Curator Danny Orendorff On An Artistic Response To Ferguson

Dec 1, 2014

Kansas City artist Sean Starowitz collaborated with Lauren Tweedle on this flag project for The Griot Museum of Black History, one of more than a dozen galleries in St. Louis, Mo. showing work responding to the death of Michael Brown.
Credit courtesy of the artist

Ferguson, Mo., has been a site of civil unrest since August when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Tensions flared again last week when a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson.

Artists have responded by writing songs, decorating boarded storefronts, exhibiting artwork, and, now in the Kansas City area, creating a "safe place" to talk about Ferguson. 

For the next several weeks, Project Space Gallery in downtown Kansas City, Mo., will be transformed into what the Charlotte Street Foundation is calling "The Craft, Care & Justice Hub." Film screenings, a book club, artist talks, and exhibitions will focus on "the issue of violence in all its myriad forms." 

Charlotte Street's curat0r-in-residence, Danny Orendorff, co-organized the series with textile artist NedRa Bonds and curator Anna-Maria Kretzer. Orendorff says in the wake of the events in Ferguson, creating a place where people could discuss thoughts and ideas freely was important. 

"One of the most unproductive ways to experience the world is in isolation," he says. 

Orendorff answered these questions for us: 

What was the impetus behind this series, and why now? 

"Our feeling about the need for such a space was certainly accelerated by the events of Ferguson, Mo., and the manner by which those events have exposed how violence is not just physical but can, indeed, be systemic, state-sanctioned, administrative, and so on. 

In many ways it's an experiment — what would happen, and who would show up, if we dedicated a venue and a series of events to free assembly and dialog regarding the topic of violence?

As a curator working for a non-profit organization and, therefore, partially funded through public monies, I believe it's important to remain open and responsive to the major issues of our day — however fraught, uncomfortable, or tenuous they may be."

What are your hopes and expectations about these events?

"My hopes and expectations are relatively modest: I hope that this series provides interested and concerned community members of Kansas City with a space to learn from one another, share stories, learn about local resources, educate themselves on many of the issues confronting this country today, and to — perhaps — express themselves through art-production, whether they enter the space as an 'artist' or not. 

I don't believe that art exists in a vacuum away from all of the other attending issues of our culture, and I believe the gallery can be a site of learning and discovery beyond the visual alone. I do not distinguish art-production from other forms of public, cultural creativity (including activism and social-work), nor do I believe in a set hierarchy between the two. I hope that this space allows for the public to see how all of these acts of cultural production aimed at public engagement can commingle and inform one another."

"The Craft, Care & Justice Hub" opens Monday and runs through December 19 at the Charlotte Street Foundation's Project Space, 21 E. 12th Street, Kansas City, Mo.