Rashaad Thomas on the State of the Arts in Metro Phoenix

Rashaad Thomas weighs in on the state of the arts in metro Phoenix.
Rashaad Thomas weighs in on the state of the arts in metro Phoenix.
Nancy Thomas

When Jackalope Ranch issued a 10-question survey asking Phoenicians (and anyone with an opinion of Phoenix) to sound of on the state of the arts in the Valley of the Sun, dozens provided insights on what's happening in the city's creative realm. We'll present a selection of survey responses here over the next three weeks. Up today is poet and fashion designer Rashaad Thomas.

What are three words that describe the arts in Arizona? 1. Colorless 2. Exclusive 3. Ambiguous

See also: Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker on the State of the Arts in Metro Phoenix

Describe your role in the Arizona arts scene (including "observer" -- a very important role!) and how it came to be. First and foremost, I am an observer, a poet, street scholar, Phoenix Hip-Hop community member, fashion designer, an advocate, and a student of the arts. I became interested in the Arizona/ Phoenix art scene approximately 10 years ago when I lived as a homeless military veteran on the Phoenix streets. I had the time to see and honor the beautiful kaleidoscope of colors of the invisible. I was also able to hear and feel the textured vibrato of the voiceless. As a homeless Black Veteran I found reprieve in reading about Black Lives that Mattered and continue to Matter in Phoenix, the state of Arizona, and the United States. I read stories written by Political Prisoner, Mumia Abu Jamal and became enamored with great Black poets and prolific writer like Phyllis Wheatley, Ida B. Well, and Imamu Amiri Baraka. But, I have to say there no one affected my consciousness like James Baldwin. James Baldwin pinned my eyelashes to my forehead with his influential work. His conscious work when opened me up to world filled with layers of colored pixels beyond the surface that existed in Phoenix. His work catalyzed a bonfire of thoughts within me that continue to burn and justly enrage my passion for the arts in Phoenix.

A few years ago I began to transform the words that I used to describe Phoenix's Black and Latino community into fashion sketches. I stepped out into the Alternative Fashion/ Art community. They were the only courageous community who welcomed and embraced my different perspectives and philosophy of bridging fashion, art, and social justice issues without forcing me to edit who I am and my fashion perspective. I had to step away from fashion because I knew that in order survive I needed to negotiate of myself as an artist to survive and return to college to create more immediate and pragmatic opportunities within the confinements of America's current economic climate. As a Black fashion designer whose desire is to highlight African people and textiles there weren't many catwalks or platforms here in Phoenix that welcomed my aesthetic. So, I reflected on the methods that could create platforms that would allow people of color in Phoenix to show their culture, traditions, and aesthetic. Essentially, I came back to the paper with words that transformed fashion sketches into poetry. I realized beauty was in the words that I wanted to articulate through fashion, but embraced a creative process that would help not only a transformation for me, but the city I love, Phoenix.

Who is making the biggest impact on metro Phoenix's art scene and how are they doing that? Michelle Ivette Ponce

Where has metro Phoenix made the biggest strides in the arts in the last 10 years or so? Phoenix has made the biggest strides in the arts in concessions or negotiating the mission and purpose of art in order to both serve the Phoenix's economy.

What are Arizona's most underused arts resources? People of Color (Black, Latino, Native American, Indigenous, Asian, Indian)

How can artists and institutions better connect with audiences? I don't believe artists and institutions can work together, yet. Currently, I believe institutions only have their mission and not the artist and their communities in mind. Until the institution truly listens to the working artist the state of arts in Arizona will remain static. I believe the only way that artists can connect with their audiences is embrace the culture and communities they originate themselves. The American institutions were not created to respect people of color and artists. Therefore, in order to be sustainable in a globalizing world those artists and community members who are the audience need to create themselves their own institution to control the power of how the institution operates and maintains ownership of themselves, their communities, their art, and their souls. .

The implications of the capitalism and gentrification has created an art community with artists who have compete/ struggle as individuals fighting for the menial resources that the city dangles in front of them. The impact is evident where artist who belong to marginalized communities who have began compete amongst themselves where community and solidarity is the nature of their existence and their ethnic cultures.

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Metro Phoenix's art scene needs a voice with a conscience.

What can metro Phoenix's art scene learn from other parts of the state -- and country? Feed hungry artists. Artists are hungry. I believe there are a number of unique artist who identify with their intersecting cultures and identities, but are unable to completely embrace their original ideas because they know in order to survive they have to make money. And in order to make money they have to concede original ideas to make those organizations, businesses, and investors happy. These types of concessions don't serve the best interest for self-sustainable artist or art community. As result we have a colorless, exclusive, and ambivalent art community.

In three years, what three words do you hope describe the state of the arts in Arizona? 1. Kaleidoscope 2. Inclusive 3. Multicultural

See also: Kara Roschi on the State of the Arts in Metro Phoenix

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