FUNDRAISER: JEAN MOYE “DARK” FUND FOR BLACK WOMEN/FEMMES + TGNC ARTISTS

WHAT

A fund spearheaded by BAX AIR Nia Witherspoon that creates a safety net for the creative dreams of Black Women/Femme + TGNC Artists so that our labor in the dark space of imagination can be compensated towards our thriving, and function as the healing + evolutionary force it is meant to be in the world.



 


Featuring Grace Galu, Shelley Nicole, Syd Nichols, Mei Ann Teo (director), and Troy Anthony (composer)

WE COME FROM HERE: Dark Girl Chronicles

 

Introducing…

THE JEAN MOYE “DARK” FUND FOR BLACK WOMEN/FEMMES + TGNC ARTISTS

“If the Black Woman was free, it would mean everyone would have to be free.”
–Combahee River Collective

WHY

I’m so tired of explaining, but in the words of Salt n Pepa’s 1993 anthem: “Here I go/here I go/here I go!”

Because of COVID-19, and the attending global shut down of theatre, CHRONICLE X: WINDOWS, the first in the cycle of The Dark Girl Chronicles will no longer premiere in May of 2020 at The Shed. In addition to the show’s commissioning fee ($12,500), we also lost two crucial fundraising opportunities–a gala in my home city of Philadelphia ($10,000) + a residency at Fordham University ($3,500), which will all be postponed until the world can re-open again. This is one show, among many, that has experienced a loss of $25,500 that would have gone to uplifting the words of black women (Diamond Reynolds, in this case) as sacred text, and paying other Black women, femmes, and TGNC folk a living wage to tell the story. Our show is postponed. But this delay is only an immediate problem inside a broken system. I want this fund to speak to the web of systemic failures surrounding this show (and our lives) in the first place. This is the context of making we live + struggle inside of every day that COVID-19 did not create, but lays bare.

We live in a society that loves art, but does not value artists; that loves blackness but not black people; that loves “Queer Eye” but not queerness. When we Black women, femmes, and TGNC folks decide to be artists, that is TO BE FREE, we are already taking a leap inside the impossible. Audre Lorde reminds us that “we were not meant to survive,” let alone be creative agents, manifesting our own and each others’ visions into the world. If we Black women, femmes, and TGNC folks not only make art, but make art that has to do with ourselves, that is, art that does not cater to the white gaze, art that is invested in Black and Indigenous ways of understanding the world, art that is grounded in grassroots and activist organizing, and ultimately, art that is in alignment with LIBERATION + SOVEREIGNTY, there is tremendous social and financial risk, stigma, and punishment. We often-times end up doing two, three, and four jobs simply to make life work, in addition to spending countless days and nights in rehearsal rooms, studios, in libraries, and in educational settings to push our visions into the world. Much of this is invisible, uncompensated–and even costly–labor. We do not have easy access to inter-generational wealth, health insurance, or government bail-outs, and so when tragedy hits, we are hit extra hard, as members of several communities at the intersections of many margins. We become traumatized by what society sees as our poor “choices” and some of us stop being artists. Some of us continue, wounded and fatigued, but die before our time. Some of us will not be remembered, having buried what we perceive as our “failed” dreams, and we will guard our descendants the way our elders tried to guard us from stepping out of line.

I am asking us to invest in another future.

“The “Moye Girls” — From left to right, Marlene Witherspoon (my grandmother), Barbara Owens, Jean Moye, and Jean Brinkley. Click on the image to donate to the fund.

My great-grandmother, Willie “Jean” Moye was a writer. My great-grandmother, with whom I spent countless after-school hours on plastic-coated couches watching “Wheel of Fortune” or going through old photo albums or playing crosswords puzzles, was a writer. My great-grandmother, Black-Native woman from Meridian, Mississippi and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, with whom I made lemon cake and who had beautiful fish-scale skin from the burn scars still on her body from running into a burning building to save her daughter–had a manuscript sitting in a basement, that no one alive knew about until it resurfaced this year. When had she written this, and what had happened to her dreams of writing? I do not need to work too hard to imagine what my great-grandmother was up against to pick up a pen, after the life she led as a Black woman in the 1910s, 20s and 30s, when there was “blood on the tree and blood at the root.” I want, more than anything else, to invest in a world where she never had to put the pen down.

As Black, Women/Femmes + TGNC Folks, we are discouraged from dreaming. We are not encouraged to experience VULNERABILITY, WONDER, or our own selves as MANIFESTATIONS OF THE DIVINE. It is not safe. The Jean Moye “Dark” Fund speaks to this very particular condition of need, and eases that unsafety, just a little bit. I intend for this account to be used not only as an emergency account, but as a savings account for Black Women/Femme + TGNC artists to have more space to dream, take risks, and use our divine imaginations. As Adrienne Maree Brown has famously said, “This world is a product of a white supremacist imagination.” It would follow that THE IMAGINATIONS + DREAMS OF BLACK WOMEN/FEMMES + TGNC FOLKS WILL BE THE ONES TO EVOLVE HUMANITY.

When White America catches a cold, Black America gets pneumonia.
When Black America gets pneumonia, Black Women, Femmes, and TGNC folks die.
But when Black Women, Femmes, and TGNC folks are invested in, we build a new world, in deeper alignment with all of creation. We come from here.

HOW IT WORKS

I am starting this fund with the $2,000 that the Jerome Foundation has made available as flexible funding for fellows during COVID-19. Following up, I will be sharing content from performances over the past few years, written reflections, and quotes from my great-grandmother, Willie Jean Moye’s manuscript to keep us full with the intention of this fund. I ask that you remember that all of the content I am sharing was produced with uncompensated or under-compensated labor (even if labor of love, joy, and passion), and as such, it is placed here as offering, inspiration, and modality of exchange. Please use it to give, and spread the word about giving.

To speak plainly, I am posting free content, starting with the “We Come From Here” video above. This content was made with — labor. So the money I am requesting is an exchange, not a charity. We already did the work.

HOW FUNDS WILL BE DISPERSED

In alignment with Adrienne Maree Brown’s emergent strategy principle, “Small is good, small is all,” this fund will start first with the inner circle of Black women, femmes, and TGNC artists who have poured essential life energy into my works THE DARK GIRL CHRONICLES, PRIESTESS OF TWERK, and MESSIAH (in that order). These are the artists who have made incredible sacrifices to be available to these works which reimagine a world in which Black Women/Femmes + TGNC folks are sacred.

The second tier of this funding will be donated to a combination of street runs, and organizations that already have a legacy of supporting Black Women/Femmes + TGNC folks, and are mobilizing special projects in light of COVID-19, i.e. Audre Lorde Project, Black Women’s Blueprint, Black Mama’s Bailout, Decrim NY, and the Anti-Violence Project.

The third tier of funding will go towards the formation of a residency to support the long-term sustainability and creative visioning of Black Women/Femmes + Trans folks.

HOW TO SUPPORT



  • Donate
  • Share on social media, email lists, with colleagues
  • Tell arts organizations so as to connect more arts leaders to this fund. I shouldn’t be administering this fund alone (more uncompensated labor); this is collective labor that needs institutional support (shouts out to BAX for partnering with me to get this out there!) Help me let them know…
  • Testify. Share your own story of art that will never see the light of day, projects that have been thwarted by this systemic context

ABOUT THE ARTIST: NIA OSTROW WITHERSPOON

ARTIST STATEMENT

I am a concept-driven artist invested in creating spaces where black/queer/trans/female folks, and, more largely POC, are able to be seen in their full humanity and their full divinity. This means that while contemporary tragedy and inter-generational trauma often trigger a project’s inception, ultimately, I aim for my works to place my communities in a context that far exceeds the 500-years of colonial time and instead to find the palimpsest of wisdom in liberation. Freedom is not something I have achieved yet, but it is something I feel pulled uncontrollably toward. I am working to cultivate freedom in myself, in my works, and in my collaborators, by any means necessary. I am also learning that freedom is very much about surrender to the imperfect, and so I try to create spaces (from plays to rituals to rehearsal rooms) where vulnerability is the most valuable currency.

Being aligned with the possibility present in moments of rupture is what I strive for as an artist–that is, to commit acts of treason against the heterocapitalist colonization of time, space, and body.

BIO

Nia Ostrow Witherspoon is an NAACP-nominated theatre-maker, vocalist/composer, and cultural worker who creates contemporary ritual space grounded in African-diaspora sensibilities that investigate black liberation, the erotic, and ghost(ed) voices. Witherspoon’s work has traveled both nationally and internationally to venues ranging from theaters and universities to activist organizations and non-profits. Described as “especially fascinating” by Backstage Magazine and named as one of Phoenix’s top 100 artists, Witherspoon has been the recipient of multiple awards and residencies, including: New York Theatre Workshop’s 2050 Fellowship, a BRIClab Premiere Residency, Astraea Foundation’s Lesbian Writer Award and Global Arts Fund Grant, Downtown Urban Theatre Festival’s “Audience Award,” a Wurlitzer Foundation residency, Lambda Literary’s Emerging Playwriting Fellowship, a CASH Grant from Theatre Bay Area, and a Mellon Dissertation Fellowship.

Her staged works, including THE MESSIAH COMPLEX, YOUMINE, and SHE have been featured at BRIC, HERE, National Black Theatre, Brooklyn Arts Exchange, 651 Arts, Bronx Academy of Arts and Dance, Dixon Place, The Kraine, Movement Research, and the Painted Bride (Philadelphia), among various venues in the Bay Area, including Theatre Artaud, Theatre of Yugen, The Lab, The Garage, La Peña, Metabolic Studios, Eastside Arts Alliance. As a performer, Witherspoon was lead vocalist of Afro-Middle Eastern ceremonial music collective SoliRose and a world-premiere cast member (and in the touring company of) Sharon Bridgforth’s River See (Chicago). She was also a featured vocalist in Cherríe Moraga and Celia Herrera Rodriguez’s ceremonial performance, La Semilla Caminante/The Traveling Seed (Intersection for the Arts) which visited indigenous and migrant communities of the South/West with the intention of decolonizing body, culture, and land.

Witherspoon’s writing is published in an array of journals and anthologies including Imagined Theatres: Writing for a Theoretical Stage (Routledge); Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Art, Thought, and Culture; Women, Collective Creation, and Devised Performance (Palgrave); The Journal of Popular Culture; EMERGE: 2015 Lambda Fellows Anthology; and Imaniman: Poets Reflecting on Gloria Anzaldúa and Transgressive Borders (Aunt Lute). Witherspoon is also a Restorative/Healing Justice practitioner, and passionate curator of cultural space, including work with award-winning organization, Performance in the Borderlands (Arizona State University), and has produced festivals such as BlackARTSMatter (featured by NPR and Phoenix New Times). She is currently at work on a collection of essays, tentatively titled Letters to the Nation, and a devised play cycle, The Dark Girl Chronicles, which explores the criminalization of black cis- and trans- women via Yoruba sacred stories. Witherspoon’s study of traditional/indigenous healing and arts practices from Cuba, Mexico, Africa, and the Middle East also deeply informs her creative practice. She holds a BA from Smith College in American Studies (focus in Race, Gender and Sexuality) and a PhD from Stanford University in Theatre and Performance Studies with a focus on Afro/Indigenous aesthetics and decolonial performance.

More info @ www.niawitherspoon.com