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Community voices, community vision: Greenwood Art Project to unveil works by dozens of artists
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Community voices, community vision: Greenwood Art Project to unveil works by dozens of artists

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Members of the hip hop collective, Fire in Little Africa, discuss about their experience creating an album about the 1921 Race Massacre. Ian Maule/Tulsa World

The United States motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” translates as “Out of many, one.”

The way Jerica Wortham tells it, the motto of the Greenwood Art Project could very well be “Out of one, many.”

“Initially, the idea was maybe to have a single, large installation that would speak to the past, the present and the future of Greenwood,” said Wortham, the program director for the Greenwood Art Project. “But that very quickly involved into two installations, then five, until it really became a true community effort.”

That was something Rick Lowe, who serves as the lead artist for the Greenwood Art Project with William Cordova, emphasized from the beginning.

“We need to focus on the local voices, the authentic voices,” Lowe, a MacArthur Foundation Award-winning artist, said in an interview with the Tulsa World in 2019. “The story of Greenwood is itself a national, an international story. But the local is often the universal.”

More than 30 area artists working individually or in collectives, whose work ranges from painting to pottery, onsite installations to spoken-word pieces, multimedia to music, dance to film, will have their creations begin to go on display at 33 locations throughout the city beginning Wednesday, May 26, when the Greenwood Art Project officially opens.

For more information, please see: greenwoodart project.org.

Three events will take place that day, including the public unveiling event, 1 p.m. at the “Steps to Nowhere,” 99 E. Haskell Place, with lead artists Lowe and Cordova joined by Mayor G.T. Bynum. The title refers to the many empty lots in the Greenwood area, where the only evidence that a home once stood there are steps that once led from a sidewalk to a front porch.

A “Meet the Artists” event is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Skyline Mansion, 620 N. Denver Ave., and “G.A.P. Documentaries” will debut at 8:30 p.m. at the Admiral Twin Drive-In, 7355 E. Easton St.

Seven other installations will also open Wednesday around the city, with others opening subsequent days. Most installations will remain open to the public through June 5, with more installations and events continuing through the summer.

The Greenwood Art Project is an initiative of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and was created not only to raise awareness of the destruction and loss of life associated with the massacre, but also to celebrate the resilience, healing and recovery of the community, in ways that resonate in today’s world.

The Greenwood Art Program is funded in part by a $1 million award from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Art Challenge and a $200,000 grant from the George Kaiser Family Foundation.

Wortham said the diversity of the art created, as well as the diversity of artists, was a key consideration for the project.

“We have some very notable artists who are part of the project, but that wasn’t a criteria for participation,” she said. “The works that make up the project are specific for the citizens of Tulsa, because we as a community are having to reflect on, and reckon with, our history.

“We’re all asking the same questions — how do we heal, how do we grow as a community,” Wortham said. “That’s what these art works represent. It’s the voices of members of our community speaking to these concerns directly, in ways that will resonate with everyone who has an intense interest not only in our history, but also in our future.”

Among the upcoming events is “The American Dream,” an installation at the Oxley Nature Center by Sarah Ahmad built around the sort of tents survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre were forced to live in after their homes were destroyed.

“It’s really a remarkable installation, in the way she has married her own experiences in Pakistan with the events of Greenwood,” Wortham said. “It shows how these experiences resonate on a global scale.”

Wortham said one installation she especially appreciated is Dawn Tree’s “The Greenwood Joy Experience,” a one-hour, immersive installation in the Greenarch Building that “gives the full spectrum of the Greenwood experience, especially the resilience and joy that are the true spirit and legacy of Greenwood.” (This is a ticketed event; for more information: utreep.com)

Other events include “This Car Up,” a dance film inspired by the incident that ignited the Tulsa Race Massacre, created by Tulsa Modern Movement, which will be shown in the atrium of the Williams Towers, 101 E. Second St.; the Centennial Black Wall Street Heritage Parade May 29; a performance by the artists featured on the “Fire in Little Africa” project, also May 29; and a “Century Walk” June 1, in which people will follow the path that many citizens took the night of the Tulsa Race Massacre, following the railroad line near Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street to 56th Street North.

“There is so much to this project,” Wortham said, “but we tried to schedule things so that people would be able to sample, if not everything about the project, then a good portion of it. Because the art these people have created really speaks to what it means to be a citizen of Tulsa today, and that’s something we want to share with whole community.”

For more information: greenwoodartproject.org.

The Men Who Would Be Scene: Episode 12

Plenty of exciting things at the Admiral Twin, plus a little history of drive-ins in Tulsa, the Tulsa Race Massacre and National Brothers Day. 

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