by Rasheedah Phillips, Black Quantum Futurism
Photos courtesy D1L0 DeMille and Black Quantum Futurism
With support from a HatchLab mini-grant from The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture, Black Quantum Futurism created Community Futurisms: Time & Memory in North Philly 002 – Black Space Agency an art exhibition and community programming inspired by the legacy of the Fair Housing Act, Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements, and the space race in North Philadelphia during the 1960s. Black Space Agency was held at Icebox Project Space during the 50 year anniversary of the Fair Housing Act and the founding of Progress Aeorspace Enterprise from April 14-24, 2018, and featured an art installation and five community-based events. Featuring Philadelphia-based art works by Betty Leacraft, Black Quantum Futurism, Bryan O. Green, and Sammus, Black Space Agency addressed issues of affordable and fair housing, displacement/space/land grabs, redlining, eminent domain, and gentrification through the lens of afrofuturism, oral histories/futures, and Black spatial-temporal autonomy. Community programming was produced in collaboration with Youth HEALers Stand Up!, All That Philly Jazz, Metropolarity, and Brewerytown-Sharswood Neighborhood Advisory Committee.
In North Philly in 1968, Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, a civil rights leader and minister at Philadelphia’s Zion Baptist Church, established Progress Aerospace Enterprises (PAE) shortly after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. PAE was one of the first Black-owned aerospace companies in the world, with Sullivan stating that “when the first landing on the moon came, I wanted something there that a black man had made.” An innovator of its day, PAE had strong connections to the Civil Rights and Black liberation movements, affordable housing, economic stability, passage of the Fair Housing Act, and the space race. Sullivan also founded the Zion Gardens Apartments affordable housing project and Progress Plaza, Opportunities Industrialization Center, Inc., and other innovative organizations and programs. In 1968 and 1969, the Civil Rights movement and space race would collide, with a lot of popular resistance to the Moon landing and the space race from the Black community, such as the Poor People’s March at Cape Canaveral; as well as critiques of the lack of diversity in NASA employees, and the destruction and displacement of Black communities in order to build subsidized housing for NASA employees. Partly in response, NASA became involved in the design and applicability of spaceship materials in “urban” housing, and created campaigns to increase diversity in employment. Much of this resistance and engagement with the space race from the Black community has been largely erased in popular memory.
Black Space Agency aimed to restimulate memory of all of these interconnected events, underexplored histories, and still-active retrofutures, to make the threads visible and to show how they reach into and overlay the present(s) and future(s) of affordable housing, Black liberation, and the fight for space and time in our communities. The project specifically locates these inquiries within the context of uncovering time and memory in North Philly, asking what seeds memory, unburying quantum, Afro- diasporic histories, and envisioning what tools are needed to create liberatory Afrofuture(s).
The events held as a part of Black Space Agency included:
Black Space Agency Opening Reception w/ Black Quantum Futurism performance
Black Space Time Matters Movie Day + Metopolarity Sci-Fi reading and Open Mic (Screening Afronauts + Space Traders)
Housing Futures: Landlord-Tenant Rights workshop with Brewerytown-Sharswood Neighborhood Advisory Council This workshop was a crash course on tenants’ rights covering a wide variety of topics including: eviction protections, getting security deposits back, dealing with habitability and repair problems, illegal lockouts, and how to prepare for a Landlord-Tenant hearing.
Blue Note Salon: Art ~ Jazz ~ Activism in North Philly with All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson, featuring artists and activists Josh Graupera, Tieshka K. Smith , Mike O’Bryan, Stormy Kelsey – Panel and interactive discussion on the role jazz musicians and the jazz culture played in paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement, and how local artists are connecting art to social change movements addressing gentrification, displacement and cultural heritage preservation. A recording of the conversation is available here.
Youth Housing Visioning Session with Youth HEALers Stand Up! A workshop with Youth HEALers Stand Up! and community members to envision the future(s) of housing and new models of support, resources, emotional and physical health and safety for low income/institutionalized/disconnected people under 25 in Philly. These visioning sessions were youth-led and facilitated, with support from youth justice and housing advocates. Visioning session included mapping, storytelling, resource-sharing and other activities that will allow youth and participants to create a collaborative, multi-prong action plan for shaping the future of housing justice in Philadelphia. Nearly 100 housing instable and homeless youth attended the event.
All events were free and well attended by an intergenerational audience of community members, local artists, activists, and event collaborators. Black Quantum Futurism also produced a publication called Community Futurisms Housing Futures Workbook, a workbook meant to help capture the voices of people usually left out of conversations and policies on affordable housing issues that affect their lives and communities. We produced postcards that also captured some of these questions. We gave the workbook and postcards out at workshops and community events and received over 50 responses during the exhibition period.