There Are Black People In The Future Artwork-in-Residence

Artist

Alisha B. Wormsley in collaboration with Jon Rubin and Office of Public Art

Date

2019

Location

Neighborhoods of East Liberty, Bloomfield, Garfield, Homewood, and Larimer; Pittsburgh, PA

Introduction

Artist Alisha B. Wormsley launched her There Are Black People In The Future Artwork-In-Residence project in January 2019 in collaboration with Jon Rubin and the Office of Public Art. Through this residency, microgrants were awarded to 11 Pittsburgh-based artists and educators who explored the relevance and meaning of Wormsley’s text, “There Are Black People In The Future,” across multiple disciplines.The awardees creatively incorporated the text into work that spanned visual and literary arts, musical performance, and innovative pedagogy, and launched public programming that engaged community members in conversation about the text’s ongoing resonance.

Background

There Are Black People In The Future Artwork-in-Residence is part of an ongoing body of work that Wormsley began developing in 2012. In March 2018, Wormsley’s text, “There Are Black People In The Future” was featured on Rubin’s The Last Billboard project, a 36-foot-long billboard on top of a building in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of East Liberty. Within a month, Wormsley’s text was removed without her consent by the building owner, who cited reports of developer complaints. The artwork’s removal and the subsequent outcry of strong community support for the work garnered attention in local and national media. Although she was later invited to reinstall the work, Wormsley chose not to.

Artwork-in-Residence

In response to the outcry, this novel concept for an artwork-in-residence was developed. This residency placed Wormsley’s text “in residence” with eleven artists and educators living or working in five Pittsburgh neighborhoods – East Liberty, Bloomfield, Garfield, Homewood, and Larimer – closest to the billboard’s original location.

Selected through an open call for proposals, eleven awardees were given microgrants to implement project proposals that explored the relevance and resonance of the text across multiple disciplines over the course of the following ten months. The awardees received an honorarium and support from Wormsley and Rubin to implement their proposals. OPA supported the residency, including project management and staff support.

This collaborative effort explored how artists and residents could collectively catalyze conversations to promote positive change in social and civic spaces. By putting the artwork in residence with the community, this initiative built effective avenues for advocacy, healing, and activism. There Are Black People In The Future Artwork-in-Residence exemplifies artist-led engagement in the civic, social, and public realms.

Participants and Projects

  • Thomas James Agnew, Navigating as a Black Creative in Pittsburgh
  • Ether, The Afrofuture Has Arrived
  • Anqwenique Kinsel, JUST SING! A Vocal Intensive with Anqwenique
  • D.S. Kinsel, Totems, Shrines and Sacraments
  • Amos Levy, There Are Black Teens in the Future: Afro Sci-Fi Storytelling at YMCA Lighthouse
  • Lucas Mickens, blackMAN
  • Onika Reigns, The Black Dream Escape
  • Felicia Savage Friedman, I Am Beautiful! I Am Strong! Raja Yoga: Relevant and Radical Racial Conversations Swathed in Love
  • Ayana Toukam, Journey of a Mystic (working title)
  • Woodrow Winchester III, Art+Engineering: Towards the Humanistic Technologist
  • Brett Wormsley, There Are Black People in the Future: Creative Expression Contest

Programming

Over the course of the residency, over 750 members of the public were engaged in programming and conversation with the artists and awardees about the meaning and resonance of the text and the issues surrounding its removal.

In June 2019, a daylong community event was held at Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Alloy Studios titled “There Are Black People in the Future: A Conversation About Arts, Activism and the Future.” Wormsley was joined by Rasheedah Phillips of Black Quantum Futurism, director and writer Ellen Sebastian Chang, and artist and activist Jasiri X for workshops and a panel discussion about the residency. Workshop topics included Black Housing Futures and Human Rights and the Arts, with additional children’s workshops provided by Assemble.

In October 2019, a culminating community event was held at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Homewood, at which each of the awardees presented their residency projects. This event highlighted the many ways in which the awardees explored the text and engaged conversation around the issues surrounding the billboard’s removal.

In August 2020, Wormsley collaborated with Project Row Houses and Goethe Pop Up Houston to launch a virtual Artwork-in-Residence in Houston. Similar to the inaugural Pittsburgh residency, this Houston-based residency supports artists, teachers, activists and community members in engaging with the text, “There Are Black People In The Future.” Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the programming for this residency is virtual. To learn more, visit the There Are Black People In The Future Artwork-in-Residence program page on the Project Row Houses website.

This program was generously funded by The Heinz Endowments.

Online Resources

Website

Learn more about the projects and participants of the There Are Black People In The Future Artwork-in Residence.

About the Artists

Alisha B. Wormsley is an interdisciplinary artist and cultural producer. Her work is about collective memory and the synchronicity of time, specifically through the stories of women of color. Wormsley’s work has been honored and supported with a number of awards and grants to support projects: The People Are The Light, afronaut(a) film and performance series, Homewood Artist Residency (recipient of the mayor’s public art award), the Children of NAN video art and archival project, There Are Black People in the Future body of work. Her national and international exhibitions include; the Mattress Factory Contemporary Museum, Art on the Bank in London, Octavia Butler conference at Spelman University, the Carnegie Museum of Art, Studio XX in Montreal, Project Row House and the Houston Art League in Texas, Rush Art gallery in NY, and the Charles Wright museum in Detroit. In the last few years her work in public art installation has grown with her design of art in parks and There are Black People In The Future billboard, the afronaut(a) film series, new public work, Streaming Space, a 24 foot pyramid with video and sound installed in Pittsburgh’s downtown Market Square and AWxAW a multi media interactive installation and film commission at the Andy Warhol Museum. Wormsley has an MFA in Film and Video from Bard College and was recently awarded the Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University.

Jon Rubin is an interdisciplinary artist who creates interventions in public life that re-imagine individual, group, and institutional behavior. His projects include starting a radio station in an abandoned neighborhood that only plays the sound of an extinct bird, running a barter-based nomadic art school, operating a restaurant that produces a live video talk show with its customers, and co-directing another that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Rubin is an Associate Professor and Graduate Director in the School of Art at Carnegie Mellon University.

Related

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This artist residency program created by artist Alisha B. Wormsley supports Black creative mothers in Pittsburgh, PA. 

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“I realized how much of a privilege it is to simply decide what you want. I want to give that to this community. They didn’t ask for the text. But they protested its removal and many have asked for the text to return in another form. I hope through this residency the community has time to process and share their feelings on the work.”

Alisha B. Wormsley

Image credits

Gallery, top:
(1) There Are Black People in the Future by artist Alisha B. Wormsley installed as part of artist Jon Rubin’s The Last Billboard project in East Liberty, photo by Jon Rubin; (2,3,4) There Are Black People In The Future: A Conversation about Art, Activism, and the Future, Community Event at Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Alloy Studios in June 2019, photo by OPA; (5,6) There Are Black People In The Future Artwork-in-Residency Presentations at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Homewood on October 24, 2019, photo by Alisha B. Wormsley; (7,8) There Are Black People In The Future Artwork-in-Residence Awardee Workshop at Repair the World in March 2019, photo by OPA.

Artist testimonial:
Artist Alisha B. Wormsley, photo courtesy artist.

Related

PROJECTS

Sibyls Shrine

This artist residency program created by artist Alisha B. Wormsley supports Black creative mothers in Pittsburgh, PA. 

PROJECTS

Environment, Health, and Public Art Initiative

Three artists launch artworks that seek to catalyze change in the Pittsburgh region on the topics of water pollution, air pollution, and lead toxicity in the soil.

PROJECTS

Artists Bridging Social Distance in the Public Realm

Artist projects address the evolving Covid-19 crisis by building pathways to rest, companionship and connection within communities most affected by the pandemic.