Ryan Gillam’s remarks @ FAB Rising (Monday, June 12th)
Thank you all for coming out. We do have some news to share — but I want to spread some gratitude first. As you all know – it takes a village to raise and keep an arts organization going.
So.. shout outs to our sponsors! To the Standard! To our DJ Imogene! To our host committee! To our board! To our lovely volunteers — and most of all to the crew who put tonight together: Kim, Emilio, Krista, Dwinisa, Antigona, and particularly Dakota, our benefit coordinator, who has worked like crazy to make this beautiful creative evening.
It makes me happy to look around this room. There’s a lot of love and support here. That means more to me now, because, as we all are painfully aware, last fall bigotry was empowered. Division was deepened. The gap between rich and poor is being ripped wide. Though I personally have several layers of protective privilege buffering me from the full impact of the changes taking place – I am still viscerally aware on a daily basis that we are living in dangerous times.
How are we changing to meet them? What is the role of arts and culture in times like these? As we watch the global drama playing out, how do we turn and make choices on a neighborhood level? What does it mean to act locally?
When I was in grad school training to run a nonprofit theater, the only constituencies we learned to think about were artists, funders, and audiences. Communities were made up of potential ticket buyers or potential donors – and there was a kind of righteousness in feeling that the arts, our arts, deserved their support. We were very, very self involved; very jealous and competitive; very very privileged and absolutely unaware of any of it.
FAB was founded on the principle that together we may accomplish things that alone we can’t. On the principle that there is power in a union. In a coalition. That working collectively, change is possible. Each organizational member of FAB makes art – art that is diverse, brilliant, surprising, raw, driven, fleeting, and occasionally transcendent – each of you makes art; together, in coalition, we make culture.
FAB is in the business of supporting and sustaining culture. Local culture. A culture specific to the Lower East Side.
I’ve led a small nonprofit for decades now – I’ve been artist, manager, and everything in between. Now, I am very clear on what it means to work in a place, in a neighborhood. I know that Downtown Art’s survival required a lot more than my perseverance – it required allies, colleagues, champions of all kinds. I believe in the power of relationships. I believe in the necessity of walking the path together. They say you travel fastest alone, but you travel furthest together. I’m a believer.
That’s why I’m so excited to announce a one year partnership between FABnyc and Downtown Art, and honored to have the opportunity to lead this partnership as Executive Director of Downtown Art and FAB. These two organizations have had my heart and my labor for many years. They share a common set of values, a belief in community, a practice of engagement, and a mission to enhance and strengthen the cultural life of the Lower East Side.
For the next year, FAB and Downtown Art will join forces and seek to build coalitions of cultural and community groups around collaborative efforts to deepen and extend the cultural life of the Lower East Side. Our guiding question will be – what can we accomplish together that we cannot accomplish alone? How can arts and culture organizations work together to make a difference in a neighborhood? In what ways can we deepen and extend the cultural opportunities of young people, seniors, immigrants, public housing residents? How do we play a role in addressing neighborhood issues like sustainability and displacement?
The Lower East Side is a neighborhood under great stress. It is also a neighborhood with a remarkable, unique cultural history – a history of immigrants, workers, radicals, and artists, a history of diversity and inclusion. How can we be true to that cultural DNA – how do we carry those commitments forward into the future?
Rising to meet the challenges of these times requires new learning, new partnerships, new coordination, and new perspectives. ‘Woke’ arts and cultural organizations can see that it is not enough to bring people to us, that it is too self serving to see our neighbors only as potential audiences or donors, that it is not even enough to make art… we must also join our neighbors in making culture. In these threatening times, we need to step up as active allies, engaged citizens, bringing all our skills and talents to the table — in order that we may create a place so culturally vibrant and diverse that others point to it and say, now there’s a goal worth pursuing. There’s a neighborhood that’s resisting division, resisting bigotry, resisting the unfettered power of wealth. There’s a neighborhood that’s working together. Let’s plant some of that Lower East Side culture in our own community garden.