Some of Rochester's most important cultural programming regarding intersectionality and the arts has been initiated and sustained by the At the Crossroads: Activating the Intersection of Art and Justice series. Presented by 21st Century Arts, nine events have been held over as many months, blending collaborative art performances and installations and Long Table Conversations that aim to forefront the voices of women of color and queer people of color. Not only has the programming made an important grassroots investment in the Rochester community; the community is increasingly investing in the programming.
The series continues this month with two more events, but founder Rachel DeGuzman has planned programming well into the fall, with more ideas that will soon have solidified dates attached to them.
The series kicked off in October 2017 with an Art Power Symposium, a day full of workshops and performances that featured artists Annette Ramos, Henry Avignon, Tokeya Graham, Reenah Golden, Thomas Warfield, and Sean McLeod. This event was followed by the many themed events, each presenting an artistic installation or performance, along with short films or recorded speeches relevant to each particular event's theme.
These elements serve as discussion prompts for the Long Table Conversation, an unrehearsed discussion between a group of people DeGuzman (and sometimes collaborators) have invited to participate in. The audience is allowed to partake but filibustering is not allowed — the point is to actively listen to voices that are typically marginalized.
Past events have included "Black Magic Slays Magical Negro," a four-day event this past February that celebrated the power and beauty of women of color; "Anna, The Other Douglass," which explored the radical, under-celebrated first wife of Frederick Douglass; and "Cage-Free & Non-Conforming," which was co-presented by Trans Femme poet and visual artist Jahmal B. Golden. Other and events focused on Winnie Mandela (with a reading over Skype of Sarita Covington's new play "Things Went Horribly Wrong"), Sally Hemings as an historic prompt for the #MeToo discussion (in which a few people at the Long Table talked about their own rapes); Malcolm X's speech in Rochester; and most recently "This is America," a pop-up held in response to the 22nd school shooting of 2018.
DeGuzman says that there was some white fragility that reared its head in the last two events, manifesting in defensiveness and some impatience and victim-blaming. In particular, at the Malcolm X event, I witnessed one white man tell the people of color in the room that their problem with the system stemmed from not bothering to take the time to understand it; another white man spent some time broadcasting his allyship when sitting back and listening to others would have been a better way to express that. But DeGuzman says she gives credit to people brave enough to "show up and come to the table."
Often these events serve as the first glimpse at art, plays, and poetry that are in-progress, or have not been previously shared, and DeGuzman has done an excellent job locating artists who have not necessarily received their due spotlight locally.
Another element that is unique about this particular set of programming is that it's about more than just getting people from different races and backgrounds in the room together. Humanizing one another as individuals can be an important step, but we have to be willing to examine and dismantle the ingrained, systemic elements that benefit some while they oppress others.
"I have so much more that I want to do, but to a certain degree I think we've delivered on what we set out to do," DeGuzman says. "One of the proudest pieces for me is the group of women that have created new relationships to each other along this kind of work. At the Crossroads has created a space for them to relate to each other in a different way, and it has created a cohort of people who are working on new projects. That was always one of the goals, to create that kind of space."
The series continues Saturday, July 14, with "Politics of Women's Health: A Long Table Conversation and Installation." The event, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., is presented in collaboration with Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York, and hosted at Greater Rochester Area Branch/Association American University Women (494 East Avenue). The program will present an artistic interrogation of current issues and the politics of women's health. $15; registration at politicsofwomenshealth.bpt.me.
"With Kennedy's announcement to retire from the Supreme Court, it becomes even more urgent to have this discussion," DeGuzman says. "It's not just a matter of abortion rights, which is an important aspect of it, but it's about reproductive rights in general, and just who gets to have agency at all."
All following events will take place at Gallery Seventy-Four, 215 Tremont Street. Next up is "Radical Rosa: A Long Table Conversation and Installation," on Saturday, July 28, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. $15; register at radicalrose.bpt.me.
On Saturday, September 8, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., 21st Century Arts will co-present "Anti-Muslim racism: A Long Table Discussion and Installation" with Mara Ahmed of Neelum Films. $15; register at antimuslimracism.bpt.me.
And on Sunday, October 7, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., "Black and Disabled: A Long Table Conversation and Installation" will be co-presented with disability activist Luticha Doucette. $15, register at blackanddisabled.bpt.me.
DeGuzman also wants to start a local chapter of Artists Co-creating Real Equity (ACRE) in Rochester, but before she can do that, she says she needs to bring an anti-racism training workshop from People's Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) to Rochester's cultural sector. She calls the group "The A-Team of anti-racism training," and has herself participated in the workshop in New York City. The two-and-a-half day workshop can host 40 people, and costs $15,000 ($375 per participant — DeGuzman envisions institutions that have the means sending their own folks and also helping fund space for those who don't have resource).
Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect an error in spelling Luticha Doucette's name in the print edition. We regret the mistake.