Curating the Culture at Deep Roots Experience

A conversation between Deep Roots Experience gallery owner David Ramsey and artist Mr. Soul, about curating the culture and creating opportunity

Mr. Soul: One time for being curators of culture! Two times for being blessed with abundant talent and passion! How’s it going?

David Ramsey: I’m well! Preparing for the coming year, watching the changes to the country in wake of a pandemic, and as always brainstorming on new ideas.

Mr. Soul: We had a convo stemming from a potential opportunity extended by a gallery here. What were you tapped to do?

DR: I was offered an opportunity to work with one of the larger art galleries in Cleveland on a show. The term was “juror,” but in conversation about my involvement, hanging and placement process came up, which lends itself to a more curatorial role.

Mr. Soul: You had some reservations: what were they and why?

DR: We’ve built a brand around elevating Black and Brown artists. It’s our goal to continue working on that elevation, even in partnerships. Upon seeing the artwork for their show, there was no artwork from Black or Brown artists. Knowing our gallery’s goal, it gave me pause that they’d look to me to support a show without representation.

Mr. Soul: I thought the response you sent expressing your concerns wasn’t only valid, but well stated. What was their response?

DR: I was advised this was a member show and submission had to come from members. “Membership” as the requirement only works if there is equitable access to the membership. Following this, staff from Deep Roots were contacted to act as jurors.

Mr. Soul: So you’re saying that they went around you?

DR: There’s a short list of those impacting art politics within the Black community. The gallery’s awareness, to be honest, was inconsequential. This is an example of the replaceable status associated with our culture. I’m not the best at curation and art, but there’s value within our brand. Using brand power is a smokescreen to bolster diversity.

Mr. Soul: If you look in places that govern the city art experience here, you don’t see many Black men in positions of power, or sometimes service. How does that change?

DR: Cleveland is poised for practices that build equitable distribution of funds, information and resources. The hurdle is, it requires intentional effort in the form of outreach designed SPECIFICALLY to engage our culture. That costs money. Invest with the intention to empower the underrepresented.

Mr. Soul: What’s on the horizon for Deep Roots? How will you be Curating The Culture?

DR: We had a Black Excellence Series beginning with Who Are Your Heroes? on February 19, and will have another theme in June. There’s also the third edition of the SheART show. Curating The Culture is accepting responsibility to tell the story, assembling storytellers who are historically connected to culture, and sharing those stories for others to experience.

The Proletarian (detail), by Mr. Soul, mixed media.

Featured image: The Proletarian, by Mr. Soul, mixed media–a portrait of Fred Hampton, Black Panther Party Chairman of Illinois, is on view in Who Are Your Heroes at Deep Roots Experience, through March 20, 2021.

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