2018 Note from our Executive Director, Kemi Ilesanmi
February 20, 2018
Photo by our Executive Director Kemi from her travel in Havana, Cuba of an Afro-Cuban dance performance at the Hamel Alley Community Art Project.
We are already in the second month of 2018, yet experiences and lessons from 2017 continue to resonate in our work at The Laundromat Project.
I’ll start on a personal note. I love to travel. I’ve visited 40 countries and 42 US states and territories. I love being immersed in the unfamiliar—people, places, languages, histories, and perspectives. Last year was no exception, and three travel experiences stood out in particular. Last April, I joined a group organized by Hester Street Collaborative and Robert Rauschenberg Foundation to visit Cuba for a week. I especially cherish the afternoon we spent at the National Literacy Campaign Museum in Havana. During an incredible 1961 campaign, thousands of Cuban youth spread out into the countryside to teach 700,000 of their fellow citizens how to read and write. Cuba now has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. In August, I learned about the Women in Black movement at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This Balkan-born and now worldwide feminist movement fights for justice and peace—while using creative and performative methods that contemporary artists would find familiar. And they have stopped wars. Lastly, in December, I visited the boyhood home of Leopold Senghor, the poet-president of Senegal from 1960-1980. His commitment to art and culture as central human tenets continues to resonate across his beautiful country today.
In these histories, I found inspiration and affirmation for the community-attuned work that we do at The LP. At our 13-year mark, we are looking inward and outward, backwards and forwards through a strategic planning process that began last year. In collaboration with board, staff, and Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani of Buscada, we are asking ourselves what it means to be a POC-centered organization that nourishes and leverages socially-engaged artists and creative practices towards freedom in the 21st century. We want to know what artists need to ethically work in tune with community and what communities need to manifest their own dreams alongside artist-neighbors. We have visited and learned from amazing peer organizations such as Arts East New York and Red Hook Initiative in Brooklyn and Asian Arts Initiative in Philadelphia. We have conducted focus groups and interviews with our artists, program participants, partners, neighbors, and supporters. We know we are stronger in unison so we are using this process to intentionally build community. We are also looking under our infrastructural hood to see what resources—financial, human, social, intellectual—we will need as an organization to grow with integrity and impact. Ultimately, we are asking: What does The Laundromat Project need today to build towards an imaginative future for all of us tomorrow?
A recent interview quote by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative reads, “… the policy work is critically important, but it has to be married with narrative work that does work on the hearts and minds.” The Women in Black, Cuban “Maestra”, and Mr. Senghor all knew the expansive power of a changed narrative, especially within and about themselves. At The LP, we believe our work is similarly grounded in visioning, and then manifesting, new stories of self and community—for and about people of color and those living on modest incomes in New York City. Our self-determined narratives are our sanctuary—a theme we will continue to explore across all 2018 programs.
We look forward to concluding our strategic planning process later this year and sharing a vision for a change powerful enough to touch our hearts and minds.
In the meantime, speaking of self-determined narratives, Happy Black (Panther) History Month!
Executive Director, The Laundromat Project