It isn’t the first time we, at InLiquid, have boasted Art for the Cash Poor as being “more than an art fair;” it’s a bit of a cultural symposium (in that Plato sense), or an ice-breaker for Philadelphia’s arts-and-culture newcomers. But what Art for the Cash Poor is most of all is a community-builder. In our seventeenth celebration of all that is community, it is with great pleasure we welcome Philadelphia’s very own leader, activist and educator Chris Bartlett, Executive Director of the William Way Center, as our honorary Co-chair Member.
Elizabeth: In your TEDx Philadelphia speech, you had mentioned how diversity strengthens when communities combine forces. Now as an Honorary Co-chair here at InLiquid, how can we (the artists of Philadelphia) play a role?
Chris: In my activist world, artists have always been central. ACT UP Philadelphia had many well-known artists in its core—including Juan David Acosta, HD Ivey, and Zoe Strauss. Those artists and many others always taught me that using the tools of all the arts empowers the message of activism. David does that through poetry, Ivey through paintings and sculpture, and Zoe through photography. All of their art is part of the activist conversation— and allows the movement to fully express itself through art. I would encourage artists to ally themselves with an activist movement of any political stripe that inspires them—and then contribute their artwork to the activism (both literally and figuratively.)
Elizabeth: As an activist and advocate, you have uniquely used social media as a tour-de-force tool to cultivate social change. In what ways have you seen positive effects with social media in the LGBTQ community and city of Philadelphia?
Chris: I’ve been excited to see the innovative ways that LGBTQ people are using social media to connect, share information, innovate, and evaluate community building efforts. Social media give us a sense of ambient community—that the comm
unity is out there and listening, even if we don’t know exactly who they are. As the LGBTQ communities continue to diversify, social media provides a great place to explore identity and how it relates to our sense of community. I’m especially excited that Facebook and Instagram, for example, provide a voice and face for LGBT communities in all of their diversity.
Liz: Speaking of online communities, I really admire how you created the Gay History Wiki! You created an online community that has evolved into something that functions independently through contributors. Do you have any similar strategies like this for William Way?
Chris : Yes. Part of my goal with the gay history wiki was to democratize history so that anyone could participate and tell their story. With the wonderful archivist and curator at William Way—John Anderies and Bob Skiba—we have also worked to democratize the archives—so that more organizations and people can use the resources of the archives to tell their own stories. We do this while also seeking to protect the priceless collection, so there is always a balance between security and access.
Elizabeth: Seniors are an important part of the LGBTQ community, and your efforts to make sure they have a home have met much success. Do you have any future plans to help seniors more, residence wise or even on a policy level?
Chris: I have always said that LGBT seniors built the LGBT movement. They were at Stonewall, fought for our civil rights, and they also were key leaders in the efforts to address the AIDS epidemic. I have huge gratitude to my LGBT elders. As such, I think the least we can do is make sure that these seniors have the best programs possible: social programs, housing programs, food programs, and other efforts to meet their needs. The baby boomer generation is also a big one, so we can expect more and more LGBT seniors coming through our doors. One of the major focuses of the William Way is to make sure that we continue to grow our programming to meet this need. This is the first generation of LGBT seniors who have been out of the closet for their entire adult lives—and they are coming to us as LGBT elders—with all the wisdom and energy that will help us succeed in our efforts.
Elizabeth: Out of the many achievements you have made for the LGBTQ community, which is your favorite and what new goals has it become a catalyst for?
Chris: I have a few favorite successes: one was the Outbeat Festival, the first LGBT jazz festival in the country, which we produced in autumn, 2014. I loved that a queer jazz festival opened up a conversation between LGBT people and African Americans—and the intersection between those worlds. This was a great example of the power of art—and particularly music- to speak to people across identities and communities. We’ll be doing more LGBT jazz work in the future.
I’m also very proud of the major exhibit, <Speaking OUT for Equality: the Constitution, Gay Rights and the Supreme Court>, an exhibit featuring 50 years of LGBT history in America. I was particularly proud that the exhibit took place at a national museum, on federal territory, and that over 25,000 people saw the exhibit. Many of those visitors were students—and it was thrilling to me to see how many students were eager to learn LGBT history in the context of American history. We’ve come so far, and the lesson of the exhibit was that we must build upon the lessons of the past 50 years of LGBT history—its successes and failures—and continue the work moving forward.