Free Black Dirt, Larsen Husby, Ricardo Levins Morales, 1855
Artistic partnership Free Black Dirt voices narratives often erased or ignored.
Larsen Husby walked every street in Minneapolis for his project Long Trace of Minneapolis. Ricardo Levins Morales is an artist with a message and a mission.
Two high schoolers explore the history of Faribault, Minnesota in their show 1855.
(slow instrumental music)
- My baby was fine.
She was dark, and smooth, and made me understand God
through lovemaking and laughs.
I'm a person that loves to just take walks,
so at night I'm taking a walk,
and I see a sign that says Free Black Dirt,
that someone had just posted up.
She brought me to the rooftop of her tenement,
and we saw the moon was full,
and laid in its blue light naked,
and made seven wishes apiece.
Free Black Dirt has been like the importance of freedom
and access, blackness and it's like limitlessness.
And it's sort of soulfulness.
Dirt, as far as a space of burgeoning growth,
of possibility, of nourishment.
- In the summer between black father and white father,
when I was no longer toddler, and not yet kid.
Free Black Dirt is the idea of liberation.
The idea of like rooted in black people
and black lives, and it's a name that's elastic.
It's something that can grow to hold
all the things that we dream to do.
- I love what we got.
Free Black Dirt forever.
- For life! - For E-V-A, foreva.
- Thank you to all our readers!
- Woo woo woo!
- So Junauda and I met in a class at MCTC,
a LGBTQ literature class.
Junauda sat down next to me,
and she told me that we were gonna be friends.
And I thought, that's kind of forward!
Free Black Dirt is a vehicle we use to work together,
but we also are individual artists,
and we do lots of projects individually.
As a collective, we started with the theater production
called There Are Other Worlds.
And then we have done everything from curatorial work,
and event management, event planning.
All the way to art making, and parade work,
and film production.
- I think our bravest work happens together.
I dream things all the time,
Erin dreams things all the time.
And then when we bring our forces together
it's like we really have more capacity and energy.
- Being an artist can be really isolating,
and you can be really insecure about it.
So it is nice to have someone who's like yeah,
like confirming you.
It's a real gift to make together.
- I think Erin is an amazing writer.
I often compare her to forces of nature.
There's something really transformative around her mind,
and how she approaches things.
And I really love that sense of curiosity,
she spends a lot of her time researching for fun.
(Junauda laughs) Just researching for fun.
And I think it's just finding things that,
just her spirit needs to digest about being in this world.
- Junauda is deep, like intensely deep.
An ocean deep.
She's also fun, and she can make play
out of anything, really.
I know her as a writer primarily.
And then I also know her as a builder,
an artist that's making puppets.
And she's a film director, and a stage director.
And she's got this really great way of creating
ritual and creating sacred space with performers,
to really evoke something specific from them.
- You need to write my bio dude. (Erin laughs)
- I will, I'd love to. (both laugh)
Sweetness of Wild is a film project
that we've been working on, it's episodic.
It's lyric and imaginative, it's our love letter
to black Minneapolis.
- For me in writing it, I felt inspired initially
by a storyline of three girls based in Minneapolis.
After the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement.
We're wanting to amplify narratives
that speak to aspects of who we are,
and voices and feelings that we would love
to see in the world.
(slow funky music)
So whether it's coming from an aspect of queerness.
An aspect of Afro-futurism, an aspect of social justice.
Certainly I think so much of my creativity
is for a younger self of mine.
'Cause, you know, a young black person growing up,
I didn't think I was important.
We're having to battle systems that have excluded us.
That have marginalized our stories, and our narratives.
- So many images that we get of black folks
and black experience is this oppression,
and being oppressed, and this sort of hardship.
But what I know, is that we are so funny,
and so loving on each other, and so generous.
We are not just surviving, but really thriving
and innovating and making gorgeous things.
We deserve those kinds of images too.
(audience clapping and cheering)
- I wanna thank y'all so much.
Ugh, this is like the best.
I keep on saying this is like being at my own funeral.
Just getting to see (audience laughs)
everybody I love!
I'm happy, thank you so much.
I feel so proud within the work of Free Black Dirt,
that having a sense of when people engage our work
that they feel better about themselves.
And I think also charged to be a part of liberation
and transformation for everybody.
(upbeat funky music)
(upbeat instrumental music)
- Back in October of 2016, I decided I was going to walk
every single street in the city of Minneapolis,
and record the experience.
Through data, maps, photos, and written reflections.
So it's a project that exists both in the act
of me walking the streets,
as well as in the documentation that comes from the walks.
When I came up with the project
I set myself some rules to follow while I was doing it.
Only walk along streets with sidewalks.
I must start each walk with the intention
of it being part of the project.
I am allowed to walk with a utilitarian purpose,
such as going on an errand.
I have to record the route, the length
and the duration of the walk.
I'm allowed to stop on my walk for whatever reason I want.
I'm allowed to take whatever form of transit I need
to get to a walking location.
I am allowed to walk with other people.
And the last thing is that I have to walk,
and not run or jog.
(slow instrumental music)
Some of the main differences between the neighborhoods
I think is most evident in how they're used,
and who uses them.
And I mean that both in terms
of who lives in the neighborhood,
or who comes to the neighborhood
to work or to shop, and so forth.
But also even just simple things like topography.
And then architecture.
I've started thinking of Minneapolis
kind of the rings on a tree.
Like the closer you are to the historic center
of the city, of downtown.
And the older the buildings are
and the further and further you get out from the center,
the newer and newer the neighborhoods
and their houses are.
I've gained a few insights from the project,
one of which is a new sense of scale.
So I don't think of it as city that's large
or small anymore.
It's exactly as large as it is,
because I've experienced in my body how big it is.
I just know what size it is,
in a way that comes from moving through it,
rather than just looking at it.
The project has also complicated my idea of this city.
I used to think of Minneapolis in sort of shorthands.
It's like, think of Minneapolis
think of the downtown skyline.
Or think of Spoonbridge and Cherry.
And now I have so many reference points in my mind
of what Minneapolis is and what it looks like.
It looks like a little Craftsman bungalow,
and it looks like a weird bench
that's shaped like a banana split next to a Dairy Queen.
The image of Minneapolis is so multifaceted to me now,
I can barely wrap my head around it, as a single idea.
My work is very centered on the idea of place.
I would love people to take away the idea
that they can question and examine for themselves
how they think about a place.
You might have a sort of idea of what a place is about
that comes from your experience,
or from reading about it, or watching T.V.,
or even looking at a map.
And the reality of any place
is that it's way more complicated
than a single source can ever reveal.
So I hope people look at my work,
and want to apply that lens of examining and questioning
the definition of place, to their own lives.
(upbeat rock music)
- People ask me how can you create art
about so many different issues?
What ones are most important to you?
I don't tell stories about a lot of issues,
I only have one issue.
And that's human resilience in the face of adversity.
And in our current world, that means human resilience
often in the face of oppression.
It's intentional to keep art cheap enough
that even artists can buy it.
And that people whose stories are reflected in the art
are the people who can come in here and buy the art.
This is not showcasing poor people's stories
for rich people tourism.
I actually decided when I was about 11 or 12,
that I would never be an artist.
I had this idea that an artist was someone
who worked on a huge oil painting
that would sell for large amounts of money,
to be entombed in a suburban mansion
and never see the light of day.
And really what changed my life
and changed that decision was really understanding
what you could do with printmaking.
You can make copies of it, you can get 'em to people
at low prices, and even keep one for yourself.
Dang, well I'm gonna do that.
I call myself a healer and trickster organizer
disguised as an artist.
So whether I'm writing, or speaking,
or counseling organizations, or creating pictures.
A lot of what I'm doing is taking the experience
and the stories of traumatized people
and reframing those stories in a way
that can help them to move forward.
Trauma imposes on us a lot of false narratives
about us being bad, or colluding with whoever abused us.
Or those kinds of things that really prevent people
from feeling hopeful, from feeling powerful,
from being able to speak up for themselves.
And that's why dictatorships
always try to control or suppress the arts.
Because they would much rather have causes
of people's discomfort, pain, remain mysterious,
off the table, and not examined.
I grew up in a colony of the United States,
the western mountains of Puerto Rico
in a coffee growing area.
As a child you don't now the causes of things,
you just notice there are facts.
You notice that the vast majority of your neighbors
are extremely poor.
And yet, they're intellectually brilliant, hardworking.
And so the normal explanation that you get
for why people are poor obviously didn't apply.
So we moved to the States when I was 11 years old.
My father had lost his job at San Juan
in the university because of political reasons.
And so we moved from the mountains of Puerto Rico
to the south side of Chicago,
during a time of great turbulence.
Street riots, protests.
The Black Panther Party was a major presence,
the Anti-War Movement, second-wave feminism
and that's really kind of the storm that I landed in.
Coinciding neatly with the storm of immigration, for me,
and the storm of adolescence, (laughs)
so it was a perfect storm of transition.
When I was a teenager in Chicago,
I witnessed an example of organizing
that really left an imprint on me,
and the way I view these issues.
And that was the Black Panthers' initiative
to create an alliance with groups from other communities.
With the the Young Lords Organization initially,
that was a Puerto Rican street gang
that had become politicized.
And the Young Patriots, who were a white street gang.
And these were kids who wore Confederate flags
on their jackets.
Many of them had relatives back home in the Ku Klux Klan.
And who were facing really harsh conditions
of poverty in Chicago.
And the Black Panthers instead of viewing them
as a hostile force to neutralize,
asked in effect what is causing these people to hurt?
And they started exploring the issues
that affected them both.
And ended up creating what they called
The Rainbow Coalition.
That such a telling example in a time
when now we're often advised to, when we see people
at the other end of a polarization
to say well how can we meet them halfway?
How can we build a bridge, and create some kind
of meeting place that maybe is half anti-racist
and half racist and everyone will be happy?
Instead, in effect the organizing strategy
of the Black Panthers was to say we have a vision
that's big enough for all of us.
I was part of a current called Cultural Organizing
during the 1980's, 1990's, early 2000's.
And part of our mission was to integrate art making
into social change and social justice movements.
Now I look around, and I see every movement
that steps up to fight against any issue,
to promote any form of positive change,
is completely full of artists.
And it is simply taken for granted
that art is at the heart of movements and communications.
And I can tell young artists
that this was not always the case.
So do you have a list of what we were thinking of
for different locations?
- So we were thinking about Manero Ramos for May.
- [Ricardo] Nice.
- [Ricardo] This could be June?
- [Woman] That could be June, that's--
- One of the projects that's become part of my work
increasingly the last few years
is producing an annual wall calendar.
This is a culmination of old and new art.
Historical dates, having to do
with forward-looking struggles.
And, it's really been really a delight,
and a way to interconnect with my larger audience
around the country.
Okay this is something earthy,
that could go in April.
- [Woman] April.
- [Ricardo] Mm-hmm.
- [Woman] That's earth.
- I don't know quite how it happened,
but I've always been very serious about outcomes.
Serious about creating real change.
I have no interest in lying on my pillow on my deathbed,
and saying well I didn't change a darn thing
but at least I fought the good fight.
The good fight has no interest for me.
What's of value to me is actually changing our lives.
Yes the world can be changed.
And hope is a very, very powerful healing element.
It doesn't make sense when people ask me
what keeps you hopeful?
No, the real question is what harm has been so huge,
that it has damaged people's inherent ability
to be hopeful?
A large element of my work, is to reawaken,
or remind people, of the fact that life
is full of possibility.
- I was an eighth-grader, enjoying the summer
when I got a call from this badminton partner of mine,
Sam, who called me up and said hey Logan,
I wanna talk to you about this project I have.
- Logan and I were classmates
at Northfield Middle School, actually.
We were sort of adversarial.
- We were vicious rivals.
- Vicious rivals.
And he talked to me about his ideas for a television series
about Faribault history.
- He was the only person I ever contacted about it.
We had a similar way of looking at the world,
we had a similar sense of humor.
And how we problem solved really jived.
- He convinced me through the awesomeness of Faribault,
and his very detailed plan,
that it would be something worth doing.
And I didn't have a lot to do as an eighth-grader.
So I signed on.
- I've grown up in Faribault, I've been here my whole life.
There's definitely a lack of a community identity,
and consistent pride.
I was also a history nut.
And I did a lot of goofy videos with friends.
So when it came to trying to foster that pride
in the community, what I knew was video,
and what I knew Faribault had
was this fascinating, fascinating history.
The year is 1854.
A fur trader named Alexander Faribault
looks over these bluffs to the land below.
(gentle instrumental music)
He sees a river, teepees, a couple houses.
He sees people.
He sees potential.
Where did we learn to write and produce
a television show?
- [Logan] I think it was when we started--
- [In Unison] Writing and producing a television show.
- Yeah. - Yeah.
- Faribault is a small town in Southern Minnesota.
It has around 23 000 residents,
all living in a space under 16 square miles.
Not much could happen, right?
- I'm Samuel Temple.
- I'm Logan Ledman.
- This television series, 1855,
will tell the stories of people and places of Faribault.
- It is frankly a little bit of a bizarre undertaking.
But, it really was exciting.
And there is something compelling and beautiful
about not only history, but Faribault's history.
Every town has a claim to fame.
Detroit, Michigan, the automobile.
Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the airplane.
Faribault, Minnesota, the Tilt-a-Whirl.
- We're both mild egotists.
So we always had the idea of--
- Mild, bordering on wild, but.
- We were 14 when we started.
And so, a part of that was, we're going to show people
that it's not going to matter that we're 14.
We still do something really cool.
Well this month on 1855
we're talking about Bishop Whipple.
- He was a big part of early Faribault,
and very responsible for why have schools like Shattuck.
- But that doesn't explain why we're up here.
- Because it's cool.
(Theme from Star Wars)
- One of the primary reasons why we continue doing this
is we do find it fun.
We don't get any kind of school credit out of it,
it's just fun.
We enjoy this process immensely.
- And we have gotten a lot of support from the community.
Whether it's the local paper, or city council,
or in the comments on Facebook.
You know, this changes the way I look at small towns.
This changes the way that I look at Faribault.
Wow, I grew up here, I never knew
there was so much there.
After doing the television show for three years,
we decided to expand our horizons.
We decided a play could be a fun way to do that.
- That began a long process of figuring out okay,
who's doing what.
Who's doing sound, who do we want for this person,
for that person.
- Tom, meet Alexander Faribault.
- Alexander Faribault's strength didn't really hit us
until we had decided for this show
to delve deep into the history of the U.S.-Dakota War
and the context of the times.
- Mr. Faribault!
- Mr. Whipple.
- I possess an urgent request
from Governor Ramsey.
There's been an attack in Afton.
It's a Dakota uprising, Faribault.
Five farmers were killed, the governor has called it war.
- Suddenly the U.S.-Dakota war (men shouting)
of 1862 erupts, and it throws the town of Faribault
and the state of Minnesota into a series
of horrendous consequences. (men shouting)
Alexander Faribault was part Dakota.
But he was also mostly white.
He had a position of power because of that.
And he chose to use that in way
that was totally against the current of his times.
He welcomed the Dakota onto his land after the war,
something that the citizens of Faribault
deeply, deeply opposed him on.
- They will see that the love I have for the Dakota
is not treasonous, but it is the same,
neighborly love that I have for them.
We are neighbors in the human race.
(stirring orchestral music)
That is the community of Faribault.
- So he kept them on his land.
After years of people no longer doing business with him,
he was left in destitution, and in poverty.
And he faced the consequence of his decision,
and he died a broken man.
- He was poised to be up there with a Sibley, or a Ramsey,
and have a chunk of the state named after him,
and him be looked upon as a god in Minnesota.
And for him to instead stick by his morals,
that made his sacrifice all the more impactful.
- Logan and I are up there for curtain call.
And so to see this group of several hundred
Faribault community members
cheering for Alexander Faribault.
And seeing these people connect
(audience clapping and cheering)
with these historical figures.
That was greatly gratifying.
- [Narrator] This program was made possible by
the state's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund,
and the citizens of Minnesota.
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