a quiet resistance around the idea of caring for oneself and one’s community. Because it’s hard to always be fighting without giving yourself time to be tender.”

I agree.

Our collective response and resistance to a Trump presidency and the capitalist, patriarchal white supremacy that led us to it is grassroots, homegrown and geared toward community over commodity. As the owner and curator of a young, small gallery I can’t serve as a viable liaison or relay between capital-C collectors in the capital-M market and those who create the work they desire. But I can affect influence and action through friends, colleagues, audiences, patrons and donors.

Together, we can and will intertwine our professional practices with social justice—compiling informational resources, encouraging a deeper investigation and execution of our purpose and position in the arts, and striving toward racial/gender/generational equity. In our sphere of influence, we lead by example. We don’t back down on our convictions and we make it very clear where we stand.

The same evening as Kahlon’s gathering, Adria Garcia, community galvanizer and owner of the Capitol Hill boutique Indian Summer, opened up the back room of her shop for a full dinner among friends with a hearty stew, fluffy delicious fry bread, and a crackling fire in the wood stove. Throughout the evening, people came and went, hugged, laughed, cried. Some shared their plans to join relatives at Standing Rock. Discussions about direct action and organizing circled around the table. The room was warm with a sense of strong, lasting communion. I left feeling that despite great political difficulty, through our dynamism and humanity, we will endure. 

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