A small committed group of artists gathered outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico in the spring of 2012 to participate in a pilot dialogue project at Camp Mabina, an annual music and dance camp that offers classes with artists from across Africa and the Diaspora. Our goal was to create an equitable space for sustained and facilitated dialogue about race as it relates to African music and dance in the U.S. Co-facilitating this pilot project were Creative Strategies for Change artists and educators Tara Vellinga and Rachael Sharp in collaboration with Camp Mabina Artistic Director, Rujeko Dumbutshena.
The group included equitable representation from African immigrants, African Americans, and white Americans. Nine artists participated in the pilot dialogue session: Fara Tolno, Hari Har, Lucy Foma, Nia Harris, Noudjal Gamougoun, Ralph Klee, Shayla Dawn, Tendai Muparutsa, and Uzo Nwankpa, with documentation support from Dasha Chapman.
The work began in advance with the viewing of a series of video clips from Race: The Power of an Illusion, the reading of several short articles, and the completion of exercises related to identity and the history of racism and immigration in the U.S. Upon arriving together we established some basic practice principles and worked with the following four agreements from the Courageous Conversations About Race framework:
- Stay Engaged
- Experience Discomfort
- Speak Your Truth
- Expect and Accept Non-Closure
Our agenda shifted daily as we shaped it to reflect the interests of the group. We cultivated a list of hopes (see photo) for our time together, crystallizing the groups’ critical engagement with the topic. These hopes provide insight into the work that unfolded.
Together we built a collective understanding of the levels and types of racism and other systems of oppression. In looking at how structural racism impacts the arts, access emerged as a nuanced and complex issue. The team identified several obstacles that contribute to racialized disparities in access to arts of African and the Diaspora. Informed by a participatory action research approach, the Mabina Dialogue Pilot Project was a meaningful, and much needed step in creating spaces for communication and organizing for racial justice within the milieu of African Music and Dance in the US.
We can see the benefits of our work in several ways: the initiation of dialogue across identities and groups, carrying over into our home communities; increased awareness of diverse experiences and the realities of structural oppression; inspiration for continued education and organizing; and we are beginning to build alliances. As a group we learned a great deal about the strengths and limitations of our process and how it can be improved for Mabina 2013. CSC is deeply grateful to Rujeko for supporting this work with all of the potential risks and rewards involved. Find out more about Mabina Dialogue Project 2013: Arts for Action at http://www.campmabina.com.