003: The Journey of Health and Healing at Threewalls

At Threewalls we’ve been taking time away to heal, rest and process. Amidst a global pandemic, the continued assault on Black lives and Black bodies – and of late, the Insurrection – we’ve been needing a lot of collective care.


This episode reflects over what love and health means for our organization. Tune in as I uncover the impact of collaboration, dealing with anti-Blackness and letting go of Whiteness. Let’s continue to do the work and hold the space for the humanity of Black artists and creatives, as well as Brown and other artists of color, intersectional identities, and the deaf and disabled.



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The Journey of Health and Healing at Threewalls
work, liberation, love, art, Blackness, organization, Audre Lorde, Black, bell hooks, ethic, artists, Whiteness, collaboration, foundation, shared, stated, self-preservation, care, conversation, deeply

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation. And that is an act of political warfare." Audre Lorde 1934 to 1992.

It's been a minute since you've heard my voice on the podcast. For those who are not aware Threewalls offers the entire months of August and December as paid vacation for the team. And with this, we take the time off collectively.

The collective care is a significant offering based on what Audre Lorde stated in the opening quote I read while she dealt with cancer. It is not self-indulgence, and it is self-preservation. Lorde is one of many Black women who guide the work at Threewalls and are the foundation for a culture of care that is born of a love ethic, which is a term feminist scholar bell hooks uses in her writing about love.

It has been challenging to continue to work and create and hold space for folks in our community, while managing our own lives in a middle of a pandemic, with the continued assault on Black Lives of Black bodies, and of late the insurrection that happened during what was supposed to be a peaceful transfer of power, after the presidential election.

It's important for our community to know that we do take time away, to to heal, to experience more joy, to rest, and to process our work. It is central to this Black-led space. It is central to what is Black liberation.

We work very hard. And we work with great intention. And as a result of that, we do take collective care and collective rest. And so that's why you haven't heard from us, or from me specifically, in a minute.

When we came back from our break, we were adjusting to being back but also dealing with anti-Blackness. And, the toll that that takes on us as human beings as we are doing work to hold space for the humanity of Black artists and creatives as well as Brown artists and other artists of color and intersectional identities, deaf and disabled folk. And when you are doing that work that again comes from a foundation of loving Blackness, to borrow again bell hooks', term it can be really jarring to navigate anti-Blackness within the organization.

And, so as we have navigated that and coming to a place of healing, it made me return back to what and why Threewalls today is what it is today.

And, in a sense it is a return to center. And, that return to center is understanding and remembering that the reimagination of the organization into what it is was truly from a place of love.

And our foundation is a love of Black people and Blackness. And, this is a love that is one that welcomes and accepts all of the nuances of Blackness, and the complexity of Black people and our lives. It is why, it is one reason why our mission statement is about fostering contemporary art practices that respond to lived experiences.

Our lived experiences are not separated or divorced from the work that we do. It is deeply embodied.

And, so as part of the process of healing from anti-Blackness, I turn to bell hooks, who is one of my pillars in my leadership, in my curatorial practice, to think more deeply about, and define what love means for this organization. And love is not something we talk about a lot in the arts, in nonprofit world. But this is central to who Threewalls is, and really central to a racially just world.

And so to define what love means for Threewalls, I'm sharing bell hooks' definition from her book, titled Salvation: Black People and Love: "love as a combination of care, knowledge, responsibility, respect, trust, and commitment." This definition, and the way we work at Threewalls is also an ethic of love that had its roots in the civil rights movement, and continues in our current movement towards liberation for Black people.

And I'm sharing this definition, because, again, it's it's what grounds our work at Threewalls. And, it is something that I recently shared with my board of directors, also to help them in these moments of growth for the organization, to really align with what our foundation is. So that whenever there's a moment that we are being taken off center, or our heart is not beating in rhythm, to come back to this.

And, so an ethic of love is also at the core of what I talked about in an earlier episode: How is your heart beating? As I mentioned in an earlier episode, how is your heart beating is also our meaning. Threewalls is compass and tuning fork for the health of the organization. And, the health of Threewalls is not primarily about our finances and budgets, to be sure that it's part of it.

Our health is also about how we are practicing love and making sure each part of the heart is in alignment. Love is a part of the path to liberation.

And, with liberation, I'm thinking about it as pro-Black and free from Whiteness as the arbiter of life art and culture. And this is really key.

I had a recent conversation with a program officer and talking about racial justice and equity in the arts and the challenges that, quite frankly, museum spaces continue to have with implementing this equity more intentionally.

And, one of the things that me and the program officer talked about was how museums will add a program, right, they will add one or two black folk, but they never actually take a look at what they need to let go of.

And it really sparked for me, what Threewalls had to let go of in order to be at this place--this place of welcoming Black and Brown artists, deaf and disabled artists and artists with intersectional identities.

We had to let go of Whiteness, we had to let go of Whiteness being the center of our work. We also had to let go of the traditional notion of what art making is and what art presentation should be.

And, in this collaboration is the next form of love.

And so collaboration is also part of our liberation. Collaboration is one of our stated values and is deeply rooted in the notion that if we work together share, resources and knowledge, our art community and Chicago at large becomes a much better place to live.

And, I remember early on, as I was thinking about collaboration for the organization, and what that meant, and what it looked like, having some artists question that. And this notion that if we were collaborating with other organizations, then that took away our independence. And that's not actually what collaboration is about. And so as it has taken shape within Threewalls, it is also born from a love ethic.

And, recognizing that we actually cannot do the work by ourselves. We cannot do the work in isolation. And so when thinking about this particular art community and Chicago, and thinking about its geography, I've also been thinking about and meditating on some of the work of scholar, Katherine McKittrick, who is a scholar of Black geographies, and what she recently shared and a conversation about her newest book, which is titled Dear Science and Other Stories.

And, in this conversation, McKittrick states, "inclusion is not going to save us. But we can create and we have created alternative conditions through which to relate to each other. Collaboration is one form of liberation." And then she continues to say, "we are tasked to learn and teach about liberation together." That's it. Like that is the work.

If we really do value, the arts and the human attached to art making, when the art experiences that we all benefit from we have to collaborate, we have to learn from each other. So, I'm sharing some of this, which again, I have shared some of this also with my board of directors, to let you know where we are right now as an organization.

What are the things that we've been thinking about taking time to process? And what is the roadmap for the growth of the organization? There's a lot of work that we're doing internally to create a world where artists and creatives are not only seen as humans, but treated as humans and valued for the work that they put out into the world.

I'm going to end with a quote by Katherine McKittrick and this is something that is also grounding for for Threewalls: "Black creative work regularly undermines the linear temporalities of capitalism. Even as we are all caught up in the system, there is something about Black creative work that purposefully or not, cannot be contained by brutal accumulative logics."

Until next time.

The sound design is to you hear at the beginning and at the end of the podcast are by Jared Brown. The podcast is also supported by the Illinois Art Council Agency, the Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Arts and the Surdna Foundation.



Threewalls is always finding new ways to share our artist’s unique voices through exhibits, talks, and gatherings. We would like you to be the first to know about these opportunities.