Carlton Turner understands that when you can't feed yourself the imagination is the first thing to go And if you can't "see" a different future you can't make change. Sipp Culture is about feeding both the body and the mind's eye.
Carlton Turner is an artist, agriculturalist, researcher, and co-founder of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production (Sipp Culture). Sipp Culture uses food and story to support rural community development in his hometown of Utica, Mississippi where his family has been for eight generations. He currently serves on the board of First Peoples Fund, Imagining America, Project South and the National Black Food and Justice Alliance. Carlton is a member of the We Shall Overcome Fund Advisory Committee at the Highlander Center for Research and Education and is the former Executive Director of Alternate ROOTS and is a founding partner of the Intercultural Leadership Institute.
Carlton is a current Interdisciplinary Research Fellow with the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and was named to the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts YBCA100. He is also a former Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow and former Cultural Policy Fellow at the Creative Placemaking Institute at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design in the Arts.
Carlton Turner is also co-founder and co-artistic director, along with his brother Maurice Turner, of the group M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction). M.U.G.A.B.E.E. is a Mississippi-based performing arts group that blends of jazz, hip-hop, spoken word poetry and soul music together with non-traditional storytelling. His current work is River Sols, a new play being developed in collaboration with Pangea World Theater that explores race, identity, class, faith, and difference across African American and South Asian communities through embodiment of a river.
He is also a member of the Rural Wealth Lab at RUPRI (Rural Policy Research Institute) and an advisor to the Kresge Foundation’s FreshLo Initiative. In 2018, Carlton was awarded the Sidney Yates Award for Advocacy in the Performing Arts by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals. Carlton has also received the M. Edgar Rosenblum award for outstanding contribution to Ensemble Theater (2011) and the Otto René Castillo Awards for Political Theatre (2015).
SIPP Culture: The Mississippi Center for Cultural Production is an approach and resource for cultivating thriving communities. Based in the rural South, “Sipp Culture” is honoring the history and building the future of our own community of Utica, MS.
Sipp Culture supports community development from the ground up through cultural production focused on self-determination and agency designed by us and for us. We believe that history, culture, and food affirm our individual and collective humanity. So, we are strengthening our local food system, advancing health equity, and supporting rural artistic voices – while activating the power of story – all to promote the legacy and vision of our hometown.
Octavia Butler: OCTAVIA E. BUTLER was a renowned African American author who received a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and PEN West Lifetime Achievement Award for her body of work. Born in Pasadena in 1947, she was raised by her mother and her grandmother. She was the author of several award-winning novels including PARABLE OF THE SOWER (1993), which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and PARABLE OF THE TALENTS (1995) winner of the Nebula Award for the best science fiction novel published that year. She was acclaimed for her lean prose, strong protagonists, and social observations in stories that range from the distant past to the far future.
Maurice Turner: Maurice S. Turner, II is co-founder of Turner World Around Productions, Inc. and one-half of the group M.U.G.A.B.E.E. (Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction), an artistic ensemble composing and performing a blend of jazz, hip-hop, spoken word poetry, and soul music on a totally conscience tip. Maurice works with people of all ages, cultures and backgrounds facilitating workshops, which range from music production to Civil Rights. When not performing with M.U.G.A.B.E.E., Maurice is a trumpeter for hire. He has shared the stage with many great musicians, which include The Wynton Marsalis Septet, Ellis Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Mulgrew Miller, Jon Faddis, Danny Barker, Wallace Roney, Stranger Malone, Donald Byrd, Keeter Betts, Elise Witt, Jimmy Heath, Ray Drummond, Chris “Daddy” Dave, Randy Brecker, and Bobby Rush to name a few. He also served as Musical Director for Uprooted: The Katrina Project, a piece focusing on the displaced citizens of New Orleans and the various struggles that were faced during the catastrophe.
Bob Moses: Robert Parris Moses (January 23, 1935 – July 25, 2021) was an American educator and civil rights activist, known for his work as a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on voter education and registration in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement, and his co-founding of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. As part of his work with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of the Mississippi branches of the four major civil rights organizations (SNCC, CORE, NAACP, SCLC), he was the main organizer for the Freedom Summer Project.
In 1982 Moses received a MacArthur Fellowship and began developing the Algebra Project. The math literacy program emphasizes teaching algebra skills to minority students, based on broad-based community organizing and collaboration with parents, teachers and students, in order to improve college and job readiness.
Hollis Watkins: is an activist who was part of the Civil Rights Movement activities in the state of Mississippi during the 1960s. He became a member and organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1961, was a county organizer for 1964's "Freedom Summer", and assisted the efforts of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to unseat the regular Mississippi delegation from their chairs at the 1964 Democratic Party national convention in Atlantic City. He founded Southern Echo, a group that gives support to other grass-roots organizations in Mississippi. He also is a founder of the Mississippi Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement.
Danny Glover: is an American actor, film director, and political activist. He is widely known for his lead role as Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon film series. He also had leading roles in his films included The Color Purple, To Sleep with Anger, Predator 2, Angels in the Outfield, and Operation Dumbo Drop.. He is also an active supporter of various political causes.In 2022, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences would bestow the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award to Glover for his "decades-long advocacy for justice and human rights [which] reflects his dedication to recognizing our shared humanity on and off the screen".
C.C .Bryant: Elected president of the Pike County branch of the NAACP in 1954, Curtis Conway Bryant (1917-2001) played a major role in early civil rights activism of southwest Mississippi. He campaigned to expand membership in the NAACP, led large voter registration drives, and endured jail and bombings of his family home and barber shop, both of which served as local centers for movement activities. Bryant described McComb's violent summer of 1964 as "hell on earth."
John O'Neal: Actor, director, performer, writer, community and civil rights activist, and pioneer of African American theater John M. O'Neal, Jr. co-founded the Free Southern Theater in 1963 as the cultural and educational arm of the southern Civil Rights Movement. His work as playwright and social activist demonstrates how his philosophy of art and politics are complementary, not opposing terms. O'Neal's artistic style and vision has afforded him the opportunity to perform widely for audiences throughout North America and Europe.
M.K. Wegman with 40+ years of experience in presenting and producing for non-profit visual and performing arts organizations is the recently retired President and CEO of the National Performance Network/Visual Artists Network, which supports national and international touring and commissioning. As an independent consultant, she works with artist-focused organizations in the performing and visual arts. She is one of the founders of the New Orleans Contemporary Arts Center and is an emeritus board member, a past Board Chair of Alternate ROOTS, was founding president of the National Association of Artists’ Organizations (NAAO).
Kathy Randels: Kathy Randels has been generating performance art at the intersection of gender rebellion and community activism since her graduation from Northwestern in 1991. For roughly 20 years now, Randels has led ArtSpot Productions, an interdisciplinary performance ensemble in New Orleans A sense of spirit-guided indignation has led Randels to create and perform avant-garde, site-specific theater in the streets of New Orleans, her flooded-and-gutted childhood home, the levees of St. Bernard Parish (an industrial suburb being gulped up by the Gulf's rising tides), and in the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in the hamlet of St. Gabriel (The LCIW Drama Club for inmates, The Graduates for those released).
Jose Torres Tama: José Torres-Tama is a published poet and playwright, journalist and photographer, renegade scholar and arts educator, visual and performance artist, cultural activist and Artistic Director of ArteFuturo Productions in New Orleans. He explores the effects of mass media on race relations, the underbelly of the “North American Dream” mythology, and the anti-immigrant hysteria currently gripping the United States of Amnesia, which seduces you to embrace forgetting that the origin story of this so-called beacon of democracy is soaked in white supremacists’ beliefs.
Students at the Center: SAC) is an independent program that since 1996 has worked within public schools in New Orleans. co-directed by educators Jim Randels and Kalamu ya Salaam The students of SAC participate through English and elective writing and social studies classes in their schools. We teach both regular and advanced core curriculum classes that are open to all students. In addition to the daily classes, since Hurricane Katrina, SAC graduates have worked as key staff members, serving as resource teachers in public school classrooms, organizers for youth involvement, and producers of youth media.
Carol Bebelle: Is a poet and cofounder of Ashé Cultural Arts Center. She has championed arts, culture, and community in New Orleans for over four decades. With determination and entrepreneurship, alongside the late visual artist and Ashé cofounder Douglas Redd, Bebelle ignited the revitalization of Central City’s Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard. Ashé is a Yoruba word meaning “the power to make things happen and produce change.”
Ashe Cultural Arts Center: Our charge as issued by Mama Carol, is to “to fly in leaps and gusts of provocation, instigation, inspiration and aspiration...to call for and exhibit the higher standards of justice, integrity, and kindness for all...to be brilliant concoctors of opportunity, creators of vision, navigators of bs, advocates of culture, and defenders of children...to make real the majesty of dreams, to make plain the magic of being, to manifest the difference between perceiving and seeing!” Ashé Cultural Art Center’s innovative programming is designed to utilize culture in fostering human development and civic engagement. We maintain 10,000 square feet of gallery space and 20,000 square feet of performance space to create and preserve opportunities for the curation, exhibition, and commission of fine, folk, and fine-folk art.
Alice Lovelace is a cultural worker, performance artist, teacher, poet, organizer, author, playwright, and arts administer. Since 1976 Atlanta has been her home of choice; a fertile ground for artistic growth and activism, and in 1978, she discovered the Neighborhood Arts Center and met Ebon Dooley (Leo Hale) and Toni Cade Bambara. Together, they organized poetry readings and classes while conducting meetings for the Southern Collective of African American Writers (SCAAW). Alice shared her stories and wisdom in Episode 23 of Change the Story / Change the World.
Nayo Watkins: Nayo Barbara Malcolm Watkins (1939-2008) was a poet, essayist, playwright, arts consultant, and cultural organizer in North Carolina, where she lived, and throughout the South. For over 40 years she worked with nonprofit organizations with a focus on arts as tools in community empowerment and social transformation.
Kathy deNobriga: A founding member of Alternate ROOTS, a service organization for community-based artists in the South, deNobriga served as ROOTS' executive director and planning/development director for ten years. A current board member of Alternate ROOTS, deNobriga is a certified mediator in the State of Georgia, and after three terms as Council member deNobriga served as Mayor for the City of Pine Lake from 2012 to 2015.
Bob Leonard: Bob Leonard is a theatremaker, writer, and teacher at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. He directs the MFA program in Directing and Public Dialogue. His work includes ensemble developed new plays and events as an expression of the public voice; and interactive theater techniques in partnership with local initiatives on race to generate, express, and animate public dialogue and civic imagination. He is the founding artistic director of The Road Company, an ensemble based in Johnson City, Tennessee -1975 to 1998. He co-founded the Community Arts Network (CAN) and is a founding board member of Alternate ROOTS and the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET). He is project director of the VTArtWorks Initiative to construct an on-line resource for and with the field of grassroots and community-based art making aimed at advancing social and economic justice.
Carlton Turner- SIPP Culture Rising[:
Dawn was published in 1987. Unfortunately here on earth in 2022, the human race is facing the exact same question, and the path to understanding appears no less steep, or urgent.
Now, I’m a believer in the exponential power of the hyper-local. Over and over, I have seen how small gardens of effort and ideas that provided insights and momentum that have been useful, even transformational, in the wider world. Don't get me wrong, I'm fully aware that small town miracles will not provide all the answers we need to successfully address our growing earthling dilemmas. But there are enough real world hyperlocal stories out there that not only give me hope, but more importantly can teach and remind us what we need to know to survive and thrive on this planet.
One of those stories is being told by this episode's guest Carlton Turner. Now Carlton will be the first to remind you that the inspiring stories he shares about community creativity, and meaningful change in small places, including his hometown Utica, Mississippi are by definition and necessity intensely collective efforts. So in deference to him, let me start the show by saying that Carlton is not the hero of the story you are about to hear.
But, he’s a great storyteller, and that's as good a place as any to begin the beguine. This is Change the Story, Change the World: A Chronicle of Art and Community Transformation. My name is Bill Cleveland.
Part One: Music and Math[:
[00:02:35] Carlton Turner: Good morning.[:
[00:02:39] CT: I'm doing pretty good. I'm pretty good. Yeah.[:
[00:02:46] CT: I am calling from Utica, Mississippi, which is the ancestral land of the Choctaw, the Quapaw, which is also known as the Chickasaw, and the Natchez people, and also in the state, you have the Yazoo, and the Biloxi. Yazoo is up in the Delta area, and the Biloxi of course, is down in the coast.
The name Utica actually, was given to this community by people who came here from Utica, New York, and the original name of the town was Kane Ridge.[:
[00:03:41] CT: Well, sometimes it depends on who I'm talking to. having to, work across multiple worlds, there’s always translation, that takes place. But, if we're speaking, technically I refer to the work as, comprehensive community cultural development. If I'm just speaking plainly, then what I mean by that is that work is about centering culture, the people's history, their stories, their way of life, their joys, their faith, as a holistic entry point to a conversation about community change.
We’re really looking at what is our community? embracing and understanding what our community is today, what it has been in the past, and thinking about what it, what we want it to be in the future, then beginning to use those three positions as a way of understanding our growth, our progress, and our aspirations.[:
[00:04:42] CT: Yeah, how much time do we have?[:
[00:04:46] CT: Yeah, it's a long story. I'll try to keep it to the most important parts. I am the son of Geneva Turner and Emit Turner. My father was from Harlem. his folks traveled to New York from the Carolinas. He was the first generation Harlemite.
My mother, Geneva Turner who's, maiden name is Geneva Roberts is from this community that I live in. Her family has been here for eight generations, and so my mother left Utica to go to work in New York and met my father and they got married there and lived there for a few years. I was actually born in Mount Vernon alongside my brother Maurice who you've met, and then we moved back to my mother's home community when I was about two years old. And it's been all Mississippi ever since, except for the cultural transplants that my father brought with him from Harlem.
He never stopped being Harlem, and so he was just really Harlem in Mississippi, and that really gave us a really deep and rich cultural background. We had the regular cultural aspects of living, in Mississippi, which were, from a cultural standpoint, they were the storytelling, they were the music of the blues, the gospel, that soul music. And, and then we had our father, who grew up during the jazz era in Harlem. And so he was a jazz aficionado, and brought all of that music to the south.
So that’s the foundational elements. Then I went to school at the University of Mississippi, otherwise known as Ole Miss, on a scholarship, to work with the athletic department. I would not have gone if it had not been free. I don't know if I'd have gone to college, if it wasn't free. My parents insisted that I go to college, but I ended up going to University of Mississippi because they offered me a full ride scholarship.
Probably some of the most important lessons of my life I learned there. I think about my time at the university as being, the place where I had learned, and earned my degree in understanding systemic institutional racism. Seeing what it looks like in practice at an institutional level, and while there. my brother was also there, and we began to think about the assets that he had.
He's a musician, a composer. He was working and training and music production at the university, and I was an English major, and we began in college writing music, and really asking questions about the state of the world and what we were seeing and experiencing both there at the University of Mississippi, but also, in the larger context of what was happening, around the. This was in the early nineties, early in mid-nineties. So this, the world was changing, as we were coming into adulthood and what was happening, with black men, gangster rap, and just hip hop was really the genre that would be getting to be the most important and influential, popular cultural, not just in America, but worldwide.
Song Excerpt: Lyf 2 Death M.U.G.A.B/.E.E
And so it was really shifting the dynamics for, the representation and identity of black men, on a global scale, specifically Black Americans. So that kind of became this place where we found the music and we found a style and a rhythm and began to hone it, and what eventually brought us back to the Jackson Mississippi area. Utica is about 30 minutes from Jackson. So Jackson was always been, one of the places where as young artists, we really had a home there.
That home was filled with people like, Jellybean Anderson who was a poet who worked with Bob Moses uh, at the Algebra Project, and we ended up working at the school that Bob was working at, working on a kind of companion project called My Mississippi Eyes, which was founded by John Levin Anderson. And so we worked with students doing reading literacy work, that work introduced us to, everybody because Bob knew everybody, everybody knew Bob.[:
[00:09:20] CT: He leveraged his celebrity to really advance a lot of ideas about freedom in Mississippi, but specifically freedom in the 21st century, which he looked at as being both the right to vote, and the digital, and mathematics unlocks in terms of this informational age.
Audio:Mississippi in the spring of:
So at the heart of that matter was sharecropper education. And that’s an education hat says your are preassigned work, and so therefore you get an education that, at best, prepares you for the work you have been preassigned.
Now the problem in the country is that sharecropper education has caught up with the whole country in the sense that over 90% of the students in the country get and education geared to 20th century industrial technology and a very small percentage are getting the education required for information age technology.[:
[00:11:14] CT: He saw that as the real citizenship of the 21st Century. We met people like Hollis Watkins, and Danny Glover, and all the civil rights legends. CC Brian, and all the people that just came through the space while we were just beginning to hone our understanding of what the work of artists that were, lending their talents and their craft and their creativity to community comments, and that was a different type of trajectory towards artistic success than the one that I think we envisioned when we started writing music in college.t explodes from that point in:
[00:12:40] BC: If I could just break in here to point out that the lineup of folks you just mentioned is amazing. It's like an all-star team for the community arts movement of the time. So, you mentioned your time at Ole Miss provided a primmer on institutional oppression, but it sounds like the period you're describing was a kind of a sidewalk university for community cultural organizing?[:
So that's, I would say that's the shortest version I think I could share in this time. From there, routes really just open the space to possibility and, I feel like I'm still on that possibility train, that was open through that organization.
Part Two: Alternate Routes and Maps.[:
[00:14:12] CT: Yeah, I would extend that idea to say, not just the advancement of communities, but the advancement of civilization. When I think about culture, I don't think about performance. I think about civilization, I think about what does it mean for a people, society? What is their way of life, and what are the values that define that in ground, that way of life and how those values, identify what our culture will be remembered for?
We look back on cultures that are long gone, or cultures that existed in a time before, and we remember the aspects of that culture that have been the most influential, the ones that have been the biggest in their presentation. We think about them in ways that are defining, and when we think about our culture, I think one of the things that the future will say about our culture, the one that we presently live in, is how commodified it is. That everything is for sale. Everything is a commodity. And so I think in that practice, is where we find art.
The idea of art comes from this commodification of culture. art is just, art is one, a natural byproduct of a strong cultural community. Culture is going to produce art. It can't do it. It can't exist any other way. It's it's like water and heat are gonna make steam. When you have culture, art is going to be produced, but the way that we think about art is as a product it is, and the culture is the thing that stands in the way between the art and the commerce, and so I think the people that have influenced me, the people that I have grounded my work in, saw culture as the, really as the development of a culture that is rich as a redefining of what wealth is.
For me, that's been, that's been really the the broadest stroke of the mission that we've painted here with the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production is that we're trying to work with our community to redefine wealth. Like redefine what it means to have wealth. What is the wealth that we have, and how can we begin to then re-associate the outer world, get that out of world in alignment with the way that we think about what's valuable and what's precious to us. And I think that's where I come from in this work.[:
[00:17:20] CT: Yeah, so first I want to give acknowledgement to, Lori Pourier, who's the president of First Peoples Fund, and my sister and one of the biggest influences on my work of the last decade, I'm a proud board member of First Peoples Fund, and a proud collaborator with Lori on a number of projects, most notably the Intercultural Leadership Institute.
But she taught me the word culture bearers. And it's a word that, when you hear it in the field today, I attribute that to Lori and the work of First Peoples Fund, because she has, normalized the idea of culture barriers as being, held alongside what we traditionally think of as artists. But there's a difference in those two identities. But they should be both should be regarded and supported, and I think, that work is due to Lori.
And what I learned in my time with First Peoples is this idea of collective spirit. It's the idea that they take into all of their work as an organization, as representative of tribal nations, representatives of sovereign people, and recognizing the role that the culture bearer plays in the advancement of a culture, the advancement of a community.
To me, the culture bearer’s role is to make sure that culture is transferred from generation to generation. That culture will always change, and change is inevitable, but the holding of that position is a way to remember and honor the sacred honor, the beginnings, honor the traditions, without moving into a place of nostalgia, but in a place of deep connection.
Nostalgia is “oh, I remember that, that was so wonderful”, and that's a fleeting emotion. But this idea of accountability to your ancestors, and to a path that they have set forth with you and mind, like this is envisioned for you. We created these things because we knew that you would need them. Because what you're going to experience is going to be is a continuation of the experience that we have been having as humans on this planet.
And so that accountability comes in that if the work that we're doing, as organizations, as cultural workers, as activists, however you identify yourself- but if you're fitting in this framework of what we think about when we say organizations like Alternate Roots, and organizations like yours, and Mississippi Center for Cultural Productions, and others, then if the work isn't grounded in the community, then it's aggrandizement. It's not grounded in purpose other than ego.
And for me, that accountability measure comes into play. When the community calls you out, and checks you to say, “hey, now you say that you're doing this on behalf of us, so where's my place in it? How do I fit? How do my ideas fit into this idea that you're bringing, or this idea that you're cultivating, or the space that you're creating? Where do I fit inside of that? And if there's no place for that for a community member, then whatever, the thing that you've designed that you've created needs to be adjusted or abandoned.[:
So, I have always said that art making is a process of inquiry, and that most creative journeys start with questions like that. I think that those questions serve as a kind of north star, and that being accountable to yourself and partners for the answers is part of what steers the work. So, I’m wondering in your journey from college and making music, to community change work, how that process creative inquiry has it informed how you work?[:
And my brother began to ask those questions of me, to ask my opinion on what was happening in the world, and how do you feel about that? And then are you content with the setup? Are you good with this? Is this cool? like the way that this thing is, it that good with you? And I feel like I've been following that thread of inquiry for the next 27 years of my life. To today, I've been following that thread of line of questioning about, what is happening, and am I content with the way that it is set up right now?
So I believe that when we left college and we began working, alongside people like John Yvette, and Sealy McGuinness, and, Bob Moses and Hollis Watkins and others, we began to be exposed to a community that was also asking the same question. They had already moved on from the idea of if they were content, they were clear that they were not content, and they were now putting into practice ways to change circumstances, to rewrite the future. and the way that I think about it is about the work that we're doing today manifest in future vibrations, and things began to shift, and the way that I understand it, it's going to take 20 years for the type of generational change hat our work is working towards to be manifested. And you see a lot of smaller change in the interim, but the generational change, then you can look back 20 years and say, yes, this is where we started. And this is where we are today and see the kind of monumental movement that has taken over.[:
[00:23:38] CT: So, I think Roots helped me to really understand that understanding the organizational trajectory of an organization like Roots that was founded in 1976. I came to it in 2001, 25 years later. and in organizational development standards, it was a 25 year old organization, but it had really just become an adolescent.years, my involvement from:
I remember learning some of these things in sitting with people who were there at the beginning. So sitting with Bob Leonard and Kathy DeNobriga and Joe Carson, to hear what the intentions were and understand that, that there was an embryo of an idea that just continued to grow and develop, that was being nurtured, that was being provided sustenance, that was given as much warmth and love and care as it could. And all of the strife that comes along with trying to do this work in an integrated community, in a multidisciplinary community, in an intergenerational community, in a multicultural community over time. And so those lessons are the lessons that I, tapped into, as we began to develop this idea for the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production.
Part Three: A Grandfather Story[:
[00:23:37] CT: So just a little bit of background. So my family has been in this community, for as long as I imagine, the descendants of Africans have been in this community. I say it in that framework because, we can trace our history back so far, and then you lose track because you just don't know. but my people have been here for a very long time. This community when I grew up as a child where my grandfather was living, when I would go to my grandparents house, everything that we ate was from the yard. Literally. They raised chicken, they erased pigs, they raised cows, they milked the cows, they made their own butter, milk, eggs, the whole nine.
They had a smokehouse, they made their own bacon and ham. It was country living at its finest, and it wasn’t an anomaly. And I’m 47, so that would eb in the 70’s and 80’s, and people were self sustained at some level. People owned land, they farmed, they grew their own food. People didn’t have outrageous bills and debt. They really lived by the means that were provided to them through their environment, until they couldn't, which is a whole nother story, but we're not going to get into that right now.years ago, now in:
But that has become the reality of a community that was based in agriculture. We're not talking about a desert that can't grow food. We're talking about some of the most rich and fertile land in the country. The Mississippi Delta, and this community now struggles daily to find quality food. So that it has an impact on all aspects of our lives. Health and wellness, education, The medical industry, transportation, everything commerce the whole nine.
So when we came back, I knew that my time at Roots was going to come to an end because the organization needs something different to continue to iterate on itself. It's not an organization that's going to have the same director for 30 years.
So I knew that my time was coming to an end there, and I want it to return to my home and do the work that I'd been helping to do in other people's communities and being a part of, but also I've been learning from, and being witness to the different variety of approaches that people have taken all across the country to impact and affect their own communities’ trajectory.[:
[00:29:41] CT: So we started with a set of questions. We gathered our community, we put maps on the walls, and we asked them, we said, we want you to map four locations. Map where you live, where you work, where you worship, and where you shop and on the map. Everything went from Utica, and went out like this. And all these lines away from Utica, and the conversation that came after that mapping exercise, with that conversation came the reality that our community had gone from a center of cultural production to a bedroom community.
And just like my brother asked me, are you content with that? are you cool with the setup? are you cool with driving 40 miles round trip to get flour, and meal, and whatever the things are that you need? are you cool with there being no localized food production or access to fresh food in the community?Are you cool with that? If that's cool, then it's cool. You know what I'm saying? But if it's not, then where do we want to be as a community? And let's begin to dream and imagine what that place is, and then begin to map a trajectory there. So this idea that we're, thinking about this on a 20 year trajectory.
So we’re thinking about this as a generational process. So we are just now completing 5 years in February, we stood at 15 years left to just even be able to understand if this initial path that we set out on we'll will bear fruit. That's what we are, and so in that way, the work of Mississippi Center for Cultural Production is a direct descendant of the work of Alternate Roots.
It's a direct descendant of the work of the Highlander Center, a direct descendant of Apple Shop. It's a direct descendant of Asha Cultural Arts Center. It's a direct descendant of Carpet Back Theater, and it's a direct descendant of Double-Edged Theater. is a direct descendant of Betty Lou Hamus pig, farm, all of these influences and places we're, developing these structures that are, that allow for our community to participate in bear witness, to and be the prime beneficiary of community development frameworks that are about developing our community and not just the built structures, but also the people, the heart and soul, the culture, the identity, the practices that, the things that we take joy in how we think about our faith, how we have discussions and conversations. So that's, I think that's how those two things go together.
Part Four: More Than a Greenhouse.[:
[00:32:58] CT: Yeah so the greenhouse, is up. It's not running, so there's another story. So this community, when I gave you some of the backdrop, I just talked about like the people of Utica, but the institutions of Utica is really important as well.So in:
And what that Institute is and was, it was basically a little Tuskegee. It was meant to create a space within the community for cultural production, agriculture, and other cultural artifacts to be the basis of economic development and social development for a black community.
And so that school, basically became […] a historically black college and university. It is still around, although very different than what it used to be. But it became the institution that supported the development of black people in this community. So if you were anybody in the forties, fifties, and sixties, you didn't do anything in this tri-county area without coming through Utica.
Black people did it. It was this Institute, the Utica Normal Institute that was founded by a black man, for black people. So it was developing educators and it was developing farmers.
Now get this part. Most of the fundraising to keep this thing sustained, came from a group of singers called the Jubilee Singers. So Fisk had the Jubilee Singers, but Utica also had the Jubilee Singers and they would travel all around the country. They had five teams that would travel and they would be on the radio in New York and in different places, and it would just bring donations back to our community in order to sustain the school.
So this idea of artistic practice, agricultural production, Education, going together hand in hand to do community development is not a new, this Sipp culture is not a new idea. it's not a new framework, it, but it builds on that legacy of this.
Utica Normal Industrial Institute and the work of William Holsclaw. the reason the greenhouse sparked story is because we're currently using the greenhouse on the campus of Hinds Community College Utica campus, which is what that school is called now and, we're in the process of getting ours wired. So it's been built it's up, but we're having to wire it, because it's fully automated. Run on temperature control that will run irrigation systems all through wifi. And it's going to really support the development of our work at a different level and provide both our starter plants, and help us keep our year round food production on the 17 acres, but also provide starter plants for the community as well, and other farmers that are interested in organic growing. But that's part of our Sipp culture community farm. So we do a training program for young people who, young is relative, but people who are young to farming, and we do a training program to teach them sustainable and regenerative agricultural production.
Small scale. When we talk about small scale, we're talking about, permanent raise rows, not industrial or commercial farming in which using tractors to plant into. Ninety percent of what it's done is done without any power other than human power. So we use hand tools, cultivators, all those things to make it work. And so it's just a different way of thinking about growing, all organic, all healthy food. So that's really where the greenhouse is, and that's what that, that program, that agricultural program stands.[:
It brings to mind that picture of your grandfather, not so very long ago, getting up every day, tending to his crops and animals, providing all that bounty, that healthy sustenance, taking care of his loved ones with what the land provided. You're so right, on one hand it seems the work you're doing is revolutionary, but on the other its very old school, very organic. It's an inspiring story, an inspiring culture, that has been passed down that everybody, in Utica, and elsewhere can learn from.[:
And so I think about hers as the basis of my inspiration, and as the next iteration of my grandfather's legacy. She also is a 40-year retired educator, and she went to Utica Normal Industrial Institute when it was Utica Junior College. So those ideas of educator and agriculturalist those things to me, my mother really represents. She never lost her fervor or desire to till the land, and to engage in the production of her own food, and knew her responsibility to be part of a generational development for our community, from an educator's standpoint.
For me, food and art are inextricably linked. I don't know that I've had a good art experience that didn't in some way, connect back to food. Even if it's going out and seeing an amazing production, what follows that is food and drinks, And then that's when you get a chance to unpack, and talk about, and critique and really understand the emotions that you were having, from this moment, from this performance, from this engagement.
How did they compare to the emotions that your friend was having, or your partner was having, or your children were having. And so this idea of, in my mind, historically all art was, it was for a purpose. It was for some type of gathering, it was either a birth, or a death, or marriage, or a visitor, or there was something that was happening that brought people together, in these communal settings to engage in food, and libations, conversations, and really to me, that's culture. And what is produced out of that is dance and music and storytelling, the artifacts. The things that now have been extracted from those processes and become the things that get sold as products were just the natural expressions of culture in a healthy and fully functional community.
So I don't see a division between food and art. They're one and the same one. One is a precipice for the other, and they go vice versa. So I think this idea that when people have struggled to see the connection between agriculture and, first of all, it's Agri-culture. Culture is embedded in the name. I don't know how many other, areas or sectors have culture in the name.
We are agriculture. In my mind, the first performances happened, after we've found ways to settle in a place, and cultivate the land, and work the land into ways in which it was a reciprocal relationship.[:
It's a beautiful thing that fertile fields and fertile imaginations are siblings. It really doesn't make sense to try to separate the two.[:
[00:41:17] BC: It's kind of like you, and your brother. Food ways, and art ways, life and stories. All connected
So art-making is really a big part of Sipp culture. You’ve made major commitment to embedding artists, integrating artists deeply into this work. You have artists engaged locally and you also have artists going out into other communities could you talk about how that works?[:
How did that channel that vehicle that it came through, how did it impact the end result of the story? So we wanted to provide a space for rural artists, to tell rural stories, in a rural setting that was welcoming and resembled home.
So that's the Rural Performance Production Lab. And the way that we think about that is that we call it RIPPL because we want this change in national narrative about the south, about, people of color, about rule, to be informed by the work that we're doing here in Utica.
The second way that we were working with artists is through, we were partnering with an organization called The Office, to do a program called Artists at Work, which is inspired by, the WPA, program.[:
[00:43:53] CT: Yeah, and so we have two artists that we're working with. The first artists we're working with is an artist named Monica Heal, and Monica is a fabric and textile artist, and they will be working with the Utica museum, which is on the campus of the Utica Institute or the highest community college Utica campus to do story collecting with the community over the course of the next year. So they'll be working probably three, four days a week, on the campus down there and setting up oral histories.
The second project, is an artist named Daniel Johnson, and Daniel will be working with, the Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center, and their work really will be about establishing, an arts desk within the clinic, to be able to help people, see health and wellness beyond just the medical intervention and into cultural and food interventions as well. Again, these are artists that are being paid their own salary. They'll be working doing their artwork, that's their job is to do their artwork. But in both of those cases, they help into advance a critical community directive that we have here at the center, but also that our community is very dedicated to.[:
[00:45:15] CT: Jill Sonke. Yeah, we're doing a similar project with imagining America out of UC Davis, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded interdisciplinary research project that we're doing and which we're looking at the role of storytelling, on a community’s ability to make decisions about their food structures. And so we're ending, this is year three of a three year research project. We're collecting oral histories this year, but we've done community surveys, we’ve done focus groups, we’ve done, all types of community gatherings, over the last couple of years, and we’re finishing up our research brief this summer, and we'll start putting out data in the fall.
Part Five: Round and Round We Go[:
[00:46:40] CT: Yeah. you know, everything that I've done as an adult has been informed by the story circle. I've sat in so many stories circles with John to watch him. The early days of my introduction to Roots, we spent a lot of time in New Orleans. For my brother and I, New Orleans became our second home. We would be in New Orleans three or four times a month, and most of that was to work with John and Junebug Productions, but also to work with students at the center, and Kalamu ya Salaam, and Jim Randels.
This was before hurricane Katrina. So a lot of people started organizing in New Orleans after the hurricane. We actually were there working for a few years before the hurricane came, and some of the work that John was doing, with, Bob Leonard, Bob Moses, with Kalamu ya Salaam, with a number of amazing activists, and educators, and artists in New Orleans were working in community, using the story circle as an organizing tool to bring together this triad in which he saw artists, organizers, and educators as being the three primary components to a community development framework.
Junebug Jabo Jones: I am a storyteller, storytelling. Now, I say storytellers insteada' liar, cause there's a, heap a difference between a storyteller and a liar. A liar that's somebody takin', cover things over, mainly for his own private benefit. Storytelling telling now, that somebody would you takin' uncover things so everybody can get some good out of it.
Yeah, lI'm a storyteller. Heap of good meaning been found in the story, if you got the mind to hear.[:
Joh O’Neal: I approach almost everything through the lens of story and storytelling, cause' I find that what happens when you, when you get to telling stories, and working through metaphor rather than argument, um, people come to shared understanding more quickly, they start to going, "Oh, I get, I understand that happened to me too let me tell you what happened to me," And then boom, boom, boom.[:
[00:49:22] CT: So this is our orientation to understanding how this tool can be applied to being the centerpiece for change and to see it in its working elements is this mastery of equity. That's what the circle does is that it balances every voice, into a community chorus. It doesn't allow for. One person to dictate the conversation or to override the will of the community. You have to blend in, and if you're, too loud, you gotta tone it down. If you're too low, you gotta step it up. It's that, it's a choir, and, it's just a beautiful context for a democratic process.
So for me, whenever my brother and I would be on the road and we would be entering into new spaces, we would begin by assembling the circle and start and end all conversations, all engagements, in that space and unpacking what it means to be in circle.
This is an ancient ritual. This is a gift from the ancestors. This is who we are at our spirit and base level is sitting around a fire or sitting around a meal, and as a community, understanding our relationship to each other, and our place in the larger society.
It's so fundamental, that when you break out of that circle framework and get back into this master student teacher relationship, it doesn't feel safe. There's no safety in that type of framework. It's what got King killed was this idea that he was the movement and everybody else was supporting him No, he was one of the movement.
But I think for us, we adopted that practice, and it became just part of the way that we showed up anywhere we show up. We use it here. We just, we do a circle, with our staff every Tuesday, and we circle up and we check in and we talk about everything. Everybody has an opportunity to share it, and we do that, and that's just the way that our staff knows that every voice is important. Everybody has a role to play. And when we come together, we can see the strength and the development of how we're all contributing to a much larger picture, without losing the individual spirit and sound. The story circle has been essential.[:
[00:52:04] CT: Yeah. Cornell west.[:
“I know love is what we need more of.
Peace will surely follow love.
Whatever the problems.
I know we can solve them.
You know, And I know”.[:
[00:52:58] BC: So M.U.G.A.B.E.E was your performing group with your brother, right? And M, U, G A, B, E, E stands for Men Under Guidance Acting Before Early Extinction and that song was a signature of the group right?[:
[00:53:43] BC: And that was the School of the Americas?[:
So I think for me, when I think about love and practice, what I'm interested in cultivating is a space that is endowed with that vibration. And that is welcoming and attracting of that vibration, so that when people come to this space, there's a feeling that you get when you open the doors, its that feeling you get when you go to your grandma's house and there's warm biscuits on the table, and you can smell that fried chicken in the air, and that candy yam that, you know, and you can smell it walking up to the house because it's a screen door and that love that she's practicing alchemy, she's mixing potions of love in her kitchen. And as those things flow out, they meet, and in that meeting, you're home. And that happens no matter where you are, you can go to a home you'd never been, and you can smell the love, you can feel the love as you walk up to the place when it is endowed with love.pecies. We won't see the year:
[00:57:14] BC: I think that one of the stories out there that disturbs me most is that love is just somehow out there floating like a low-hanging cloud, waiting for someone to walk into it and be blessed, you know, with no effort at all. Like you said. It's hard work. Lust is easy. Love doesn't come without effort[:
[00:57:22] BC: So hopefully. As we emerge from the COVID clouds. What's next for Sipp Culture. What inspiring things do you have to share[:
We also got a gaggle of artists that will be coming in residence with us throughout the rest of 2022. In fact, we’ve got two artists that will be coming in on Sunday, and they are Annette Hollowell, of Waterford Mississippi, who has a family farm there called Foxfire Ranch, who has blues Sundays. They've had the family land for over a hundred years. and they do these hill country blues events every Sunday from from March to November. And that will be here, and, as partner in this artistic endeavor Free for All, who’s artists, a musician, a composer, they have a project called We Are the Promised Land.
It is not yet out. but it details this history of this land of Foxfire Ranch and this multiple generations and the stories of the artistic practice that they engage in there and how Hill Country Blues, identifies and personifies the region. It is one of the best podcasts I've ever listened to. And I'm not just saying that because we are co commissioner, but it is absolutely amazing. It reeks of Mississippi. And I say that with all the beauty that Mississippi possesses artistically.[:
[00:59:01] CT: We are the Promised Land.[:
[00:59:08] CT: Yeah. So they're still finishing up the first episode, but their residency with us is to map out the production schedule, I think for the next three or four podcasts. So anyway, that, that work is inspiring me. I think also the work of, Liana Ambrose-Murray, who goes by the name Ambrose. They are a visual artists, but they've been doing this amazing pieces in textile, print on silk and different fabrics, beautiful work. and you can find her work, by searching Liana Ambrose-Murray, A M B R O S E. They just had a couple of shows in New York and in Miami, getting ready for some other big endeavors, but, her work is remarkable, and the work of, Charmaine Minniefield who's in Atlanta. [She’s] been recreating these praise houses, as site-specific works, really dealing with the ancestry legacy of faith, and ring shouts, in the black community. These are all just amazing artists that,I'm just enamored with and want to continue to see their work grow.[:
[01:00:16] CT: You know, we're five years in. We came with a lot of support in the vision from outside. We're still building support from the inside, and I think that's going to be the harder, and the more long trajectory work. We had a community member show up yesterday and challenge us in really good ways about, “what does community mean in your service?”
Like you know, these questions about where do I fit in. Where's the place for me in this work. And I look at that as those accountability measures. If we don't have that, if we don't have people holding us to our word, to our mission, to what we say, we are then…one people don't care, and then too, you can drift off and think that you're doing the work, but the people that you're working with don't see you as such.
So it was really thankful for that visit yesterday. and those are just the thing that I think we're, you know, COVID. We are a community that builds itself like many small rural communities on physical connection.
Like you need to be in my space. I need to see you sit on my front porch, we need to talk, I need to be able to put my hand on you. And that's the way that relationships are built. That's the currency of our community, and COVID took that away from us for two years. And our community's health and wellness has suffered, beyond just the sickness of COVID, but into how not having touches as complicated, the development of relationships in our community, and so that's the stuff that we're working on this year.[:
[01:01:45] CT: That's right.[:
[01:01:55] CT: Yeah. Thank you.[:
And speaking of learning for those of you who are teaching, or doing research, or just trying to absorb as much as you can about art and community change, we want to remind you about our new Change the Story Collection. This collection is our response to listeners who told us, they'd like to dig deeper into art and change episodes that focus on specific issues, constituencies, their disciplines like justice arts, cultural organizing, change theater, children and youth, or music. If this interests you, please check it out wwwartandcommunity.com under the podcast dropped down or click the link in our show notes.
Change the Story, Change the World is a production of the Center for the Study of Art and Community. It's written and hosted by me, Bill Cleveland, and our theme and soundscape are by the stupendous Judy Munson, our editing is by Andre Nnebe, our special effects come from freesound.com, and our inspiration rises up from the mysterious but ever present presence of UKE 235. Until next time, please stay well do good and spread the good word.