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Last summer, four women came together to launch Black Art Incubator in New York. Set within Recess’s storefront in SoHo, the series of public programming took place from July 14 to August 19, serving as a resource for artists and professionals in the field, available to all, but prioritizing the experience of the African Diaspora. Part social sculpture, think tank, community residency, and open education, the first iteration of Black Art Incubator proved to be not only successful, but nimble, able to adapt to the needs of its constant flow of visitors and participants.
Early this year Whitewall checked in with the women behind it all: cultural critic and arts writer Taylor Aldridge; PhD candidate at Princeton and MoMA research fellow Jess Bell Brown; social media manager at the Met Kimberly Drew; and manager of development and communications at Recess Jessica Lynne.
WHITEWALL: How did the four of you connect, and what was the spark for Black Art Incubator?
KIMBERLY DREW: Jessica and I had been planning a check-in. One thing to know about all four of us: We’re always doing something in the vision of a goal. I set the goal then of wanting to talk to her about this Recess idea. We went out for drinks, caught each other up about our relationships with Jess Bell Brown and Taylor Aldridge and ideas we were passionate about. I was like, “What if we did this really rigorous project and what do you think our friends would think?” We started a Google doc and from that day started outlining what the Black Art Incubator Project would look like.
WW: Black Art Incubator comes from this collective of the four of you. What appealed to each of you about working on this together?
JESSICA LYNNE: It was first the prospect of being able to collaborate with them as friends I sincerely admire and respect. And secondly, the prospect of putting forth this type of critical intervention of sorts at an institution that was also interested in investigating similar interventions in different ways—with different artists but mission-aligned—felt really important and special. The idea of holding this conversation in a manner that invited other folk of similar professional interests felt really timely, important, and unmatched. It was this idea of offering something new, though not entirely unfamiliar.
TAYLOR ALDRIDGE: I admire these women and the work that they’ve been doing. I think we’re all very cognizant and dedicated to providing social commentary on the art world in real time through programming and our respective practices. I think it’s instinctive for each of us to work in this way, and it made sense to collaborate. We are on a similar wavelength in how we think about the future of the art world and how we’re situated in it.
JESS BELL BROWN: I was blown away at the opportunity to do something that’s generous, something that allows us to hold space for each other as practitioners in our various fields for our peers, colleagues, and people that we want to be proximate to but may not have at that time a relationship with, whether you’re an artist, writer, art historian, or an art lover and supporter. There was this great opportunity to act in generosity toward those various vectors of the art world in this informal way. We made it a little more formalized, and I was very much excited about being kind to one another in that way.
KD: We wanted to create a project to really birth an idea that was in service of other people. The constant interrogation of why and how and what we’re doing keeps me excited about what we may do in the future.
WW: Last summer, you focused on core aspects of the art world: Art & Money, Archives, Office Hours, and Open Crits. Were there any moments from those areas of focus that particularly struck you? That you’re still thinking about months later?
JL: Jess Bell Brown and I had been planning the open crits, and they were designed to extend what may happen in the MFA program for those who had recently graduated and were looking to find that type of community again, or for individuals who had never even had an opportunity to participate in a crit format. We were particularly interested in removing the anxiety, the frustration, the hostile way in which those conversations can occur within a program. I had been consistently floored by the way the artists and the public showed up to those crits prepared to engage in this very thoughtful, kind, and generous conversation. People really showed up in the most openhearted of ways.
TA: What I really took away from the experience is this agility of this space and the space being able to be nimble and to alter to whatever we needed to be in a particular period in time. The ability to have the opportunity to make changes in real time to be more accommodating to the audiences and the people we were desiring to bring in was a great virtue.
JBB: We wanted people to come in and exist with us, to think with us, to create with us. For me, the more precious moments were those intimate moments where people were dropping in, like, “I’m on my way to start my MFA at Yale, so I’m going to pop in and get some work done, before going back to New Haven.” We were located in SoHo so lots of passersby came in off the street and were like, “What is this?” And they would stay and chat with us.
KD: There is one specific moment that I think really hit home for me, when a delivery woman came into the space, and was just like, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I want to stay.” We built the Incubator project in service and with the art world in mind, but it was open to the public. We did a public project, and as an individual who is public, the exercise of articulating why we are doing Incubator is almost just as important as any of the workshops we did.
WW: Jess Bell Brown, you said in a recent interview, “Black artists have always had community, have always had fellowship, have always collaborated together. So we’re not doing anything new, we’re just existing and daring to exist in a black creative world.” That phrase “daring to exist” really struck me.
JBB: I feel encouragement in many places, but more recently I’ve been this quiet observer of Kim and thinking about the way that she speaks about improving upon silence, daring to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to tell you who you are and put a frame on you . . . to be empowered by who we are, where we come from, our origins, our subjectivity, always thinking about the next big thing. If we can’t take up space, then who? So why not take that space, because if you don’t, someone else is going to and then you’ll be silenced in your fear.
KD: The things that we’re afraid of, sometimes we have to get more proximate to them to realize why we’re afraid in the first place.
This article is published in Whitewall’s spring 2017 Women in the Arts issue.