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Creating Spaces for Black Artists to Thrive
A Multimedia Manifesto for ZEAL
Allen Kwabena FrimpongThis multimedia manifesto explores the mission of ZEAL in its current conception as a worker-owned collaborative developing emergent cultural strategies that build equity for community wealth. Through the work of artist development, studio incubation, and cultural production we celebrate our lineages, assert our voices, archive our legacy, and showcase our artistic talents across the Black diaspora. Our vision is creating spaces for Black artists to thrive. We are a cooperative because we believe Black artists and their patrons should be in solidarity.
Together we participate in mutually beneficial relationships that liberate us from predatory practices. These new relationships enable us to be the cultural stewards and investors of our artistic contributions. These relationships are embedded in an economy that makes sure that surplus labor for culture-making is used in a regenerative fashion. This kind of creative economy does not exploit the cultural production of work from Black artists and communities; instead, it enforces true cultural equity and solidarity. Ultimately, we believe the power of art across the Black diaspora lies in its ability to reflect the present moment, reframe the future with dignity, and radically imagine new possibilities.
The original promotional video for ZEAL was produced by Jazmine Jones. Before growing into a worker-owned collaborative of creatives, our founding was in Brooklyn, New York, as an art publishing and public relations cooperative. Our launch party was August 2018 at Basquait's Bottle, a bar/restaurant and performance gallery space in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood.ZEAL released our first product, a postcard booklet, after our first fundraising campaign in August 2018. This led to our incorporation in December 2019 as ZEAL Press, originally a Black arts publishing cooperative. The postcard booklet was designed and created by co-founders Walter Cruz, Allen Kwabena Frimpong, and former member and co-founder Phillis Kwentoh, along with W. Paul Coates (Ta-Nehisi Coates’s father, founder of Black Classic Press, one of the oldest and only Black-owned full publication houses in the United States). It featured artists Chi-Chi Ari, Bisa Butler, Ify Chiejina, Damon Davis, Latoya Ruby Frazier, and Darnell Moore.
Our August 2020 Statement on State Violence, and our vision and purpose, is to create spaces for Black artists to thrive. We are Black creatives who are values-aligned and principled in building movements toward owning and stewarding the means of our own cultural production. When Black creatives are grounded in the legacy of the Black radical tradition, that facilitates their leadership and the development of their creative work. This work stands as an evolutionary, purposeful, functional, and committed act of liberation. When defining visual and performance art that centers and evolves Black aesthetics at ZEAL, we include multidisciplinary practices. We also provide a myriad of economic alternatives that support Black artists in creating spaces to thrive.
Here is also our promotional video for Art Kreyol, produced by Ojos Nebulosos, which was the first community-centered exhibition experiment that led us to doing “Who Owns Black Art?” in December 2019. We took over a capoeira studio in Little Haiti, Miami, in partnership with Tribe Kreyol and Konscious Kontractors. We converted it into a gallery space in under 24 hours, allowing local artists to showcase their work at a time when it wasn't being featured in the mainstream fairs and events during Art Basel Miami.Devin B. Johnson talks to local Black creatives in the Los Angeles area about his work and his solo show at Residency Art Gallery in ZEAL’s Libation Studio in Inglewood, California. ZEAL provides Johnson with studio space to prepare for this solo show. He was the first artist to produce an exhibition show out of our space.
This photo is of Eilen Itzel Mena’s photo shoot for Cultured Magazine showing some of her work from her solo show at Leimenspace in Los Angeles. Mena is a principal member of ZEAL and also designed the pilot for what is now our studio incubator program out of our studio in Inglewood. Lastly, she curated our pop-up exhibition "Who Owns Black Art?" in partnership with Superposition Gallery by Storm Ascher. This curatorial work landed her and ZEAL coverage on the front page of The New York Times' Arts & Culture section during Miami Art Week and Art Basel in 2019. We supported Mena through studio crits, artist development, public relations, and studio management. She helpfully reflected upon her time in the studio, as well as how she navigates arts ecosystems grounded in ZEAL’s values, for Deem Journal’s second issue, published in 2021, and depicted in the cover image of our multimedia manifesto.
Reclaim our birthright as creatives who co-create cultural equity
Cooperatively own and govern the means of our cultural production; and,
Steward the economic vehicles necessary for arts ecosystems in historically marginalized communities to mutually thrive.The colonial constructions of galleries, museums, and theaters have historically limited economic benefits to Black artists and their communities. Furthermore, they perpetuate the false dichotomy between artists and patrons of art as producers and consumers. This economy does not allow both parties to be stewards of cultural production, but rather forces active competition and opposition within the art market. ZEAL grapples with how we decentralize and cooperatize the arts and culture value chain ecosystem.
This video was taken at a cipher after the opening of “Who Owns Black Art?,” a ZEAL four-day pop-up exhibition held at the Miami Urban Contemporary Experience (MUCE) during Art Basel Miami 2019. The video features Mylo Mu, another artist who was able to utilize ZEAL’s studio to create artwork; we supported his trip to Miami to feature his own installation at the exhibition.
Creating economic sustainability through applied learning of merchandising and commerce beyond traditional capitalist business models. We provide studio workshop space for artists to cultivate a learning community that explores key concepts around economy, their relationship to money and capital, and creating value chains for the work that centers their personal values and community impact in the creation, production, distribution, and participation of their work.
Partnering with cultural institutions that stand for collective liberation and supporting other community assets to maximize studio space use to promote cultural equity and a solidarity economy translocally. We work from an asset-based approach that centers around identifying the resources and capacities we have at our disposal, while acknowledging the real challenges and limiting beliefs that confront artists individually, institutionally, and systemically.
Facilitating artist development that centers leadership and healing, grounded in an evolving revolutionary Black aesthetic in community with other creatives. We are committed to transformative leadership that recognizes artists' entrepreneurial skill sets and social impact through their practice in order to build cultural equity in their communities. We provide holistic supports that allow artists to focus their artistic practices to be cooperative and collaborative rather than individualistic.
Uplifting a recognized pipeline of Black artists who are promoted within and beyond traditional art institutions. We want to move beyond the so-called “socially engaged” arrangements that place Black artists in codependent relationships that reproduce colonial processes common to art, entertainment, and media markets. We want to open up multiple revenue-generating streams of income and other forms of economic currencies that support communities of artists so they will thrive across many ecosystems.Avila Santo was artist-in-residence at ZEAL’s studio incubator alongside Eilen Itzel Mena. His work as a sound artist is in music production, composition, and arrangement. He is also a multi-instrumentalist with a primary focus on percussion. His sauce pan sound pack concept was developed while in the incubator in a cross-pollination exchange with concept and performance artist Kobby Ananse and recording artist Idman. We supported Santo with space, an exhibition with SoLA Contemporary in South Los Angeles, and artist development and advisement. In turn, he generated Multimedia Meditations and provided production support with ZEAL’s programming for a show called Spread the Wealth in partnership with Freelancers Hub (part of Freelancers Union). His Multimedia Meditations video features Santo’s album and the works that influence his creativity as an artist.
Our mastermind salons, hosted by Tia Oso and Tynesha White, were held in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, with the Center for Cultural Innovation and Claremont Graduate University. This salon featured Jeremiah Ojo, Founder of Ilekun Wa, who hosted a workshop for Los Angeles local creatives on pricing, profiting, and positioning of artwork. In 2020, we held a follow-up workshop with Honey & Smoke (Eilen Itzel Mena & Reva Santo) and Ilekun Wa called “Money Talks, Value Walks.”