Rosie Gordon-Wallace has been a doyenne of the Miami arts community since the founding of Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator in 1996. Originally trained as a microbiologist, the Jamaica native has always had a passion for art. She has supported the development of artists from the Caribbean diaspora through residencies and exhibitions and been a tireless mentor to all who cross her path.
It is no wonder that in the face of a global pandemic, Gordon-Wallace immediately focused on the needs of the artistic community. On May 9, she launched a food-distribution program that helps artists facing financial and food vulnerability — and it also provides income for Homestead farmers.
“It was a kneejerk gestation — overnight,” says Gordon-Wallace. “I wanted to do something to support the small farmers and to support artists, just in getting food on the table.”
Over the next three months, the Farms to Studios project will distribute boxes containing $25 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables from Homestead’s Redland Community Farm and Market to 40 South Florida-based artists, along with recipes contributed by Gordon-Wallace's sister, a nutritionist.
The distributions take place every two weeks on the lawn of Bay Shore Lutheran Church in Miami.
“When you’re doing this, you realize that you can’t do everything for everybody, and it’s a very humbling thought,” she says. “So at least, if someone is really in need, then they can come and get a box of vegetables and food, and we can at least take away the insecurity and anxiety around food.”
Artists must register online for each cycle of distribution, and boxes are limited to 40 per cycle owing to fundraising capacity.
In Gordon-Wallace's words, there are “no guidelines. However, the artists’ word-of-mouth is fierce. Each week, we have a waiting list.”
The impetus for the program came from conversations with artist colleagues, who discussed the economic and psychological impact of the COVID-19 shutdown.
“We talked about shame, that people feel it because their careers are on a pause,” she recounts. “They were doing major projects internationally and locally — and the shame around thinking: How can I be successful internationally, and I’m unable to keep my apartment, or put food on the table, put gas in my car?”
Gordon-Wallace also understands that the path out of this pandemic will be fraught with challenges for all, not the least of whom will be those who work in the cultural sector.
“I’m hoping that as we face the pressures, that we will be able to push through. It’s going to require faith. It’s going to require a kind optimistic mindfulness, a deep belief in practice, faith in the tomorrow — that the sun sets every evening and rises in the morning,” she says. “I am hoping that this artist community does not lose faith.”
She'd like to see the artist community come out of this pandemic and organize.
“I would like to see some leadership come out of this hardship, and [for the artist community to] come together and ask the tough questions of what we need. How can we organize as a group? It doesn’t have to be large, it can be locally, then nationally, then globally,” she says. “But a coming-together around an agreement around how contracts are formed is critical. What would you pay an artist to do an installation? What is the norm that you would pay an artist to fabricate? What are the standards for our industry?
“This work requires muscle," she goes on. "It requires sacrifice for you to focus, and to develop deep thinking and deep ideas. It requires sacrifice, but it doesn’t mean that you have to suffer.”
In the face of our new reality of isolation, Gordon-Wallace says she finds comfort in routine, connections, and faith.
“I’m a firm believer in ritual. When I open my eyes in the morning, I’m privileged enough to see a canopy of green and flowers. And I am great for that at my age, that I can open my eyes and get up,” she says, with a laugh. “So the simple gratitude of just being able to get up and move, and the rituals of simplicity, and really keeping in touch with friends and family.”
She also continues to find inspiration in art. She references a painting by artist Jared McGriff titled Alone Together, which was included in a recent exhibition she co-curated at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“I thought of how both of those words are so powerful, because we are alone, but we are together in this. We’re alone together, and that has not happened for the American family in a long time,” she says.
These are also times that reinforce her steadfast commitment to artists and the importance of making art.
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“I have my mission statement taped to my computer, and there are days when I literally read it aloud. It is to nurture and promote and exhibit the work of Latin and Caribbean artists, black and brown artists,” she states emphatically. “This is not work for the faint of heart. No one chooses this pathway just because, because you’re certainly not earning enough. So the question becomes why, right? Why do this?
“[It’s] the immeasurable joy that it brings to me — not joy in the way that you think I’m happy running in the streets leaping, not that kind of joy – but rather a deep-seated sense of contentment. I feel worthy, I feel worthwhile, that when I die, even if everybody that we have served does not appreciate it, that if we can in this work change the artistic mind of one human being from that region, to have a dedicated life in this, then it would have been enough. If we can stay on mission, regardless of how rocky the future is, I will find peace and joy and contentment.”
If you would like to sign up for a box, or underwrite a box for an artist in need, visit dvcai.org.
— Rebekah Lanae Lengel, ArtburstMiami.com