Reflections on the Deep Roots Bold Future Conversation Series by Greg Giovanni

August 26, 2020


I just watched the entirety (so far) of this series—a brilliant idea from the Painted Bride. I was hoping to find among these four conversations between young artists and ‘elders’ a communality of purpose and theme. The similarities of our conversations can be easily guessed at—how we, as artists, are dealing with the pandemic, the longing for our respective communities, and a thirst for true social justice. What is remarkable is the variations of language, insight and strategies among the eight artists over four disciplines.

“Making your own space” is the artist’s reaction to being shut out:

Eric Jaffe found how theater excludes non-conforming and trans people, so they started writing and producing their own plays.

When Arnetta Johnson was in high school, there were no string interments (her first choice) so she took up the trumpet.

Sudan Green carved out a space for black bodies to appear on yoga mats and at campsites.

But then comes the problem of (what elder artist Ozzie Jones called) “The Mint Julep Institutions”—where ‘black theater’ is NOT the same thing as ‘theater’—where (as Ozzie said) “they want us to show that we are ‘winning’ while we ARE winning all the time!”—where “they haven’t yet realized that THEY need US, we don’t need them”.

This last quote is paraphrasing Cheyenne Barboza and I continue to do so because she later underlined why we must continue to call out all forms of discrimination: “It’s bitter people say it’s ‘Call-out Culture’. I call it ‘Fed-uppedness’.” The Fed-uppedness that ignites BLM, and the Me Too movements is the same fire that propels young artists to create their own bands, ballrooms, and companies. They assert to the Mint Julep crowd, “you don’t own excellence, you don’t create the message, we do.”

Watching (or better yet) participating in these talk you will see the usual snafus that we’ve come to recognize (Can you hear me? Are you muted? You’re frozen. Etc.) but each young artist has a story of how they are dealing with isolation and the technology of ‘now’. As Arnetta rightfully declared, “This is the time for the Indie Artist.”

She points out, (even with our rudimentary computer skills,) we have the time and “time is precious.” and “You’ve got to get out there—if you don’t have content, you’re not making it right now.”

And artists ARE creating ‘content’, from Eric’s reinvention of “Drag Brunch” (they film themself making and enjoying brunch, playing a few songs and telling a few stories) to Arnetta’s wrangling with Zoom recordings for her ensemble.

All agree that the joyous part of this new way of living is reaching people who were previously cut off. Brunch is now available to people with disabilities (who can’t get to the restaurant), people under 21, and those who cannot afford the live event.

Cheyenne pointed out that, despite fledgling attempts to wield technology, we must start to “Churn out the nuance of virtual space”. She went on to exclaim, “We can bring our dog in, and those with allergies can still enjoy the beautiful dog and everyone’s cats can jump into the picture and I love that! Our shoes are off and we can relax into a space, we can really lend ourselves to the task at hand.” Our shoes are off… what better time to listen and absorb.

And what a great and important time to create! All of us on the ‘elder’ side of the conversations said the same thing: We are looking to the young to lead us. Judging from these dialogues, we’re in very good hands. I’ll be tuning in for more conversations in this series and look forward to keeping the inspiration growing.

-Greg Giovanni