LYNN — Collective Imaginings is calling on local artists to work with the Lynn Museum/LynnArts and the Massachusetts Creative Collective to examine the roadblocks and barriers that Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) artists face in Lynn.
Lynn artists Ramon Santiago, Oompa and Daveth Cheth are working on the project, which they have named Collective Imaginings, with support from the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA).
Lynn is home to a diverse group of artists, including Silvia “VIA” Leary, who has her paintings of Martin Luther King Jr., Frederick Douglass and Malcom X on display at LynnArts.
Creative Collective has previously been involved with the Lynn community through their business membership program, and working with organizations such as Beyond Walls and Lynn Main Streets.
Collective Imaginings is spearheading the issues of barriers to collaboration between BIPOC artists and municipal and organizational leaders, who are the stewards of funding, visibility and permissions.
VIA acknowledges these barriers, and says that although Lynn is a very multiracial city, racism still exists here.
“I thought it was important, since I’m the only woman of color painter in the LynnArts building, to represent the Lynn culture and mostly the people of color that don’t always get represented properly,” she said regarding her painting of the “Three Kings.”
Collective Imaginings will work to increase the opportunities for artists of color, centering their voices and creating a way for diverse artistic and cultural expression to exist and thrive.
Cheth was asked to join this project in October and said that it is essentially a Think Lab with BIPOC artists in the community.
“This is a space for conversations on the lack of opportunities (funding, projects, venues etc.) and also on issues of racial justice in the community,” he said. “This is an effort to bring artists and community members in the municipal roles together to highlight the importance of the arts and humanity.”
The Lynn Museum received a $5,000 grant from NEFA and acts as the fiscal agent responsible for distributing money to parts of the project. The grant is called “Collective Imagination for Spatial Justice.”
Doneeca Thurston, director of the Lynn Museum, said “we are building a database of BIPOC artists from the community, and that is either you’re from Lynn, you practice in Lynn or you hold studio space in Lynn.”
She said that they will hold intimate virtual conversations to hear what these artists’ experiences have been when it comes to access to workshops and public art and funding opportunities.
John Andrews, owner of Creative Collective, said that the BIPOC creative community plays a crucial and underappreciated role in economic development, wellness, and a positive quality of life. “Holding space, listening, and doing the work are so critical in conversations with the creative community and the creative workforce. We hope that this work can break down barriers to entry for local BIPOC artists and start to dismantle some of the preexisting structures that create roadblocks,” he said.
Thurston believes this will really increase the representation of BIPOC artists in the community.
“The talent is there, I just feel like people just don’t know about it,” she said.
VIA used her talent to acknowledge the racial disparities occurring in Lynn and around the world. Her paintings at LynnArts are part of her “One Paint” series, which she said was inspired by the protests last year following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
“It made me feel sad to know that people have been fighting for so many years for something that should just be basic, just to be treated like a human,” said VIA.
Both VIA and Collective Imaginings want to educate the city on art, especially from the talented people of color.
VIA said that she wanted her paintings to serve as an educational piece for the city, especially considering the local connections to the men pictured. Both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. spent time living in Boston, and Frederick Douglass lived here in Lynn. She noted that she hadn’t even known much about Douglass until recent years, highlighting the lack of education about Black history in schools.
Cheth hopes that Collective Imaginings will create conversations about the need for people to recognize the importance of arts and humanity in Lynn and that the elected community members will provide him and other artists with more systems and services.
“I’m a queer Cambodian artist, and personally I have to work full-time, while taking care of myself, my immigrant family, then I have to dig deep into whatever issue it is that my community is facing and channel that into my work.” he said.
“This is a space for folks to engage in these dialogues — to assess the needs for our community and talk about our struggles. Opportunities-wise, we have to wait and see what will come from this effort.”
Collective Imaginings will invite people to virtual conversations and Thurston said that they are hoping to do some of those fully in Spanish, so they are inclusive of their Spanish-speaking artists.
According to Cheth, there are currently two Think Labs in the works. For updates, follow the Lynn Museum account on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, @lynnmuseum. Emails will also be sent out to their databases.
By Allysha Dunnigan and Trea Lavery