On February 25, 2021, Minneapolis will become home to something revolutionary. Local nonprofit organization Black Table Arts, founded by artist and community organizer Keno Evol, will be unveiling its premiere physical space.
Even without a building, Black Table Arts already had a noticeable impact in the Twin Cities and has been an invaluable resource to Black artists and creatives alike. “We said, okay, let’s talk about how we can deepen the six-year work that we’ve already been doing,” Evol explained.
For the past six years Black Table Arts has been responsible for a myriad of community programs including regular writing workshops and the annual “Because Black Life” conference hosted at the University of Minnesota.
Evol has even had international impact with his recently published anthology of Black poetry from around the globe, “A Garden of Black Joy: Global Poetry from the Edges of Liberation and Living.”
“The dream [of a physical space] has been in my mind since like 2016,” Evol said. But it was the inexplicable and catastrophic events surrounding George Floyd in the spring of 2020 that offered a moment where this dream was not only possible, but obligatory as a response to the grievances of Minnesota’s Black community.
“I think we have to move slowly in the ways in which we respond and in the ways in which we think, because it’s a very Black experience. Because it’s grief, it’s so much grief,” Evol said.
Many were on board to support this revolutionary work, including notable support from the Minneapolis Foundation and a large donation from actress Issa Rae of the HBO series “Insecure.” “Yeah, that was an exciting moment,” Evol recalled.
From imaginations to manifestation
At Black Table Arts, it was realized that an actual building—a creative and liberating physical space for Black folks to call their own and to find resources and to feel safe—is perhaps what has been missing from our local landscape.
Alfred Sanders is the director of operations for Black Table Arts, and he is passionate about garnering organizational resources that will address the disparities affecting Black families, day-in and day-out. “It’s the domino effect of what we’ve been dealing with for a while now; the sending Black men to prison; the liquor stores on every corner; the food deserts and all of these things … it’s just setting us up for failure,” Sanders said.
Sanders is also tied to this work in a more personal way, having tragically lost his father due to police violence. He shared with us, “The same situation that happened in May [with George Floyd] happened to my father in pretty much the same location, 20 years ago.”
Folded in by our traumatic past, as well as the present reality that attempts to compound these memories, Black Table Arts aims to become a mecca of sorts, a space of reckoning and powerful creation.
“There is this term that comes by way of this professor, Manuel Callihan, ‘Convivial Research,’ the idea that knowledge already exists in the community. And that’s such an important approach. So, at Black Table Arts, we don’t see ourselves as preachers trying to bring the good news, but we know that there’s already good news when Black people gather,” Evol said.
With this in mind, Black Table Arts promotes the coming together of Blackness to console the community and combat the forces that seek to dismantle Black culture and Black futures. “We have a memory, but we also have an imagination where we say, what can we create and how can we make contact with each other to grow forces of artists gathering, that can guide us through this moment,” Evol shared.
The Black Table Arts building will be a space where groundbreaking imaginations can be made manifest into impact that will begin to heal beyond its own walls.
“Sometimes people roll their eyes when you bring up art and social change because they have not yet made the connection between art and social change. But at Black Table Arts, we say over and over again that art keeps the enthusiasm of social movement alive. Art actually is directly connected to changing circumstances, to changing social injustice,” Evol said.
Implementing COVID-19 safety measures, the Black Table Arts building will be accessible to the public via a pay-what-you-can membership. “It’s really about centering solidarity in economics. To know that, if you can give more, you’re taking care of someone else who might not be able to give as much,” Evol shared.
It is significant, this unveiling at the top of 2021, as much of our community Black and non-Black alike strives to move away from not only the events of 2020, but a treacherous and shameful history, that if not dealt with, could prevail in our future.
“We are stronger together than we are divided,” Sanders said. “I think that it’s very important, especially in these times, to value [a sense of community] and make it accessible to everyone.”
Black Table Arts is located at 3737 Minnehaha Avenue in Minneapolis. For more info, visit www.blacktablearts.com.