Providence Artists Embrace Social Distancing with Social Change

Park-ist Residents discover new ways to explore identity in the age of quarantine

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This year marks the first-ever “Park-ists in Residence,” an artist residency developed by the Providence Parks Department and the Department of Art, Culture + Tourism (ACT). According to plan, two artists were invited to live in historic homes located within parks, and their rent would be subsidized. Over the course of two years, these artists would set up a variety of programs, which would enrich the community with their creative ideas.

The artists themselves are established and full of promise: First, there’s Mathew Garza, who moved into Esek Hopkins House with his artist-partner, Anthony AM Marcus. Garza had a number of plans, including dance performances and an interactive landscaping project. Then there’s artist k. funmilayu aileru, who took up residence in Wanskuck Park. Going by the pronouns “ze, hir, and hirs,” aileru is a digital artist and designer.

Both residents are deeply invested in representing people who identify as “QT BIPoC,” or “queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.” Interestingly, Garza has noted that Esek Hopkins – his residence’s namesake – was a major pioneer in Rhode Island’s slave trade, making it a symbolic setting for his work.

When the pandemic struck, both artists had to adjust, and “community involvement” took on new meaning. To continue reaching his audience, Garza started online yoga sessions, which are free to watch on his YouTube channel. He has established a group of movement-based artists, called The Glitter Goddess Collective. He still plans to develop the physical site with edible plants and interactive displays, with the expectation that he’ll eventually be able to host helpers and visitors.

Meanwhile, aileru has been soliciting artists for the virtual showcase, Open Screen. The goal is to stream a variety of creative works, but without the influence of unwelcome sponsors. What this actually looks like will depend on the collaborators aileru gathers, but with so many creative people looking for outlets – and concerned about similar social topics – ze hopes for an enriching online experience.

The first Open Screen is slated for June 20, in honor of the summer solstice. 

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