By Barney Blakeney
The Charleston Rhizome Collective has received a $300,000 grant from ArtPlace America, which will be used to provide an assortment of initiatives that continues the unique artisan partnership’s efforts in using art as a medium for expediting social change.
Rhizome last summer presented “conNECKted: Imaginings for Truth and Reconciliation” at the City Gallery at Joseph P. Riley Jr. Waterfront Park. The presentation was an expression of art as activism. Local artists Gwylene Gallimard and Jean-Marie Mauclet, social activists and educators Pamella Gibbs, Debra Holt and LaSheia Oubre who all are members of the Charleston Rhizome Collective along with an ensemble of apprentice artists created the platform where artists and activists can met, discussed and shared their perceptions of Charleston in transition.
About the grant award Gallimard said, “We are a Collective of Artists, Activists and Educators, inter-racial and inter-generational. Our recent project “conNECKted: Imaginings for Truth & Reconciliation” (2015-17) challenged processes of collaboration in the visual arts and equitable community involvement. We are now engaging in “conNECKtedTOO” which invites small –Tiny- Minority Businesses to envision with us how arts and culture can engage economic development and challenge our common difficulties. We hope to create a network of Tiny Neighborhood Businesses to cumulate buying and selling power, engage residents in decisions over business ownership, loans, job training, hiring practices, wholesale prices, schooling and housing. Together we will address their needs, using art installations, visuals, forums, a Tour, an App interactive map and a youth entrepreneurship. It is also about keeping stories and the history of minority businesses in Charleston.”
Oubre, who was the last teacher to leave Wilmot Fraser Elementary School in downtown Charleston, said the new initiative will utilize art in a way that accentuates the art in small business entrepreneurship. Examples she offered were the artistry in local Gullah cooking, barbering and fashion. An interactive app will direct consumers to businesses that are engaged, she said. And opportunities for the entrepreneurs will be made available as well.
In the group’s introduction Gallimard explained, “We started in 2015 with our collective of teachers, artist and activists, reading the “Partnership for Prosperity” pamphlet, an urban development project for the next 40 years of Charleston. Our first collective question was: Partnership with whom? Prosperity for whom? From there, as if the field of our questioning leads us unmistakably from housing to education, to violence, to climate, back to justice, we realized that such connectivity of issues was not drawing a vicious circle but an ever widening path to action.
“It is the process “conNECKted” went through, during its short but intense history, which made it obvious that, although our goal is to promote social and economic justice for all in Charleston, nothing would change without a bridge built between the past of a society deeply divided around race, class, geography, education, justice and a future founded on equal rights, equal opportunities, equal respect.
“Interviewing Charlestonians affected by development and displacement, videotaping young students as they ask burning questions calling for burning answers, meeting with tiny business owners at the forefront of multiple community struggles, triggered the ‘conNECKted’ quest to amplify the voices of those absent from the public debate.”