Finding Diversity & Community at PDP Workshop in Atlanta

There’s a perception out there in the communities Creative Capital’s Professional Development team visits for intensive weekend-long Internet for Artists workshops. It’s something like, “Oh no, the New York artists are coming to town. What will they think of us?”

From left: Sue Schaffner, Eve Mosher, Brad Lichtenstein, Dread Scott. Photo by Carlton Mackey, Emory Center for Ethics.

This time, in Atlanta, our partner and host, Alternate ROOTS’ Shannon Turner, worried we’d figure they were still living the Dukes of Hazard life down there—a bunch of “inbred, illiterate, racist rednecks who ride cows to school,” to quote her precisely. Of course, that’s far from what we discovered.

Frankly, being an Atlanta native, I never expected anything like Shannon’s tongue-in-cheek exaggeration. But I was surprised by the wide array of performing, conceptual and fine artists we met. I suppose I was expecting the Atlanta I left in the late 1980s that was dominated by folk artists, including very fine work by Faith Ringgold and Howard Finster.

What we encountered was a dynamic that has become familiar in the Internet for Artists workshops: older, established artists wishing to gain a command over using technology, and younger, tech-savvy artists looking to integrate their internet know-how into their art practices. But what really impressed and surprised me was the racial diversity of the group. It was by far one of the most diverse groups of artists I’ve met during two years of doing these workshops across the country.

The diversity we found is a testament to the strong partnerships Alternate ROOTS has built with WonderRoot and the Emory Center for Ethics, each of which were committed to cultural and racial diversity. Maybe you’d expect this in a city known for Tyler Perry, Kenny Leon and a thriving hip-hop music industry scene. But Alternate ROOTS’ mission is distinguished not just by diversity, but a deep commitment to community. As Shannon puts it, “We support artists who make original work that is of, by, for and together with their communities.”

Alternate ROOTS and their partners evidenced that ethic through the composition of the group, the art that we saw, the high number of people who worked as educators in their communities and the food we ate—all of which was locally sourced from small, artisan vendors. This was a real grassroots effort applied in a city where institutional events like the Governor’s Arts Council gatherings are still among the whitest events around, and audiences are largely segregated based on the subject matter of a show or performance.

Alternate ROOTS’ core mission is to help a diverse group of community-minded artists make their livelihood from their art, and that is the kind of long-range plan that I, and the entire Creative Capital team, are proud to contribute to.

Brad Lichtenstein is a 2006 Film/Video grantee and an Artist Leader in Creative Capital’s Professional Development Program. Brad’s company, 371 Productions, is currently producing his Creative Capital-supported project What We Got: DJ Spooky’s Quest for the Commons and As Goes Janesville, a documentary about what happens to a community when General Motors closes and leaves town.

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