The 22 recipients of ArtsWave's 2022 Black and Brown Artist Grant approach "truth and reconciliation" from many styles and perspectives. Established in 2021, the Black and Brown Artists Grant program is part of ArtsWave's "Lifting as We Learn" DEIA initiative, which seeks to improve and grow the diversity of Greater Cincinnati's arts community through project funding, event promotion and ArtsWave’s own hiring practices. In short: building an inclusive, equitable community for all.
"Community" is a major theme in the work of two of this year's grant recipients: visual artist Brent Billingsley (2021 Black and Brown Artist Grantee) and fashion designer Asha Ama Daniels (Taft Museum of Art's 2021 Robert Duncanson Artist-in-Residence). For Billingsley, that means improving relationships between youth and police officers. For Daniels, it means centering Black women's power, beauty and potential.
Billingsley's "I'm Listening" is a collaboration between Cincinnati teens and officers from every one of Cincinnati's five police districts. Each week, the artists gather at one of 6 locations — the Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy, CRC Pleasant Ridge, CRC Lincoln, CRC Price Hill and the City of Cincinnati's Youths Services Office — to paint 4 of the 20 panels of a mural. The completed work will depict a fist bump between a Black officer and a young Black man. It will be displayed at the Freedom Center in June 2022.
"The mural is bridging a communication gap [between youth and police]," explains L'aDe Richardson, who serves as the project's communication specialist. "I'm Listening" explores that gap further with a game called "Cop in the Ring." Youth artists encircle officers and ask serious, challenging questions. "It's not uncommon for such conversations to continue outside of the game," Billingsley shares.
Like many of Billingsley's initiatives, "I'm Listening" provides an opportunity to cultivate artistic potential while strengthening communication channels and practices that are essential to improving citizen-police relations.
Asha Ama's NEW MOON collection will debut April 30 at the Contemporary Arts Center. On March 19, Asha Ama held her first of two "BLOOM with Asha Ama" workshops for women and girls, hosted in collaboration with Queens Village, which provides wellness workshops and community for Black women in Greater Cincinnati.
After a moment of centering and meditation, attendees made floral and celestial crowns, exploring their creative ability, self-worth, and sacredness, major themes in Asha Ama's NEW MOON collection.
"My contribution to my people and to the world is to be a reflection of who we are," Asha Ama explains. "To show us the way that I see us…that you [Black woman] are actually the greatest thing on this earth."
Brent Billingsley's "I'm Listening" and Asha Ama's BLOOM workshops and NEW MOON collection serve as reminders that art and community require personal vision and collaboration; compromise and individual respect. Building community is not without its challenges. Like art, it requires an embrace of new ideas, growth and an acknowledgement that even the best communities are beautiful, imperfect works in progress.