Perhaps words fail us this year. The news continues at a heart-wrenching pace of the brutality against black Americans. We all know the stories. On the afternoon of July 10th, civil rights activist Sandra Bland is pulled over in an absurd traffic stop for “failure to signal a lane change” by 30-year-old police officer Brian Encina. Words are exchanged as Bland asserts her rights and Encina grows increasingly more hostile to the affront of his power. She is torn from the car and thrown on the ground. Three days later she is found dead in her jail cell by alleged suicide. On June 6th, in McKinney, Texas, a pool party goes awry when yet another cop decides to play television show law enforcer on a group of young black teenagers in bikinis. Cell phone footage by a courageous kid on the block shows a white police officer caught up in a hallucinatory racist rage putting kids in handcuffs and wrestling a young girl to the ground. On June 17th, a 21-year-old hateful white boy named Dylan Roof steps into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and opens fire on the black congregation killing nine. One could go on. The list sure does. Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Grey, Trayvon Martin. Names. Names. Names. Families. Sisters. Brothers. Stories. Facebook posts. Protests. Sadness. When, when, when will this end?
The show is called Dream and to quote Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., “only in the darkness, can you see the stars.” Yes, this is an art show about dreams, but you have to, at first, appreciate the nightmare.
This show will happen in a neighborhood. A place. The Old Fourth Ward. Row houses along Auburn Avenue look over the childhood home of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Visitors from around the world come to pay tribute, to learn about history and to get a sense of the humble beginnings of one of America’s most influential citizens. But civil rights history in America is ever an agonized one. Just as the Reverend had a dream, that dream continues to be unfulfilled. It is something that one cannot help but feel, humming in the ground, in this historic neighborhood.
Sweet Auburn as they call it, isn’t just a place with a past. It is also a place with a future. A place of growing cosmopolitan night-life. A place with a trolley car trying to tie in the downtown with the tourist section. A historic black neighborhood feeling the pinch of that bedfellow of urban development: gentrification. What does the future hold here? What kind of city can we imagine? What can be built?
Flux Night is just a one-night event. It is an arts festival that brings a diverse audience into a neighborhood. Atlantans get the unique pleasure of stepping out of their cars and walking amidst each other in the streets. They get that civic rush of seeing each other outside the typical urban disasters of strip malls and drive-throughs. It is the vision of a future city that Flux Night brings.
We moved it to this neighborhood and are attempting to situate this night in both place, the Old Fourth Ward, and in time, the moment of a new reckoning of America on the question of race. Certainly under such a fraught historic moment, the prospect of an arts festival touching upon these questions could feel moribund, heart-wrenching, inappropriate, or simply, poorly timed. America’s struggles with systemic and urbanely defined racism shouldn’t be a foil for an evening event geared towards fun and entertainment one might argue.
But as Walt Whitman has said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Dreams are vast and big and awe-inspiring and so too are the arts. Touching upon the very fabric of what our lives are wrestling with, putting our feet onto the sidewalks where these questions walk, and letting our hearts be lifted, tempted, coddled and reminded is what a meaningful, poetic, night of art in the Old Fourth Ward can do. “Only in the darkness, can you see the stars.” And there are so many glimmering stars to be seen.
Sheila Pree Bright has seen them. She saw them in the streets of Baltimore, in Ferguson, in Oakland. She has seen the young Black Lives Matter protesters debating with their elders on the proper legacy of MLK, Jr. She has seen them with her camera and she has circulated them on Instagram and Twitter. The artist duo Malik Gaines and Alex Segade under the collective title of Courtesy of the Artist have seen them. They made a song; a song for outer space, or another future. Inspired by Octavia Butler, a choir sings their song. Jennifer Wen Ma has seen them. She encourages us to summon a collective song together inspired by Dr. King’s quote that, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” She asks the audience to bend that arc as a metropolitan community. And Mexican artist Pedro Reyes has seen them. He bent and folded weapons, the source of so much violence, and turned them into instruments. They will be played. Their songs will hit your ears. But lets not let all the cats out of the bag just yet. The show is yet to come. There are many more artworks, performances and words to come to life.
Dream is not about healing, it is literally about dreaming. About making new worlds. About facing the realities of our oppressions so that a city can be built that accounts for the collective dreams of desire, love and justice. It brings us together and harkens new futures for us to witness. And yes, it is a festival. Because of course, dreaming is best done in public.