Beginning in Fall 2016 and continuing through this year, the Laundromat Project has been bringing artists and communities together at our Kelly Street Collaborative space in Hunts Point/Longwood to address shared struggles, differences, and diversities while centering BlackLivesMatter.
Regarding the ongoing and longstanding crisis of racial violence in our communities, we want to be responsive by actively creating spaces of healing, creativity, and reflection for a better, oppression-free future. In late 2016, we began Perennial Love: Black Lives Matter, a series of public programs led by local activists and artists communities in the Bronx. Perennial Love: Black Lives Matter has taken form through workshops and intimate events addressing resistance, self and community preservation, and activation of conversations and alliances. Most recently, we worked with artists from The LP community to support the following events:
“I Can’t Breathe” on Saturday, with Shaun Leonardo
February 25, 2017
We invited artist Shaun Leonardo to our Kelly Street space to lead “I Can’t Breathe,” his ongoing public-participatory workshop and performance that takes the form of a self-defense class. During the workshop, participants were taught pacifist, defensive moves, in particular, how to protect oneself when being placed in a chokehold. Shaun’s demonstration of the chokehold defensive move was in direct reference to the move used by officer Daniel Pantaleo to restrain Eric Garner, leading to his untimely death.
After practicing various defense moves, Shaun took participants through a review of the training. As Shaun recited Nina Simon’s “Freedom is No Fear,” participants were prompted to demonstrate particular moves, triggered by specific words in the poem. The participatory workshop was followed by a panel discussion facilitated by Shaun, featuring Bronx-based activists Shellyne Rodriguez (Take Back the Bronx), Shannon Jones (Why Accountability), and Omar Arponare (People Power Movement). Each discussed the importance of vigilance, organizing, and uniting together to protect our communities and combat violence and racial injustice directed at communities of color in South Bronx and beyond.
Bronx Father’s Project, with Dennis RedMoon Darkeem
March 25, 2017
2016 Kelly Street Collaborative Artist-in-Residence Dennis RedMoon Darkeem recently received a Spaceworks Bronx Community Artist Grant. As part of his grant, Dennis created the Bronx Fathers Project—a creative outlet for Bronx fathers and their children to create memorable memories through free arts workshops and cultural activities. Through this project, Dennis also creates space for fathers and their families to learn about wellness.
For Dennis’s workshop, we were joined by fathers and families living on the Kelly Street block, friends from the Kelly Street Garden, and other fathers and their children from around the neighborhood.Participants began with a drawing exercise, which they were prompted to think about ideas associated with joy, happiness, and place. They then learned about the medicinal uses of herbal teas such as chamomile, lavender, and mint, which has calming and refreshing properties, and hibiscus, which can be anti-viral.
URE:AD Press Screen Printing Workshop, with Shani Peters
March 29, 2017
URe:AD Press is a print and media based collective by artists Sharita Towne and Shani Peters, 2014 Create Change Artist-in-Residence. For their Kelly Street Collaborative workshop, Shani Peters led a screen printing workshop and invited participants to openly discuss African ancestry and identity. They were joined by local neighbors including high schoolers from an afterschool program at Bronxdale High School.
Participants focused on ways to support black communities, beginning with defining diaspora and sharing which diasporic communities they personally identify with.. They were then asked to think of ten words to describe the importance of supporting Black communities. Three words—“respect, strength, and unity”—were then selected and silkscreened onto tote bags with the URE:ad Press logo. Participants were able to take the bags they created with them.
The Black School, with Joseph Cuillier
April 5, 2017
The Black School, organized and facilitated by 2017 Create Change Artist-in-Residence Joseph Cuillier, is an experimental school for Black, POC, and allied individuals, exploring art making and Black history. For his workshop at Kelly Street,, Joseph was intentional in creating a space for reflection and healing.
Neighbors and students from Bronx High School for the Arts joined us for this workshop, which began with a conversation about protective resistance movements in Black communities and communities of color. Participants then took part in a visioning/imagining exercise, which challenged them to consider what they love about their community. They then wrote and drew their responses and were asked to go back and underline words that stood out to them. This activity became the inspiration for reflective watercolor pieces created using images and text generated as a result of the exercise.
Each year for Women’s History Month, The Metropolitan Museum of Art celebrates women leaders from a variety of sectors through its Multicultural Audience Development Initiative. On Friday, April 7, 2017, The Met’s Multicultural Audience Development Initiative honored The LP’s Executive Director, Kemi Ilesanmi, alongside New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, New York City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and Andrea Louie, Executive Director of The Asian American Arts Alliance, at its 11th Annual Evening Celebrating Women.
This public event celebrated these four remarkable women, who are making a difference in the arts, education, and government, through an evening of conversation and a live performance tribute from the talented Jazzmeia Horn, Winner of the 2015 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition. The performance was also a tribute to the 2017 centennial of legendary jazz vocalists Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald. Sandra D. Jackson-Dumont, Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose Chairman of Education at The Met, hosted the evening’s ceremonies and closing conversation.
“Sandra, thank you for your kind words. You are among the women that I most admire so this is especially thrilling.
I’m so humbled to receive this honor from The Met’s Multicultural Audience Development Initiative’s Annual Women’s History Month Celebration!
And what incredible co-honorees I get to share the stage with today. This is truly special.
Over the years and especially in times of trouble, I have often turned to the opening words of Toni Cade Bambara’s novel The Salt Eaters, “Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?”
In this political moment that we find ourselves in, I keep asking, How can we be as Black and Brown people, as people of color, as women, as LGBTQ folk, as immigrants, as artists and art lovers. How can we be well as our full, whole, and intersectional selves?
Since this is a night celebrating women, I want to name some of the women that have helped make me whole and well.
I must start with my grandmothers, Florence Ilesanmi and Cora Elizabeth Myles. Born on 2 different continents, Africa and North America, they never met, but they were united in the commitment to their children’s dreams and their children’s children’s dream. Standing here today, I know that I embody their wildest dreams.
Next, I must thank my mother and my sister, Clarie and Tola Ilesanmi. Along with me, they have lived on both of the continents I just named. And most importantly, they have been my greatest champions throughout my life.
And because I believe in chosen family as well as blood, I want to acknowledge, the many women who have invested in my whole being and showed me a way forward as mentors and champions: Dr. Kellie Jones, Dr. Deborah Willis, Kathy Halbreich, Ruby Lerner, and Elizabeth Alexander, to name just a few.
I believe it is just as important to build a peer network as one embarks on a professional path so I especially want to acknowledge the many women EDs that I love and in particular, 6 amazing women who support me, challenge me, and teach me everyday as our own “Sustainable Sisterhood.” These women are my rock.
It is also key to pay it forward by mentoring those coming up behind us. I am especially inspired by my team at The LP: Ayesha, Yvette, Alicia, Melissa, and Emily (and Hatuey too, of course!). I also want to acknowledge my step-daughter Anna Poe-Kest and the organization she has started with other young women in politics and government: The Broad Room. I am so inspired!
As Dr. Brittney Cooper articulated in her recent TED Talk, we are shaping the world everyday as women, people of color, etc. We move the world forward as actors in the course of human history. We cannot afford to forget this. In fact, in this moment, it is key to remember that we have that power, and that we deserve to be well and to be whole.
I am reminded of how this power manifests in the work that I do everyday at The Laundromat Project. The LP, for short, was founded by another amazing woman in my orbit: Rise Wilson. Our mission is to equip and embolden artists and our collective neighbors as creative change agents in our own communities. We believe in the power of art, imagination, community, and social change. We are rooted in an incredible network of POC artists, NYC communities, and the culture we make and stories we tell.
As Angela Davis said at a Groundswell event last night, another organization run by a fab woman: Robyne Walker Murphy, “there can’t be radical social change without artists. Artists can grasp complexities before we have the language to explain.” I live that in the work I get to do with The LP and for that I am grateful.
So, once again, thank so much to all the incredible women in my life. Thank you to the The Met for this wonderful honor celebrating the diverse power and beauty of women. I have to acknowledge my cousins, the Gacheguas, visiting from London this week. And finally, thank you to one man, my wonderful husband Steve Kest.