Why Write?

            May 24,2012 AP article by Travis Loller, DNA Study Seeks Origin Of Appalachian Melungeons reports on a “scientific” account of a separated group of Americans. Melungeons, like various other separated groups (“In recent years, it has become a catchall term for people of mixed-race ancestry and has been applied to about 200 communities in the eastern U.S. — from New York to Louisiana.”) strove mightily to distinguish themselves from African ancestry, primarily through creative narratives, historical accounts of their uniqueness. “Estes [Roberta Estes, lead researcher] and her fellow researchers theorize that the various Melungeon lines may have sprung from the unions of black and white indentured servants living in Virginia in the mid-1600s, before slavery. They conclude that as laws were put in place to penalize the mixing of races, the various family groups could only intermarry with each other, even migrating together from Virginia through the Carolinas before settling primarily in the mountains of East Tennessee.” Legal cases (both before and after the elimination of institutionalized ownership of people), intent on establishing distinction, are cited by the article. Ultimately, a present day Melungeon is reported to have paid for three separate DNA tests in order to negate the results of the study. He was very surprised that they all came back the same.

            “Separate but equal” was a big part of the warp and woof of the writers of the Federalist Papers, the framers of the US Constitution, the early legislators and jurists who established our country’s outlook on democracy (and the laws “put in place to penalize the mixing of races”). Property ownership was fundamental to that separation. Every school child knows that the US bicameral legislature came about to reinforce and underwrite the priority and precedence of property ownership within our representative democracy. The recent Citizens United ruling certainly maintains that original intent. The Melungeon myth making allowed folks access to capitalist enterprise that otherwise would have been denied them. On the other hand, Jim Crow laws, in the north as well as in the south, maintained the sanctity of the myth built up around the authors of the Federalist Papers, the US Constitution, and early amendments and laws. “Separate but equal” has never left us.

            In What Was Contemporary Art (ArtMargins vol. 1, issue 1) Octavian Esanu writes about the impact and influence of institutional grants, residencies and fellowships in forming the characteristics and quality of what we’ve come to know and recognize as contemporary art. He describes the role of the Soros Centers for Contemporary Art network as moving art away from the Modern, to the post modern “democratization” of art. Anyone could apply. Those granting the funding were not necessarily practicing or accomplished artists (being instead professional institutional administrators). The end result was Beuys’s, “everyone is an artist.” Esanu describes the funding grants as financial leverage. Although always far short of any kind of individual sustainability, they are used as leverage to form the present day artist entrepreneur (written about too often in this blog). A small amount of financial commitment yields enormous ideological clout. Within American culture and governance, this same outlook could be broadened to include the many “service oriented” involvements meant to address community problems throughout the US. A large bank, energy company, or retailer can boast of its substantial and significant contribution to some food bank or summer camp program. The funding is never large or significant enough to even cover the program’s yearly administrator salary. But the goodwill certainly is leveraged into generating a belief that the capitalist enterprise is genuinely interested in addressing and solving this problem, this need within the community. As Esanu points out to be the case with the SCCA funding, it ultimately creates a “separate but equal” situation within the arts – those generating art independent of any institutional funding, and those reliant on these resources to generate art. “Everyone is an artist.” Within the “service oriented” approach (the one lauded by all the current crop of graduation commencement speakers) the same “separate but equal” culture is promoted and reproduced regarding food, shelter, health care, education and self governance.

            In today’s Newark Advocate (May 27, 2012), Rental Registration Committee Seeking Feedback From Renters, Ann Sudar reports: “An ad-hoc committee is looking for more feedback on the possibility of bringing a rental registration system to Newark [Ohio].” “Although several landlords and property owners attend the meetings to voice their opinions, more participation from those renting properties is needed, said Lesa Best, committee chairwoman.” “Renting properties is one of Newark’s biggest businesses, and more than 42 percent of the city’s housing units are rentals, Best said.” “At the end of each meeting, there is a half-hour session for public comments. About 90 percent of the people who speak at the meetings are landlords, Best said. “I understand we are talking about landlords’ livelihoods, (so) of course they are coming,” she said. “Landlords are vital to the economy of Newark. That’s why we always want their input.” Best said she has not heard many comments from people who are renters. She encouraged more people to attend the meetings.”

            Why write?


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