ART IS A BLACK THING
Commissioner Hopkinson remarks at CVS Presser 9/14/2021
I delivered the following remarks today at a press conference at the Go-Go City Mural Unveiling at the corner of Georgia and Florida Avenue, NW Washington, D.C.
I’m Natalie Hopkinson. I’m Associate Professor at Howard University in the Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies. This is such a happy day. We are one step closer to making sure people remember forever why this corner is the most magical and sacred corner in DC.
Add to the list of wins of Don’t Mute DC is that I now serve on the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Recently a white man, one of DC’s most powerful sitting politicians, told one of my commission colleagues that the arts are a “white thing” that people our city’s majority-Black wards don’t care about.
I’m sitting here on this corner, looking at this beautiful mural, listening to Don Campbell’s music playing, and wondering how that could possibly be.
How can you see what is here on this corner and make a statement like that?
For decades, this has been the place where people come to gather to hear go-go music. In a series of oral history interviews my team of CCMS scholars did in 2019 with Smithsonian Folklife, Don Campbell, the owner of the go-go music and cell phone store Central Communications said the following:
“I thought that go-go music was dying, so I wanted to keep it alive. That’s why I started playing the music here in the store every day. Since 1995. I started playing from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.”
In Spring 2019, an intolerant gentrifier living at a luxury apartment tried to silence the music. Julien Broomfield, the poet and Howard University student, created the hashtag #DontMuteDC. Ron Moten and I created the Don’t Mute DC petition, and 80,000 people from each and every state in the Union, and 94 different countries around the WORLD, all rallied to support Don Campbell.
We activated the go-go drums to save this corner. Then we summoned the drums to save a hospital, United Medical Center, the ONLY hospital East of the River a year before the pandemic devastated Wards 7 and 8. We saved Banneker high school’s new building. Jobs programs, a halfway house to allow our returned citizens to come back home.
In the early days of the movement, people have asked me: of all the things to take to the street to support, why go-go music? Why not housing? Education? Health Care? The answer is in the wins that Don’t Mute DC has gone on to stack up. Go-go is housing. It is health care. It is education. It is criminal justice. It’s all of those incredible things that make us human in this city. It is also art.
Since I joined the DC Arts Commission, please add this other victory to the pile of wins: We recently passed new policies that initiated some of the most radical changes in the way millions of dollars are spent on the arts. Before I joined the commission, the overwhelming majority of public art dollars went to white organizations, white creatives and white neighborhoods. Today, we have taken action to ensure that is no longer necessarily the case.
The fact that I am standing here speaking to you, on this corner, with all these wins behind us, tells you that no, art is not only a white thing. Art is very much a Black thing. But it is taking a while for the powers that be to understand this.
So I’m a professor, and I teach. And there is still a lot left to do.
One person suggested making this corner a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many more new partnerships with the Go-Go Archives at the DC Library, in schools, at Howard in the works. This is only the beginning.
So let’s celebrate today, but let’s get back to work.
Dr. Natalie Hopkinson is author of Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. Follow her on Twitter.