The Current Award – An Award Program for Black Artists in the Greater Tacoma Area

Sonia Sanchez once said, “In order for us to survive, you should re-read Toni Morrison every 10 years because every 10 or 15 years, we have to re-imagine ourselves on this American landscape. You won’t survive if you don’t do that.”

“In order for us to survive, you should re-read Toni Morrison every 10 years because every 10 or 15 years, we have to re-imagine ourselves on this American landscape. You won’t survive if you don’t do that.”

-Sonia Sanchez

“Re-imagine ourselves.” I hold those words deeply with me in the work I do and through this work, and those words hold me as I navigate what this work looks like.

The Current, an award program for Black artists in the Greater Tacoma Area, is, for me, a reimagining. It is a reimagining of support, a reimagining of engagement, a reimagining of structures and systems and what is truly at the center of our values. With this grant, I want to provide resources and networks that make participating and creating art easier for Black artists.

The Current defines and emphasizes the now — the present moment — a moment that is always happening. It’s always shifting, and we should always be acting in that shift.

The Current grounds us in time, in urgency and in action. As an institution, TAM must always be compelled to act, to provide support in the necessary ways and do so urgently.

We should always be reimagining how we engage and show up to support Black artists.

It reminds us that the process of this award is that of a current — a continuous stream of something. It will flow, it will bring us in to commune, collaborate and create. It is not static or rigid.

For us to always reinvent and reimagine — we will constantly have to reengage ourselves in the process and our commitments to artists and community. Like a current — always steadily moving and prepared to shift.

Reimagining is the most central thought regarding the ways in which the award should exist.

It requires thorough self-reflection that calls us in and calls out the harm. It requires interrogation of the institution that calls out what we are centering, what do we truly mean when we say support, what are our values and is it truly providing what is needed for Black artists.

It asks the necessary questions — how are we showing up? How have we shown up before? And what needs to give? How does TAM, honestly and truly, support Black artists at our institution without valuing institutional needs first or at all?

We really must sit with, and interrogate the ways arts institutions have interacted with Black artists — as well as the ways they have disregarded Black artists in this region whether that be in programming, collections, exhibitions, etc.

This award should truly be generative and provide honest connectivity that builds and maintains relationships for Black artists and Black people in the Greater Tacoma area.

“We cannot create what we can’t imagine.”

– Lucille Clifton

I have had an amazing opportunity to build The Current award program from the ground up. This will allow TAM to approach the program thoughtfully and deliberately, with Black artists and community members at the center of the creation process. Collaboration and thought partnerships with the community that the award serves are imperative for a successful program.

Community holds immense importance to what this award is, how it is shaped and how it will move. It must be rooted in that. I wanted us to start centering Black artists and Black people. I wanted it to be clear that Black artists are deserving and however the institution can, it should be providing. To focus not on getting but giving back what is owed. I want this process to be built in community and collaboration with Black artists and Black folks — from the inception of its design to its blooming and ever-changing final state.

Connecting with Black artists, admins, and community members at the initial development stages of the award has been crucial to determining the goals and outcomes of The Current. That feedback has been implemented throughout the award. This process has helped determine the focus of the award, creating a process for artists that is less hierarchical, offering suggestions for resources that should be freely available, and expressing thoughts around how the award may better serve community.

Artists do not have to abide by the hiring process of roles that are deeply white supremacist. With The Current, we are only asking that artistic excellence be demonstrated. You do not need to be of a certain prestige or at a certain point in your career as an artist. We’re not asking that works of a certain thematic focus be presented. It is not something rigid or presumptuous for artists.

I am currently building a collaborative committee of people who have different expertise in the community and come from various backgrounds. The Collaborative Committee will offer external community input, feedback, inspiration, and connections to inform the award and its programs to best serve the artist awardees, program goals, and the community at large.

One of our first goals as a collaborative committee is to work towards building external relationships with the community and plan programming that centers Black artists and community. Creating a stable foundation with genuine connections and relationships with our community is key to this award and this work. It’s necessary we take the time to create a space for Black artists and community members that they can feel safe stepping in to.

Red and white logo for The Current Artist Award
Design by Umi Wagoner and Evan Nixon

The awardee will be determined through a nomination process. External and internal expertise will help the Collaborative Committee create criteria to determine an equitable, transparent process in determining a nomination committee. The Collaboration Committee will then suggest a list of prospective nominators who will provide a list of names of artists to be considered for the award program. From that list, they will narrow it down to finalists and an Awardee.

I find it necessary to plug in artists and community members where I can, so it can be less institution focused. I want to thank Umi Wagoner for creating the logo for the Award program, as well as his partnership, friendship, and insight into the development of the award. I hope to continue to plug in more artists and community members as possible throughout this award program.

I also want to thank Elisheba and Soulma of Wa Na Wari, Teme Wokoma of King County Equity Now, Kellie Richardson, Luther Hughes, and Lydia Boss of Artists Trusts, Dionne Bonner, Moe’Neyah Holland, Jasmine Brown, Kendra Muliagatele, Jasmine Mahmoud, Barbara Earl Thomas, Khalil Kinsey, and many others for the thoughts, feedback, and suggestions provided.

In the upcoming months, we will be having an open house session where the community is invited to join us for intimate conversations about the award and more details on the process.

An institution’s voice should not always be the loudest in the room if we are working and engaging in community. Black artists deserve support and to articulate what that support looks like. So, with this we want to create a space that makes that possible.

“And who will join this standing up

And the ones who sweet company

Will sing and sing

Back into the mountains and if necessary

Even under the sea

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

-June Jordan

So much of the work that I do is inspired by those who came before me and words they leave that stick. When I think of what I want to accomplish with this award, I think of Black Space Manifesto. One of the points resonate in particular:

“Manifest the Future: Black people, Black culture and Black Spaces exist in the future! Imagine and design the future into existence now, working inside and outside of social and political systems.”

I am so thankful for the artists and community I have been able to speak with, this joining of minds and thoughts, and sharing of space and the creations it will bring forth. It is an exciting journey and an honor to be a part of.

“We can be anything we want
For we are the young ones
Walken without footprints
Moven our bodies in tune
To songs
Echoen us. The beautiful
  Black ones.
Recently born.
Walken new
Leaven behind us a tap dancer’s dream.
Of sunday nite ed sullivan shows
ALL that we want
For we are the young ones
Bringen the world to a Black Beginnen.”
-Sonia Sanchez

Source: Tacoma Art Museum