Black artists are often faced with limited opportunities within the creative space, and even when opportunity presents itself, it often shows up in the form of tokenism. The CLTV was born out of the need to change that and to provide a safe, open space for Black artists to express themselves; boldly and without remorse. We caught up with Victoria Jones, founder of The CLTV.
Victoria Jones, founder & executive director at The CLTV
Tell us more about yourself and what motivated you to start The CLTV. What change were you hoping to effect?
We began the The CLTV to create a home for Black artists to be bold, experimental, and creative in a safe space. In that space we have also developed tools that offer authentic opportunities for artists to ethically engage and develop communities of color in Memphis. We operate under the belief that by empowering Black artists we can transform Black communities and ultimately shift the culture of Memphis towards positive growth and creativity.
What are some of the issues that African American artists face in the creative space?
Black artists are often faced with very limited opportunities. And the few opportunities that are offered to Black artists by legacy institutions and predominately white organizations often tokenize the Black experience. Black artists are often selected to check off a minority checkbox on a grant application, and forgotten about shortly after. However, in Memphis there is this really exciting energy and resurgence of creativity as artists of color begin to carve out their own space, [that are] built and catered to the needs of Black artists and the communities they serve.
Why do you believe platforms such as The CLTV are important and what role can they play in dealing with not just creative but also wider issues around race and equity?
As previously mentioned, we are creating a safe space at The CLTV. The artists we are committed to serving have found creative outlets to work through and process some of the trauma that is automatically associated with being Black, living in the south, and wanting more. In this space artists are able to not only create beautiful thought provoking works of art, but they are able to talk through and process some of that pain. I like to think each of our exhibitions have brought folks (patrons and artists alike) closer to some form of healing. Being Black in America can be a heavy burden, especially in the south, but combating the trauma with community, love, support, and art has made way for transformative healing.
We'd love to learn more about some of the programs and workshops that The CLTV runs. In what ways have these provided support to African American artists?
The CLTV has 2 focuses, Black artists development and Black community development. Artist development takes a 3 prong approach for us including:
platform development (exhibitions, showcases, and leveraged partnership opportunities with legacy institutions)
creative and professional development (residency program, professional development workshops, round tables and critiques)
marketing and media development (developing the platform to share the stories of the artists that inspire our work)
Community development CNSRVATRY will develop engaging, neighborhood specific programs with the goals to create inspiration through youth workshops, exhibitions and mentorship opportunities. These programs will encourage community participation in the execution of public art projects and events.
Finally, CNSRVATRY will partner with neighborhoods to create and distribute local newsletters to share empowering stories that are relevant to the neighborhood and provide opportunities for community members to report on the cultural and social happenings within their community.
What are some of the challenges you have faced running The CLTV, and how did you deal with these?
Access to financial resources. The work we are doing is innovative and unshakable because it has to be. We are not granted funding opportunities often, or easily. This has created a bit of a burden, but has pushed us to network with our peers. Now there is an incredible force of creative energy fighting for a better Memphis in the trenches, because that's where we've been forced to be—but the ingenuity and creativity is matched by none in this space. These Black artists and Black arts organizations are fighting ten times harder than their counterparts because they've had to. Now there's a league of unstoppable creatives, that have learned to lean on one another and create together. It's inspiring to watch.
Tell us about one of your most recent projects and the impact you believe it had?
We recently hosted an exhibition entitled, "THUG | An Exploration of Black Masculinity". This was one of the most powerful exhibitions we've hosted. The Black men involved in this expressed a concerted level of vulnerability that pushed past stereotypes to share their stories. Their stories were not just about trauma, but also about love, sexuality, fatherhood, and responsibility. It was a shining example of what Black people have the capacity to create in a safe space, when someone is ready to listen, look, feel.
What have been some of your favourite memories with The CLTV, the ones that even when things get hard, make you feel like it’s worth it?
We have a family. The safe space I keep referring to has created a family of artists (across organizations and disciplines) in Memphis. In the bleakest most difficult moments in my personal life, my family has been behind me. Black creators bound together by this idea that we can face the world, we can even make the world better, if we do it together.
Quite often art at schools, is taught very much through a White person’s lens. What are some ways in which this can be addressed so that diverse perspectives are included in curriculums?
We are working in a high school now, and in that space we've found it easiest to let the students lead the work. White teachers (professionals of any sort), in predominantly Black spaces are often burdened with this idea that it is their responsibility to make our lives better. Often the solution is a bit simpler than that. What we need, what these students need, are access to resources and the space to create. We need to be empowered, and one of the easiest ways to do that is provide an example that the students can see themselves in. Black artists lead the curriculum that we've developed to provide a living breathing example of the potential of what could be. From there we do our very best to let our students lead the discussion, and show us who they are, and what they want. Something that can be immediately applied—stop assuming you know what's best, stop assuming your way is the only way, and stop assuming the things that are important to you are important to everyone, and listen. Create a safe space for students to discover what is important to them, and understand if they can't see themselves reflected in the work, it'll be nearly impossible to make it stick—whatever "it" may be.
Who are some of your favourite African American artists? What do you find inspirational about their work?
I'm biased, so this list is going to be Memphis as fuck.
Music: Don Lifted, Cameron Bethany, IMAKEMADBEATS, Blocboy JB, Talibah Safiya, and Cities Aviv—revolutionizing Memphis sound
Visual artists: Lester Merriweather, Terry Lynn, Jared Small, Siphne Sylve, Ziggy Mack, and Catherine Elizabeth—I have an emotional response every time I see their work (and I see a lot of their work)
Filmmakers: Kevin Brooks and Chassidy Jade—they are simply brilliant story tellers
Actors: Bertram Williams—you have to see him live to understand. It's a mood
Dance/choreographer: Kevin Thomas—he has taken a transformative and revolutionary approach to ballet
Who are some up and coming African American artists we should look out for?
Music: AWFM, Tia Henderson, Madame Fraankie, Kid Maestro
Visual art: Natalie Reddings and Cheeto Ryan
Filmmakers: Nubia Yasin and Jas Marie
Actors: Alyssa Love
Dancers: anyone Collage Dance Collective gets their hands on
Art is freedom. For all of humanity. However, for African American artists, it’s also intrinsically tied to freedom from oppression, collective identity and healing. That’s a powerful thing. Yet, African American art does not receive the recognition it deserves. Why is that, and how can we change this?
More media outlets displaying their work will be crucial. The work is there, media outlets need to highlight it—moments like this mean the world to the work we are doing. There need to be more. Financial resources, marketing gets easier with big budgets.
Once we are able to empower people, within a safe and open space (like the one The CLTV has created), what is the next step? How can the voices that are shared within a certain community trickle down so that they can have an impact and change the mindset of the wider community?
We work in the communities we want to serve. Our physical space to the proximity of those we are committed to matters. We are hoping to open our own gallery and cowork space in the oldest Black neighborhood founded and developed by Black folks in the nation. There the work will be transformative. Everything we do is with our community at the core. Every move we make is one pressing towards a revolution of empowerment and equity.
Watch: The CLTV in action