transformative practice

Leah Gipson | Artist, Educator, Art Therapist


Dinner with Rae #WestArtCHI

Chicken and waffle bites, fried green beans, black eyed peas and rice, greens, cornbread, and roasted potato medley. I love preparing a good meal, especially the eating part. This time I decided to prepare a southern style vegan meal for friends who love art and social justice. Rae and I invited our amazing friends and loyal west side art Chicago supporters to my home in Austin for a candlelit dinner. Rae presented her project, Black Utopia, for the first time and the response was overwhelming. "You'll have to speak a little louder," I whisper to my friend David. He had already attempted to jump in the conversation two times. We laugh when two more people maneuver their way into the dinner crit ahead of him. At the opposite end of the table, Rae looks delighted. She's taking it all in, listening to feedback and answering questions about Black Utopia. Rae describes the project as a pop-up arts event, a one day symposium in a vacant space in either North Lawndale or East Garfield Park. She explains that she grew up on the west side in a working class family. "We all worked in my family. What I do is strange to them." Rae shares her family's perception of her work as an artist/community organizer/event planner, "They ask me to explain how I make a living like this." Rae's ideas explore black labor and the industrial revolution. She is clear that she wants the working class members of the community to feel included in the artistic direction she chooses for Black Utopia. Her event invites the imagination of its community members, their histories and hopes. At the dinner table the question of intention arises and becomes a theme of the evening. Our dinner guests are seriously invested in the work they do in their communities. "What is the leave-behind?" They want to make sure Rae and I are thinking critically about community art practice. I welcome this question and reflect on the reasons for creating West Side Art Chicago. As a professional art therapist who works and now lives on the west side, I think about ethical practice and what is required of me as a community member and collaborator. What makes a useful creative intervention? A job for an artist. A different perception of the neighborhood. A chance to remember. A chance to re-imagine. A spoken word. What is valuable, sustainable, inclusive art? It seemed like our dinner guests were saying that throw back talk back, "If you don't know, you better ask somebody." Rae and I have work to do. Let's go! #WestArtCHI

This dinner will be the first of many to raise funds for Rae's generative project. I want to thank each of our dinner guests and online supporters for your contributions to West Side Art Chicago. Your ideas and financial support are what make this project a sustainable reality.

Shout out to Jimmy's Vegan Cookies for donating delicious cookies for desert!

 Copyright 2013 Leah Gipson