In this new series from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, we take a deeper dive into what it really means to Catalyze Culture: to mobilize cultural participation, production, and partnership for innovation, deeper knowledge and engagement, and tackling civic challenges. The Council does this in a variety of ways, through our grants and partnerships as well as through our new RI Arts & Culture Fellowship. To kick off the series, read on for insights from Fellow Janaya Kizzie as she reflects on how we tell the stories of Rhode Island’s artists and cultural leaders and the frameworks that help drive this research and writing.
Who are your Rhode Island heroes? Who are the people making change and bringing innovation to Rhode Island whose work affects us today? Can you name five people? 75? 250? One of the key components of the Rhode Island Arts and Culture Research Fellowship is the composition of 250 new articles about artists and cultural leaders connected to Rhode Island to be published on Wikipedia. The landscape of artists and cultural leaders described within a touchstone of public knowledge like Wikipedia should properly represent the composition of the state. Right now it does not; for example, of the 104 artists listed on in the Wikipedia category of Artists from Rhode Island, only 28 of them are identified as female, and 75 of them were born prior to 1950.
As Arts and Culture Research Fellow, I am particularly concerned with representation and the organic nature of the growth of arts and culture. Looking at the arts and culture landscape in Rhode Island is like much of Rhode Island life: new stories bring you to new people, who in turn have their own stories, and everyone is connected.
In order to reflect the organic aspect of Rhode Island culture during the Fellowship in a measured and holistic way, I am applying three contextual frameworks to observe: actors, spaces, and themes.
While it is entirely possible to write about 250 of one kind of artist from Rhode Island, balancing representation on Wikipedia requires a variety of people: from painters to arts administrators; religious leaders to chefs. Using this framework, I was able to identify state Poet Laureate, Tina Cane, as someone representing poets and the importance of the poetry community to the larger story of Rhode Island. Her work, in a medium that is marginalized for its lack of visual impact, affects and highlights writing, veterans, youth and activist communities in Rhode Island.
Regions also require special attention when thinking about Rhode Island; arts and culture do not stop at the borders of the capital and city centers. I want the entities represented in this project to be from rural centers, cities and towns, all counties, and the places in Rhode Island that no longer exist (and a few that are just coming to be!) Looking intentionally away from Providence, I researched Riverzedge in Woonsocket, and found significant academic and government research and benchmarking based on their afterschool art program model.
Finally there are the themes, the aspects inherent to Rhode Island’s arts and culture that must be at the heart of every selection made and article written: Placemaking, Advocacy for Underrepresented Groups, and Strong, Evolving Institutions. One organization that highlights all three aspects is The Dirt Palace, presently undocumented on Wikipedia, but linked to by multiple articles, a conspicous gap I want to close.
These frameworks are a means to tell the story of what makes Rhode Island unique within the constraints of Wikipedia’s facts-only, neutral-point-of-view format; our many stories are, indeed, what makes Rhode Island the cultural nexus that it is today. Each time I select a new person to write about, I look to the themes, regions and actors, and I find a new way to talk about who we are.
– Janaya Kizzie
Stay tuned for more from Janaya as she continues her research and begins to publish new pieces on Wikipedia that showcase Rhode Island’s creative leaders.
About the RI Arts & Culture Research Fellowship:
The Rhode Island Arts and Culture Research Fellowship is designed to research, write, collect and connect stories of significant visual artists, performers, and writers past and present who have lived in Rhode Island to inform and inspire. The project will enhance Rhode Island’s reputation as a creative destination, create a vital bridge between the past and present, connect arts and cultural communities, represent diverse backgrounds, and catalyze education focused on arts and culture. Learn more about the Fellowship and the diverse Advisory Committee here.