Tale of Two Cities

IMG_6471

Atlanta panel discussion during Black Philanthropy Month, leading up to the exhibit’s opening

You’d be hard pressed to find two American cities any more geographically and demographically disparate than Portland, Oregon and Atlanta, Georgia. And yet, one thing they have in common is their commitment to to host the comprehensive, multimedia version of The Soul of Philanthropy. Following the IMLS grant-funded exhibit tour, managed by Johnson C. Smith University during 2015 and 2016, these cities are the first in the country to mount exhibitions and lead civic engagement aimed at reframing philanthropy for greater inclusiveness and lasting impact.

PDX to ATL map

The road from Portland to Atlanta opens a world of possibilities

Vibrant big cities, both Portland and Atlanta benefit from prominent philanthropic families, businesses and foundations. Perhaps then it’s unsurprising that groups in each city would be intrigued by The Soul of Philanthropy, which invites people to see philanthropy differently. That is, come to know that philanthropy is deeper than your pockets.

The Portland exhibition, presented by MRG Foundation at Concordia University, opened at the start of this year and ended late March. The Atlanta exhibition, presented by Hammonds House Museum, is sponsored by the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta and several other groups and individual donors. The exhibition will open at Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in November 2017. Above is a photo from an early program in Atlanta; below is a photo collage from the Portland exhibition.

 

 

Since the inception of the Giving Back Project in 2007, I, along with Charles Thomas, aimed to create a body of work that would transcend race and place. Charlotte, North Carolina has been the epicenter of the project because that’s where our giving circle is based and where we each live and have formed relationships over the majority of our lives. Even so, we aspired to craft stories and release photography, so soulful and true, they’d resonate broadly and tap deeply at the core of people any and everywhere. I used to say, “I want people in Phoenix to see themselves and people they know in these stories and images.”

Ten years into this project and six years after the first printing of Giving Back, seeing sustained interest in the book nationwide and overseas, too, has been gratifying. Proving relevant and timeless, the book continues to sell steadily and, having again sold out, is presently being printed for the fourth time; over 200 books are now on backorder. It’s truly the book that keeps giving!

When the exhibit was announced in 2014 and opened at Johnson C. Smith University, it also began attracting attention and inquiries from coast to coast, including at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Leaders in Portland and Atlanta were among the first to express interest in the exhibit.

Three thousand miles stretch between Portland and Atlanta. The distance between their histories and demographics is wide as well, yet hosting The Soul of Philanthropy bridges these communities. It has provided space for uncommon collaborations, honest conversations and new insights, offering lasting benefit to both places.

Situated in the Pacific Northwest, Portland boasts a hipster reputation as a progressive, socially conscious city, which belies its racist history. Oregon enacted a shameful ban of Black people during periods of the 19th and 20th centuries. Generations later, Portland consequently stands labeled “the Whitest City in America,” because 78 percent of its population identifies racially as White. At seven percent, Black residents comprise a small fraction of the community.

Conversely, Atlanta is a cultural and commercial center of the Atlantic Southeast. A majority of its residents are African American, earning it the reputation of a “Black mecca”. While Oregon forbade Blacks from moving to the state until the 1920s, clear across the country, Georgia depended on the enslavement and exploitation of Black people well into the 20th century. At opposite corners of the U.S., both cities have legacies that can, at times, thwart or even pervert philanthropic efforts today.

The Soul of Philanthropy is a vehicle for communities to explore and celebrate multiple giving traditions, to learn about an array of philanthropic tools and strategies, and to break through barriers to inclusiveness. Even with vast differences in history and population, philanthropic leaders in Portland and in Atlanta have found value in engaging in vital community building through the exhibit. Whether Black, White, Latino, American Indian, Asian American, Middle Easterner, Pacific Islander, or any cultural roots, the stories, photography and themes of The Soul of Philanthropy hold relevance. After a decade, Charles and I have seen firsthand the ways our work persists and sustains significance and resonance in a complicated field and often misunderstood topic.

First Portland and soon Atlanta are reframing portraits of philanthropy and coming to see philanthropy differently. If America’s “Whitest city” and “Black mecca” have found value in this crucial work, there is ample room for cities in between to do the same.

TSOP_logo

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Oh Snap!

During our Washington, DC exhibition at the 2017 National Conference of the Association of African American Museums, an intrigued hotel attendant would stroll by regularly and gaze over at our installation. His preoccupation persisted the first few days. Eventually, he ventured into our exhibit space to inquire about the topic and to explore close up and more deeply the displays of photos, stories and interactive elements of The Soul of Philanthropy. And then he shared his story.

Years prior in his native Somalia, he had been on a boat that capsized and sank. While dozens of passengers perished, he was one of only nine survivors rescued by a passing ship. Since that day he said he’s been thankful and always gives back because he was helped once and was saved.

Later, without any our prompting, Nasir wrote his story on the exhibit’s blackboard.

To Cap It All

IMG_6418

A recent visit to our capital city served to cap off the 10-year milestone of the Giving Back Project, which produced the book Giving Back and The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit.

The 2017 National Conference of the Association of African American Museums, hosted by the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, took place last week in Washington, DC. And the conference opening coincided with the start of Black Philanthropy Month.  I’m still recovering from the road trip, digesting the experience, and following up with the wonderful historians, artists, writers, curators, researchers and educators I met from across the U.S. and Caribbean.

IMG_6369

Stimulating every sense and emotion, the AAAM conference is an experience I will always remember, feel grateful for, and share more about later. In the meantime, below are some photos and a public expression of gratitude to Diatra Fullwood, Vonda Kaye and Sino Chum—their presence, power and persistence in DC embodied The Soul of Philanthropy.

Photos by Sino Chum.

 

SaveSave

How We See Ourselves

“I really didn’t see myself as being a philanthropist but now I really do, I feel like I am philanthropist, it is really sweet. I think it is future-looking to bring this exhibit and share it with the community.” — ROMAINE HARRIS, visitor to The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited

A story and another story, plus photos from MRG Foundation’s Portland exhibition, which closed on March 31. The next city scheduled to host the comprehensive exhibit is Atlanta!

https://www.mrgfoundation.org/conversation-giving-back-romaine-harris-stephan-herrera/

‘Windows of My Soul’

soul of philanthropy quotes_final D29

One of the messages composing the chandelier of The Soul of Philanthropy.

Take heed and make this a great week! 

— VF

Coming To See Philanthropy Differently in Portland

img_5257

“Drawing with light” is both a literal and metaphorical description of photography. The Soul of Philanthropy draws inspiration from that definition as well as from the root meaning of philanthropy: love of what it means to be human. Each a potent concept on its own, combined, these ideas have fueled the design and programming for our exhibition. This exhibit illuminates the human impulse to show compassion, to improve, to progress, to connect and to love. We have composed an experience where the images glow, the stories enlighten and passions are set afire. In reframing portraits of philanthropy, we want viewers to embrace and act on the fact that we each have the capacity to give more and wiser.

From the Artist Statement for the exhibit “Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited”

Photography from the exhibition opening on January 20, 2017, at Concordia University in Portland, Oregon. And brought to the community by MRG Foundation.

16402572_10154456815083235_7234039625289957897_o16463296_10154456829363235_8352050984994421067_o16422802_10154456828773235_3655224961216180040_o16422666_10154456815393235_2360001926138757419_oimg_525916300380_10154456816318235_5843425651291804932_otsop_portland

On Opening in Oregon

— dimeji onafuwa (@casajulie) January 7, 2017

Friday night, The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit opens in Portland, Oregon!

Joy swells and overwhelms me when I think about evolution of an idea I had 10 years ago: to reframe portraits of philanthropy with love.

MRG Foundation is bringing the exhibition to Portland and mounting it at Concordia University. My friend Dimeji Onafuwa, the book designer for Giving Back and graphic designer for The Soul of Philanthropy, now lives in Portland and is this exhibition’s designer. Photos below show Dimeji and his team installing pieces in the library’s gallery space at Concordia. 

I’m grateful to all of MRG Foundation’s community supporters, which include: Concordia University, The Collins Foundation, Grantmakers of Oregon and SW Washington, KBOO Community Radio, Meyer Memorial Trust, Moda Health, Multnomah County Cultural Coaltion, The Oregonian Media Group, Spirit Mountain Community Fund, Street Roots and Willamette Valley Development Officers.

For MRG Foundation, presenting The Soul of Philanthropy is an opportunity to share its story publicly and welcome new supporters, donors and friends into its work. MRG believes that “giving is an act of social justice” and recognizes that throughout history communities whose needs are not being met by traditional sources eventually come together and build their own systems.

An aim of bringing the exhibition to Portland is making connections with individuals and groups who are rethinking philanthropy and building the structures and support they need outside of conventional means.

— VF

My Heart’s In It

Socially Conscious Messages  Eco-Friendly Organic Fabrics • Artfully Designed Products

web-banner-galloree-01Last week saw the launch of HEARTWORK—inspired by the touring museum exhibit The Soul of Philanthropy, and I’m overjoyed!

HEARTWORK features original designs and apparel for all ages to give rise to a new generation of philanthropists and a movement of conscious giving for social change.

SHOP HEARTWORK! Select an item for yourself or to give as a gift!what-gives-onesie-screenshot

Socially Conscious Messages  Eco-Friendly Organic Fabrics • Artfully Designed Productstruth-hoodie-screenshot

Socially Conscious Messages  Eco-Friendly Organic Fabrics • Artfully Designed Productsgive-love-screenshot

Socially Conscious Messages  Eco-Friendly Organic Fabrics • Artfully Designed Productstruth-tee-screenshot

Socially Conscious Messages  Eco-Friendly Organic Fabrics • Artfully Designed Productsgo-do-tee-screenshot

Socially Conscious Messages  Eco-Friendly Organic Fabrics • Artfully Designed Productsgiving-black-screenshot

Socially Conscious Messages  Eco-Friendly Organic Fabrics • Artfully Designed Productsbaby-bib-screenshot

SHOP HEARTWORK!

Day 16

IMG_3292

Gave away my soul

Giving back to get it back

Given what I know

Poem, Day 16

After returning from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB), which held a reception and program in conjunction with The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit, today I’m re-posting a featured haiku from my book and exhibit. I wrote this one about five or six years ago on a day I was playing around with various idioms and conjugated forms of the verb to give. The haiku emerged pretty quickly and effortlessly and it perfectly sums up my thoughts, then and now.

The UAPB exhibit in Hathaway-Howard Fine Arts Center was beautiful and filled with students wandering through. Below are some photos from my Arkansas visit. — VF

Soul-Full Synchronicity

TSOP exhibit pic at NCSU

Portland, Oregon is a city I’ve yet to visit (with the exception of a airport stop en route to Thailand years ago, but that doesn’t really count and I digress). Until recently it was completely off my radar. But over the last few months it’s been like a magnetic field, pulling me and dynamic, creative minds in proximity.

Last year, while working on a project with artist and designer Dimeji Onafuwa (a longtime collaborator with me AND graphic designer of my book and exhibit), he said his family was relocating to Portland. Surprised, I pressed him to tell me about Portland and its appeal. Dimeji spoke fondly of the civic culture, scenery and opportunities. He offered to host me if I ever found myself in the Northwest. 

digital display_VFThen weeks later, while working on a project with artist and designer Marcus Kiser (also a longtime collaborator), he was excited to share that his exhibit, Intergalactic Soul, might have a showing in Portland. Marcus’s art exhibit brings together science fiction and social awareness—imagination x consciousness. He asked about my experiences with a touring exhibit, and I shared some vendors and wisdom gained from The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited.

Within days of that conversation, an inquiry about “The Soul of Philanthropy” arrived from Portland’s MRG Foundation—a philanthropic institution working for social change in Oregon communities for 40 years. A few days after that, a second Oregon foundation called about hosting my exhibit in Portland. [cue theme music from The Twilight Zone] “Whoa…what’s up with this reoccurring Portland thing,” I mused.

To cut to the chase: It’s now March and last month Marcus, along with artist Jason Woodberry and performer Quentin Talley (who’s another super-longtime collaborator and whose poetry is featured in The Soul of Philanthropy) traveled to Portland for an “Intergalactic Soul” exhibition at Portland Community College, in conjunction with a panel discussion and performance. “The Soul of Philanthropy,” pop-up edition, will be hosted by MRG Foundation and community partners in August—Black Philanthropy Month. Together, MRG Foundation and The Oregon Community Foundation will then host the comprehensive version of “The Soul of Philanthropy” with community-wide programming for three months, starting in January 2017. Whoa, indeed.

We’re picturing social change.

— VF