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Beauty in Creating Justice: Ariana Faye Allensworth On the Questions that Guide Her Practice

On October 2, 2019, The Laundromat Project community came together in celebration of the 2019 cohort of Create Change artists at our annual culminating event, Gather. Artist in Residence Ariana Faye Allensworth was chosen by her cohort to speak about her experience in the program. Learn more about “Staying Power,” Ariana’s participatory action research project, and read on for her remarks from the evening.

Good evening everyone. Thank you so much for the invitation to represent the 2019 Create Change cohort. I’m so grateful to be sharing this moment with you all and to celebrate the incredible work that’s been accomplished by the group of artists I’ve worked alongside these past several months. Let’s give them a round of applause! 

In thinking about what I know to be true about abundance and what I want to offer into the space tonight, I feel compelled to share some of the questions that have emerged, shaped, and been transformed by my experience as a Create Change Artist-in-Residence. 

Some of the questions that I hope will continue to come to life through my art and social practice. 

At a workshop earlier this summer, prison abolitionist Mariame Kaba gave me the homework of identifying the questions that guide my practice. She shared that questions, when rooted in her belief system, have helped her stay curious and imaginative in fighting for a world she hasn’t yet seen before. A world without prisons. 

My residency project challenged me to imagine a world where New York City public housing residents live with the dignity they deserve and interrogate urgent questions about NYCHA from a place of abundance, with and alongside residents. I want to acknowledge TYree Sanbeck, President of the Lafayette Gardens Resident Association, one of my community partners on this journey who is in the house tonight and works everyday to lift up the resilience of the Lafayette Gardens resident community. 

I’m sure we can agree that artists often engage urgent questions of our time. Here are three that I’m sitting with and want to offer into the space tonight: 

1. Where is my relationship to my own abundance and the abundance of others that I’m in community with?
So much of how we get pulled into community and activism is through solidarity that’s built around a shared struggle. This residency has reminded me that a lifelong commitment to activism is more than just organizing energy around our suffering and applying it to tasks. Approaches like that often lead me to burn out and cynicism. Realizing that I am more than my productivity and I can be doing nothing and still have value, has been life saving. This sentiment is captured so beautifully by Detroit activist Sterling Toles in a quote that I come back to often. He says, “It’s okay to feel beautiful in the process of creating justice.” 

2. What becomes possible when those most affected by injustice are treated as experts and co-authors of critical inquiry?
A core ethos of The Laundromat Project is to value self-determined narratives as an essential basis for building lasting community power. This ethos has fundamentally re-anchored the strategies and goals of my anti-gentrification work with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. Ensuring the most powerful voices in the work are those of tenants, and not clouded by the rhetoric of external forces. 

3. And lastly, how are we making our administrative practices and the other unseen labor that goes into our cultural work visible to others?
So often as people of color our labor is unacknowledged or made invisible by the forces of white supremacy culture. So often as cultural workers, we are pressured to focus on the final product and not the systems and steps we had in place to get there. This residency has challenged me to articulate the ways my behind-the-scenes processes are in right relationship to change and liberation, to not hide behind beautiful language, and not invoke words like collaboration or non-hierarchy or equity if those things aren’t embedded at every stage of the process. 

In that spirit, I want to close by sharing my deep gratitude to the admin team at The LP that made this Create Change experience possible, and especially Ladi’Sasha, Hatuey, and Tiara! Thank you for all of the labor, seen and unseen, that makes programs like these possible! 

Thank you! 

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