The summer of 1983, after busting my brain at the University of Houston to graduate with one last semester, 21 credits and two senior theses, I was so thankful for the opportunity to go up to Longswamp, PA (one of those crossroad towns in the hills outside of Allentown) to help the family of Steve’s high school friend Tony renovate a 1700s house into a B&B. The rhythm of sanding, nailing, and painting allowed by brain to decompress. Elsa would cook us amazing meals with ingredients previously unfamiliar to me – fiddlehead ferns, feta cheese, chervil, lemon balm... After dinner, we would often find ourselves sprawled on couches, wending our way through their extensive vinyl collection. Sarah Vaughan’s soul penetrating voice and her songs stayed with me as I worked and I began to yearn to hear her recordings each evening.
Back in Houston, that next winter, I was employed, had found a CD of Sarah’s “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, was listening to it in my car almost daily, had heard that she was going to play at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston and had discovered the Eastern Airlines middle-of-the-night freight flights that let folks fly very reasonably. Since this was near Steve’s 25th birthday, I connived with Tony to fly him down for the weekend as a surprise to celebrate him and hear Sarah live. I was transfixed by her performance, her range, how she modulated her voice.
This magic has never dulled, though at some point I gave the CD a break. Her songs are in several of my playlists. When I hear “I’ve Got the World on a String” or “How Long Has This Been Going On?”, my mood is instantly lifted. They are certainly among the songs I sing loudly in my car with lots of head dancing (you may have seen me?) and this recording is helping me get through the home stay version of a desert island.
#memoriesat60 #missingcommunity #gratitude
When I moved to Billings in 1993, I was 8 months pregnant, missing my women's circle in Portland and desperate to make some connections here before I became more home bound with an infant. I was so very lucky, in two ways.
We had found a last minute child care/preschool spot for our 4-year old son at the Montessori School. When I reached out to its directress Nancy Jo (what an amazing human), she suggested I call one of the other mothers, Carolyn Ostby, to whom I am forever grateful for the ensuing outpouring of woman spirit. Carolyn reached out to one of her friends, Robin Taylor, who immediately responded that their circle wanted to come to our home, with their daughters, to provide comfort, encouragement and to do a belly casting. As soon as they arrived, I was enfolded into their warmth and friendliness. My heart is still warmed as I remember the looks of awe on the faces of the daughters as they placed plaster wrappings around my belly. They created an altar with that cast - a permanent recording of my glorious roundness - with things they brought with them, with their well wishes and with the necklace that my Portland women's circle had started for me - a kind of rosary made of beads given to me by them and sent to me by far flung family and friends. I wore this during labor, fingering each bead and remembering their love and support and that of these new women and girls in my life.
In our tiny cul-de-sac, lived two good-hearted women, Mary McCarvel Helgeson and Shelley McBride. Mary put together a baby shower with some of the wives of my husband's coworkers - again, women I didn't know well, but who responded with a beautiful generosity of spirit. Mary and Shelley, not only had boys with which our son could play, but were the best kind of neighbors and with them, we created a sweet, if rambunctious, life together... welcoming our new daughter - the only girl among the, now seven, neighbor kids - sharing holidays, making up celebrations, watching out for each other and our families.
I treasure those unexpected and touching gifts of community, these lovely beginnings of my life here in Montana. And ... I look forward to the end of the Covid-19 crisis, when such gatherings can start up again.
Though these 11-pages are mostly filled with with the likes of: " I was born at Akron City Hospital .. A month and a half later, we moved to Anniston, AL so Daddy could be in the Army... my favorite activity was reading..." A few more detailed memories stood out to me at that point in my life:
After 1st grade, we drove from Houston to Florida. My brother and I were very excited to catch horseshoe crabs. They were so weird. We threw them into the trunk before we left for home so we could show our friends. Half-way there, Daddy asked "what is that smell?" He had to stop the car so my mom could throw up.
I was both excited and disappointed when my youngest brother was born, because I wanted a sister. My grandmother told me that if I had a sister I wouldn't get as many handmade clothes from her. I decided that was important and talked about my little brother every day at school.
In 3rd grade, I had a boyfriend named Lee Carter. I knew he was my boyfriend because we would talk at recess.
In 4th grade, I sold enough boxes of Russell Stover candy for Camp Fire Girls that I was rewarded with two weeks of resident camp in northern Georgia. I loved the horses, hated Spam, short-sheeted our counselor's bed, and didn't miss my parents one bit.
I also learned to play the ukulele at camp. We used our bed sheets to dress up in togas, played the hukilau song and hula danced to it, which earned us beads because Camp Fire traditions were based on Indian lore. (?!)
One of my 5th grade teachers was new at teaching. She invited all of the girls in our class over for a sleepover at her apartment. We were all good until she went into her room to sleep. We began a seance, which made several of the girls scream really loud and wake up the neighbors. Our teacher wasn't as happy in the morning.
That teacher was the one who made us write autobiographies. She gave me a "very good!" and complimented me on dotting the 'i" in my signature with a flower.
Excited Zygote Theory: Suburban Atlanta late 1960s
My comfort, peace, and happiness, while being surrounded by the folks at the #forfreedomscon in LA a few weeks ago, brought back these connected snippets ...
Sly and the Family Stone performance of "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf" on the new, to Atlanta, Soul Train. Was it the song's message, Sly’s moves, smile or his red jumpsuit that found my 11 year old self blurting out "I think I want to marry that man!"? It wasn't the first time that my southern-raised mother muttered, "where DID you come from?"
A group of young adults sitting on the ground, singing songs, playing guitars, wearing long strands of beads, smiling in Lennox Square. I paused, intrigued by their energy and spirit and was handed a newspaper with a psychedelic butterfly on its cover, causing my soul to respond with an 11 year old version of "these are my people!" My mother grabbed my hand, returned the newspaper to the the group and repeated her question about my origin.
The seeds of my transition to long hair, beads, Indian print tops, bell bottoms, taking up the ukulele and guitar and learning freedom songs had been planted.
My sociology professor later shared, jokingly, a theory: When the stork is flying around with its load of zygotes, some of the fertilized ovum are so excited that they jump out prematurely, landing in the wrong womb and, thus, wrong family.
Though my mother, as many mothers then, struggled to understand me or my pre-adult passions, I am grateful for the places, including large cities, my father’s job took us, my ancestresses, the tough yet open-hearted survivors, and, that this milieu engendered in me a happiness when in the midst of a rich mosaic of voices, stories, generosity, kindness, and soulful conversations.
Edit-a-Thon Resources from Art+Feminism
As a former and short-lived Wikipedia editor focused on women’s art activism history, I can attest to the roadblocks placed by a cadre of male editors...challenges which initially seemed logical parts of the self-correcting community, but became increasingly frustrating and, upon comparison, unevenly heavy-handed with histories about women: citations challenged, content removed, content reorganized in illogical, unhelpful ways, wording altered to de-emphasize impact...
Powerful afternoon. Truthworker Theater Company, LA CAN (Community Action Network) Freedom Singers, Dolores Huerta, Emiliana Guereca (Women’s March Action), Edna Chavez ( break out speaker at March for Our Lives) .... Si Se Puede!
#ForFreedomsCon @ForFreedomsCon Truthworker Theatre Company
#ForFreedomsCon #VisionaryNotReactionary #indigeneity
So much more to come, but here is a bit about For Freedoms Congress! I am grateful to all the folks who have worked to create this first ever gathering of over 500 artists, creatives and beautifully intentioned people, connected by our desire to help heal the divisions in our country through art-based actions. And grateful to the #MontanaWarriorWomen who are sharing their visions for bringing this energy back to our home state: Alaina Buffalo Spirit, Marci Mc Lean - Pollock and Dylan Running Crane.
“For Freedoms, at its best, is a collective of strangers trusting each other.” During #ForFreedomsCon, we are turning strangers into friends, mobilizing artists, activists, organizers, and culture makers for supercharged civic engagement in 2020.. Laughter and joy has a place within all the other emotions and responses.
And, we had the privilege of meeting and hearing the indefatigable Dolores Huerta
I am grateful to ForFreedoms.org for the stipend that enables Alaina Buffalo Spirit, Marci Mc Lean - Pollock, Dylan Running Crane and me to be part of, what will be, a high-energy, engaging series of artist-led programs, workshops and conversations . . . The For Freedoms Congress in Los Angeles, next week.
In the fall 2018, I pulled together some local activations for the For Freedoms 50 States Initiative Billings. Our foursome will build on this and be looking at ways to create art-based amplifications of Native issues throughout our tribal nations in Montana and connecting to other events which encourage dialogue here and across the country.
The Montana Warrior Women (thank you to Alaina for giving us this name!)
Alaina Buffalo Spirit is a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, who creates Ledger Art. This form of art began in the 1860's when tribal warriors were imprisoned at Ft. Marion, Florida. She is active in bringing attention and solutions to Missing and Murdered Indigenous People and environmental challenges on her people's land.
Marci McLean, who is Piikuni, is the Executive Director of Western Native Voice, a non-profit, non-partisan social justice organization working to move Native leaders to engage Native Americans in long term decision making to address issues in their communities.
Dylan Runinng Crane is a Blackfeet filmmaker, musician, writr and student working to shed light on the life, happiness, and humanity of indigenous people.
Sherri Cornett is an artist curator who combines her political science, advocacy and art skills to create opportunities for dialogue and community building.
#forfreedoms #forfreedomscongress #ffcon
#communityengagedart #memoriesat60 #humantrafficking #commercialsexualexploitation
The Ragdoll Project: at the UN, in China and across the country
The Ragdoll Project is an ongoing community art project created by Joanna Fulginiti and Bonnie MacAllister and members of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Women's Caucus for Art. It educates and encourages dialogue about human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation (CSE). Sales of the dolls supports survivors and at risk women and children.
I first saw the project and dolls when I had a piece in "Honoring Women's Rights, Echoing Visual Voices Together" at the National Steinbeck Center, 2012-2013. The variety and multiplicity of dolls hanging on the wall stopped me in my tour of the exhibition. I reached out to Joanna to see how I could get involved. A multi-year relationship ensued.
Maureen Burns-Bowie (Women's Caucus for Art UN Program Chair and UN Rep) and I (as WCA's International Caucus Chair and UN Rep) took them to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women conference in 2013. A version of the dolls came with us to China for "Half the Sky: Intersections in Social Practice Art" in 2014 and was part of Karen's and my exhibition at St. Mary's College "Social Justice: It Happens to One, It Happens to All" in 2016. Joanna, Bonnie and Eva and crew have shown them and created workshops in many, many other places.
While cutting out fabric and making the dolls, we sent out our collective hope for the end of trafficking. As we all know, there has been no end to it, but awareness is growing.
The Ragdoll Project Committee: Joanna Fulginiti (Chair), Bonnie MacAllister, Rachel Udell, Eva Preston, Heather Penn, and Jeanne Lombardo.
I have previously reflected on the challenges for me of living in Fort Worth in the late 80s. Other than the joy of giving birth to my son, one of my top distractions was meeting and hanging with Renee Sherrer, who was working on her MFA at North Texas State in Denton.
I was not yet into making art - this was my public relations and marketing for non-profits phase - but what Renee was doing with fabric and postcard art and female identity combined with her endearing quirkiness, made me want to make the trip north as often as I could. One night we danced so wildly to Brave Combo's nuclear polka that I flew right off the raised floor, ending up several feet below with a sprained ankle - upside? the bartender installed me with a bucket of ice at the end of the bar and people bought me shots. downside? the effect of all those shots realized too late.
When her program was completed, she asked if I would be interested in helping her move to Montana, a state that had never been on my radar. It sounded like an epic road trip, but ... I couldn't get off work.
After a couple more years in Cowtown and a few in a quite different city, Portland, Oregon, Steve and I moved to Billings in 1993. I had lost contact with Renee and she wasn't on our minds when we happened to walk into Cafe Jones (currently Ebon Coffee). On the walls were a few oversized brassiere prints. Steve and I simultaneously exclaimed "Renee!" And, she was there, next door in her office above the current Montana Gallery (then a book store). She, and her cup and saucer embellished art car, did not stay in Billings long. But, this unexpected reunion set a sweet tone to our new city, underscoring how, despite moves and travels and changes, life can provide interesting reconnections as it weaves forward.
Renee talked about SirQ and he was credited with many of the photos in her postcard art. I have since been told he still lives in Billings. After 26+ years here, I have never run into him. But their postcards remain in my collection. This last image is from her MFA show "Designer Straight Jackets."
Softness Overcoming Hardness
Angela Davis, Keynote Speaker
#OpenEngagement Conference, Oakland
May 1st, International Worker's Day, 2016
[Angela starts at 11:30, this video is long, but so good, so settle in, it's Angela Davis! and it includes Q&A at the end]
#AngelaDavis starts with the recognition that we were on the colonized land of the Ohlone, that the Oakland area is the foundation of the #BlackPanthers movement (50 years hence), home of #Occupy, #BlackLivesMatter, #transgender movements, #restorativejustice, #foodsovereignty and so much more.
The title of this conference, which focuses on #sociallyengagedart, was Power (with the palpable and obvious subtext of privilege). It was necessarily uncomfortable and and educational and expanding and connecting.
Angela adds, of course, Power ... To The People. She talks about artists who have been inspired by the Black Power movement and how this inspired others to make art and make change. How art plays a pivotal role in changing the consciousness and drives of those who can change the world. Art does, indeed, change the status quo.
To my delight, she talks about #DollarBrand and #AbdullahIbrahim, to whose music I was introduced in the 80s, (yes, in retrospect I see the colonial connection) when I was helping friends renovate a 1700s home in Long Swamp, PA and we spent our late nights listening to their eclectic music collection. Abdullah’s music remains soulful to me today, particularly, "Soweto" (link in comments).
She talked about the importance of softness in overcoming hardness, that softness is a place of reflection, imagination, and possibility. That we must continue to move.
Creating Space for Dialogue
I am finishing up my home-made baba ganouj this morning and reflecting on the thought-provoking, conversation-inducing presentation (and delicious Palestinian food) by the staff (the director is Jewish) of @conflictkitchen during the Open Engagement Conference in Pittsburgh in 2015.
We talked about how important it is to keep dialogue open between people, even if governments and organizations find it politically incorrect. And how the sharing of food during can assist in these conversations, such as the meals the Half the Sky: Intersections of Social Practice Art delegates shared as we discussed, processed and problem-solved our time and interactions in China.[Mido Lee, Rosemary Meza DesPlas, Christine Giancola, Priscilla Otani and I presented a panel at Open Engagement, "Considerations and Challenges: Socially-Engaged Art in China" about our Half the Sky project in Shenyang in 2014.]
"Conflict Kitchen is a restaurant that only serves cuisine from countries with which the United States is in conflict. Each Conflict Kitchen iteration is augmented by events, performances, publications, and discussions that seek to expand the engagement the public has with the culture, politics, and issues at stake within the focus region. The restaurant rotates identities in relation to current geopolitical events.... These diverse perspectives reflect a nuanced range of thought within each country and serves to instigate questioning, conversation, and debate with our customers."
Photo courtesy of conflict kitchen website
FLOW: Interactive Exhibition and Community Project
Northcutt Steele Gallery, Montana State University Billings, January 28 - March 18, 2016
It began with a big, but, initially, manageable goal, given our backgrounds - to bring more people into the gallery and to engage them across departments, across the city and between the two institutes of higher education in Billings around the theme of water issues and focused on the Yellowstone River. Early on, we consulted MSU Billings' long-range plans, goals, & strategies and ... Leanne K. Gilbertson, Ph.D of Art History and Nothcutt Steele Gallery Director at MSU Billings and me, an artist curator with a passion for community engagement, were soon neck deep in conversations with potential partners, who were enthusiastic and willing to sign on.
The gallery was set up as a laboratory and nexus for exploration and dialogue with an exhibition of my Grottoes - mixed media wall sculptures with video meditations on water - and juried works by students and alumni. We commissioned two students, Bonny Beth Luhman and Ariel Rebecca Grosfield, to create an animated short about river users. Art Ed students discussed water issues with the Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls and other K-8 students, who then made 5 x 7 panels with their responses. Presentation of research by Rocky Mountain College students. Precious McKenzie, teacher of English at Rocky Mountain College, donated her water-themed children's books to the MSU Billings library, which became the anchor for pre-school readings there. Poetry and jazz students held a water-themed reading and improvisation night. Northern Plains Resource Council and Eric Warren presented his film "Mixing Oil and Water" featuring conversations about oil & gas development along the river. Dr. Susan Gilbertz offered a course for students from both campus about the findings from the Yellowstone River Cultural Inventory, which was part of the 16 year, most comprehensive study in the world on a watershed, our Yellowstone River, which was the basis for our keynote symposium, which included Dr. Gilbertz' students, some of the key scientists of that study (Warren Kellogg, Burt Williams and Kayhan Ostovar) as well as a beautiful argument for personhood rights for rivers by Carrie La Seur.
The amount of creativity and information shared and the community of collaborators, brainstormers, participants and supporters was a heart-warming overlay and reward for the intensity of coordination: Gerard Baker, Sue Beug, Karin Eilertsen Calabrese, Reno Charette, Michelle Dyk, Teresa Erickson, Megan Fetters, Samantha Finch, Leanne Gilbertson, Ph.D, Susan Gilbertz, Ph.D, Ilene Goddard, Ariel Grossfield, Tami Haaland, Ruby Hahn, Joy Crissey Honea, Hannah Hostetter, Warren Kellogg, Luke Kestner, Korilynn Kessler, Carrie La Seur, Ph.D, J.D., Jodi Lightner, Bonny Beth Luhman, Larry Mayer, Precious McKenzie, Joel Miller, Patrick Mueller, Kelsey Nix, Carolyn Ostby, Kayhan Ostovar, Mara Pierce, Ph.D., Megan Poulette, Tabetha Rindahl, Brent Roberts, John J. Roberts, Maria Selvig, Stephanie Slavin, Rebecca Summers, Peter Pete Tolton, Patricia Vettel-Becker, Ph.D., Eric Warren, Burt Williams, Patrick Williams, Dylan Woods and so many more who came to share their thoughts, listen and expand the dialogue around water issues, rights, access and conservation in our region.
Project overview page with links to further details at https://www.sherricornett.com/flow-interactive-exhibition-and-community-project.html
Years ago, at a UN Commission on the Status of Women panel, indigenous women from Alberta, Canada shared the alarming stories and numbers of missing and murdered women from their province. I, naively, thought this would become major news. MMIW is getting more attention now, but the doubters, the victim blamers continue to minimize these tragedies. Thank you to Marci Mc Lean - Pollock, Mary Underriner, Renee Coppock for these resources to help us add numbers and stories and faces to our efforts.
What other events, resources, organizations to help us amplify this issue?
Montana MMIW Task Force - Misty LaPlant is the specialist there. https://dojmt.gov/mpt/missing-indigenous-persons-task-force/
Sovereign Bodies Institute with a MMIW Database https://www.sovereign-bodies.org/
MMIW March in Billings: May 2, starting at 10 am. from N. 31st and Second Ave. N. to Sky Point
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls:
Somebody's Daughter: The Trailer
“After watching Somebody’s Daughter many thoughts fevered my brain for hours,” commented Wes Studi, the only Native American actor ever to receive an Oscar. “The search for a solution begins with first knowing a crisis exists,” Studi continued, and the purpose of Somebody’s Daughter is exactly that – to alert lawmakers and the public alike that the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women crisis exists and demands urgent action. Somebody’s Daughter focuses on some of the higher-profile MMIW cases, some of which were raised during the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs MMIW/MMIP hearing in December 2018. With historical points of reference, the victims’ and their families’ stories are told through the lens of the legal jurisdictional maze and socio-economic bondage that constricts Indian Country.
Look up Anna Paige’s recent, powerful #MMIW post which has been shared over a thousand times.
The Ya-Yas Have Arrived
a tailgater + hot cars + a mall cop + a premiere + a jointly admired book + ebullient women
An organic seeding of an invitation and desire for frivolity lead us to gather in the parking lot of Rimrock Mall to be silly, to pre-game, to pose, and … just as we began to wonder if we were a bit over the top, the mall cop arrived with his small flashing light, warning us to be “appropriate” and yet … his official capacity wilted under the attention of all of our boas and neon pink and brilliant red womanhood.
By the time we entered the theater, the only seats together were in the front rows and we heard murmurs of “the Ya-Yas have arrived!”
Thank you to #thebillingsgazette and my husband and daughter for witnessing and documenting and to Rebecca Wells for writing “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”
A place to decant my brain, to capture inspiration and share fresh insights. [Posts from 2015 onward]