Racial divides -- in St. Louis, the arts community and the nation -- were the focus Wednesday night as artists gathered at the St. Louis Regional Arts Commission to talk about Michael Brown's death.
RAC held the gathering for artists to process the week’s events in Ferguson and discuss how artists can address their role in the public dialogue about it.
“It’s equivalent to a heart attack in America,” said one woman who entered the conversation later in the evening. “The civil rights movement of the 21st century is happening now. Here.”
Local poets, performers, musicians, visual artists, and writers attended the meeting. Conversation focused on catharsis as people expressed their frustrations with racial issues in St. Louis and the police handling of Brown’s death.
“Unless you have lived what they have lived, you don’t know what they are feeling,” said local actress and director Marty Casey.
Grace Chung read a list of demands that appeared on Facebook earlier in the week. The demands included identifying the police officer responsible for Brown’s death and making the racial make-up of the police force more representative of the community.
Elizabeth Vega was one of several artists to express frustration over a generation gap in the protests -- and whether that was reflected in the artists’ community as well. “Monday I watched as the elders left young people on the street corner with 50 police in SWAT gear,” said Elizabeth Vega. “I’ve seen the people out there, arm-chair critiquing. Before we deal with the wounds of the community we have to deal with the realities of what is in here,” she continued.
Some attendees aimed their frustration at RAC, claiming it treated artists of different races unequally. Vega said, “I have African-American artists who say ‘I’m just going to do my thing’ because they don’t feel supported.”
Yet even as tensions remained high, an unidentified poet reiterated a feeling prevalent in the room that “above all, artists can do something.”