MTM Responds To Accusations
I am posting this on our website because it is long, but I felt that there needs to be a space for this narrative to live as a whole piece. This narrative is split into three parts; Memorialize the Movement's (MTM) history with Save the Boards (STB), MTM's decision to work with The Watermill Center, and then finally MTM's decision as it pertains to our relationship with STB.
In 2020, my project turned organization, Memorialize the Movement, recognized the urgency to preserve the power of our community’s voices, expressed through the reactionary public art created on the plywood boards erected cross Minneapolis, St Paul and the surrounding area.
Memorialize the Movement has directly helped preserve hundreds of murals painted on plywood boards - and identified many of the artists whose powerful work is recorded on that plywood. Our work is by and for our community, and our organizational name is our purpose: to memorialize the power of this movement.
We have not done this work alone. In 2020, as the founder of Memorialize the Movement, I learned of the efforts of Kenda Zellner-Smith, and we quickly saw ourselves as two strong Black women with similar missions and goals: to save the boards and memorialize the movement. I proposed that we join forces, and we did. We collaborated in finding a space to preserve the boards, and in facilitating an exhibition of the plywood murals on the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
Sadly, wֿhat we found during our time as a joint project “Save the Boards to Memorialize the Movement” is that we did not work well together. Our work and communication styles are very different and we never seemed to be on the same page.
Without any hard feelings we agreed back in April to go our separate ways after our Justice for George Exhibit in May, including allocating custody of the boards to each organization. Kenda suggested - and I agreed - that all of the murals be stored in our shared rental space until we could decide together who would care for which murals, and that we be able to use the allocated plywood boards as it relates to each organization’s mission and goals.
With that agreement, Memorialize the Movement has moved forward with our work and our mission as a separate organization, including our continued work to identify and credit the artists who have created the murals and to ensure that the story of our movement for Black liberation is preserved and amplified - in Minnesota and around the world.
Memorialize the Movement was approached by The Watermill Center in New York to share the stories told in the murals. We agreed to exhibit the murals there, using only those boards in which MTM has played a direct part in collecting.
I made the decision to participate in The Watermill Crossroads event because it directly supports Black artists and creatives, and offers a tremendous opportunity for visibility and exposure for our mural artists who are pursuing a serious career as an artist. I worked with Noah Khoshbin from The Watermill Center and House of Trees to curate the exhibit, which includes on-site materials to provide context for guests, including full crediting of all participating artists, information about the works, and a filmed interview providing additional context which is available via a QR-code on site. The educational aspect of the work, providing additional context to the works, was vital to our partnership.
Every artist that we have been able to identify has been approached in writing with an ask for their consent to use the murals. Many of those artists have responded and given their consent, and every artist who we were able to contact will receive a $100 honorarium for their participation in the exhibit. The honorariums go out this week.
The Watermill Center paid MTM a loan fee of $9000 for the loan of the 53 murals for 30 days. Out of that $9k, anything that does not go towards paying the artists we have identified will be used to help fund our next (hopefully long term) home for the boards. We are also reserving funds for any artist who comes forward whose work is in this exhibition. The exhibition of the boards is a 30 day exhibition of which only three of those evenings (5-11pm) required paid admission as they are part of the three day summer festival. This festival includes over 40 BIPOC artists (90% of festival participants), performers, musicians and poets, as well as a huge team of behind-the-scenes creatives led by one of the country’s most important black woman artists, Carrie Mae Weems. No one is profiting from this. I was not paid to be here or for my participation. My salary for the work I do with MTM comes from a grant that I earned and worked to get. The remaining proceeds from The Watermill Center’s fundraiser supports it’s Artist Residency Program, which annually invites a diverse range of artists from across the globe to develop their practice and engage the local community through year-round education programs.
The Watermill Center has already scheduled field trips for BIPOC youth to come see the murals and for educators to come and learn about this history so they can take it back to their classrooms this fall. To my knowledge, MTM and STB were not planning any events, exhibits, or installations of the boards this month. Also to my knowledge, neither MTM or STB will be splitting up the boards physically until our lease is up in October, so there is no reason to leave them in storage when they could be serving an important purpose.
It is important that this narrative be told by Black people. No white-owned institution has a right to own this art. I just want to clarify that I stand by that statement. These murals will remain in the care and stewardship of Black organizers like myself who put the mission over personal feeling. The Watermill Center has no rights to these murals. They have no ownership over these murals nor do they want to own them. Their role in this event has been providing BIPOC creatives with space to highlight their work and speak their truths. They also have a close relationship with the local indigenous community and regularly collaborates with and supports the Shinnecock Nation who owned and inhabited this land and whose reservation is a few miles from The Watermill Center. The Center employs tribe members and the tribe blesses the grounds of The Watermill Center annually. There was an incredibly powerful performance with members of the Shinnecock nation in collaboration with other artists on day 1 of the festival. Through this exhibit MTM not only raised funds to pay our local artists and contributed to the fund of a permanent space, we also reignited interest in our movement and reminded people that this is not over. People are still dying, there is still justice to be served for the other cops, and we are still fighting for basic human rights.
Every decision I have made has been with the goal of continuing this work of collecting, preserving, and activating these murals in addition to uplifting the artists who created them. Since our Justice for George exhibit in May, Memorialize the Movement has participated in the Rise and Remember event with the George Floyd Global Memorial and many other organizations who came out to celebrate Mr. Floyd’s life and mourn the first year of his passing. We brought out 20 murals dedicated to his memory. MTM also participated in the Backyard BBQ on June 5th in collaboration with Whittier Neighborhood Alliance and Pimento Relief Services where we brought out 30 boards and paid 4 Black queer artists to perform. We also collaborated with both Seward co-ops to commemorate the take down of the Seward murals with a celebration. During that event MTM and Seward hired 2 Black DJs to spin and 2 arts organizations, City Mischief and Creatives After Curfew, to paint live murals. We will also be participating in the upcoming POC Pride Festival where we will be encouraging queer and trans BIPOC to creatively express themselves through mural work. MTM has been working all summer long to activate the murals and create spaces for Black artists and creatives to freely express themselves.
While MTM has been focused on our community work, we have also made multiple attempts to meet with Kenda to resolve the final details of our separation. As I understand it this is a common thing - to reach an agreement on the general terms of a contract, and then work out the final fine print as each side goes forward under the terms of the agreement. Unfortunately, Kenda has consistently backtracked or altered the terms of our agreement. There have also been several cancellations and rescheduled meetings since April.
Two weeks ago we agreed to sit down together and go mural by mural, explaining to one another why we feel we should have access to murals based on how much effort we individually put into collecting them. I felt it important to respect the artist's wishes, so if there were any murals where the artist specifically looked to MTM to steward their work, I made that known. She agreed to work things out between the two of us, but after one meeting I have not heard from her since. Had we been in communication she would have been informed about my decision to exhibit the works at The Watermill Center. Since learning of her awareness and skepticism of my decision to collaborate with the Watermill Center and Carrie Mae Weems’s Crossroads Festival, I have made several attempts at reaching out to her all of which have been in vain.
Instead, I am aware that Save The Boards has made a series of false and potentially slanderous accusations toward Memorialize the Movement and toward me personally. I will not repeat those falsehoods, but ask that the community recognize the good faith work MTM has made toward an amicable separation with Kenda and Save The Boards, and to truly Memorialize the Movement.
I’m not from Minneapolis, but I’m here and I’m doing the work. I have never given anyone any reason to doubt my character or my intentions and I have been 100% authentic and unapologetic since I began this work last June. I will continue to do this work because for me there is nothing else. Until I can rest peacefully and feel safe in my skin I will be here, fighting for my life and for the lives of my people. If you had no problem believing the accusations made against MTM, I implore you to ask yourself why. Why was it so easy to believe that a dark skinned Black woman would sell out her own organization, going against everything she publicly stands for without any context or reason. Ask yourself why you chose to believe instead of question. That is why I do this work.