Welcome to September 2020. And despite the turning of another calendar page, we find ourselves still engaging with the arts, and with each other, virtually. Even with so much grief and anxiety about the future, there is still hope to be had. Here in Chambana, as across the world, artists, makers, and content creators are showing us what they are really made of. They are meeting the moment head on. They are nimbly adapting to technology and answering challenges with creativity and generosity.
Yes, the usual excitement of a new school year and its promise of creative opportunities for artists of all ages is diminished by rising public health and safety concerns. But the need to create and be inspired remains. As I assembled this list, I consciously sought out active and safe opportunities for all of us to actively do, rather than just observe. So whether you log on to an event, an online arts class, or design your own brief encounter with art, remain engaged, physically and mentally. Give those creative muscles a chance to warm up again. Wake up your dormant artist. Yes, it’s been a helluva year so far. But we need to re-engage the best parts of ourselves and our arts community.
Step Afrika!: Stono
While we may have to wait a bit longer to enjoy an in-person performance at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, we can still benefit from Krannert’s role in supporting and commissioning important new work. Case in point: Step Afrika!: Stono.
“This celebration of resistance and activism, inspired by the company’s dance piece Drumfolk, commemorates the 281st anniversary of the Stono Rebellion—the largest insurrection of enslaved Africans in North America, which took place on September 9, 1739, in South Carolina. Just one year after the Stono Rebellion, The Negro Act of 1740 outlawed the use of drums by enslaved Africans, which gave rise to the use of body percussion forms like ring shout, tap, hambone, and stepping that fuel the traditions and artistry of this Washington, DC-based troupe.”
This performance will be followed by a live-streamed panel discussion hosted by Step Afrika!’s founder and executive director, C. Brian Williams. The panelists will “explore the Stono Rebellion and its relevance to issues regarding political protest and structural inequities that dominate American conversations today.”
Homemade, with Love: virtual opening, film screening, and discussion
This multimedia installation begins with a question. “What would it mean to co-create and be in a homemade space of interior worldmaking imagined for and with Black girls, women, and femmes as part of their everyday creative livelihoods?”
Homemade draws on concepts from Black feminist thought and women artists who critically engage ideas and practices of home and world making, poetics of relation, collective genius, and Black interiority. Black playwright and author, J. California Cooper explains in her author’s notes of her collection of stories, Homemade Love,
“I choose the name homemade love because it is love that is not bought, not wrapped in fancy packaging with glib lines that often lie…Is usually done from the bottom up, with care, forethought, planning, and consideration for others….Homemade goes a long way. Usually lasts longer than we do.”
This week’s virtual opening begins with screenings of short films, “Home” and “Celebration” on view in the gallery by Kamari Smalls and “Untitled” by Jen Everett. The screenings will be followed by a conversation with the artists.
Take a class
My inner nerd usually thrills to the beginning of back-to-school season. I can practically smell the newly sharpened pencils. I crave new books, new art supplies, and a use for my creativity and curiosity. I want to try something new. But in these trying times, these impulses feel bittersweet and nostalgic. But thanks to a combination of online and limited size in-real life opportunities, we can honor those impulses to flex our creative muscles. Check out the offerings at the Champaign Park District and at Parkland College’s Community Education Program.
Create your own brief encounter with art
Our new arts series, Brief Encounters with Art, has inspired me and helped me to reconsider the relationship between art and context. With fewer events to attend and review, this exercise in lemonade making has reactivated my critical thinking skills, my awareness, and my critical eye. It has made me look at things differently. And that’s a good thing. The creation of art, as well as its reception and consumption, is inherently shaped by the time and environment in which is it both created and received. Brief encounters, as we’ve explored them at Common Ground Food Coop, Flying Machine Avionics, and Lightbox, are outdoors, conducive to social distancing, and COVID short-attention-span/brain-fog-friendly, and best of all free. But they are also often loud and filled with distractions, particularly compared to galleries and museums.
So whether you find yourself spontaneously encountering art in these or other locations, or take the extra step to seek out a new location (maybe check out Langston Allston’s new mural) I encourage you to spend the (brief) time required to encounter art in this community, in this moment, and in this challenging context.
Pygmalion on the internet
In their statement about the decision to move ahead with a virtual festival this year, the Pygamlion team shared that while “t feels strange to be releasing a “festival” lineup at this moment with all of the tragedy happening in this country, nonetheless, we feel that we should still try to be human at this particular moment.”
“The idea in any year is to unpack a little humanity. At this moment, in the virtual space, we’ve decided to double down on that notion. We wish to interact, to play games, to create space, to listen — and listen well — to people who know more than us, or who have some perspective, some idea, about the past, the present, and if we are lucky, the future.”
This year’s line-up brings together some of the most creative minds and brilliant problemsolvers to help us address this moment. Ilana Glazer, Ari Shapiro, Dan Savage, Terrance Hayes, Napoleon Dynamite Live, a Minecraft exhibition, and more. This is the kind of engagement we need right now, coming to us it in the best way it can, when he need it most. And for the first time, it’s free. This is definitely how you want to close out the month. And, if you can, donate to support this important work.