LOS ANGELES — At the end of last year, the Crenshaw Dairy Mart (CDM), a nonprofit cultural space rooted at the intersection of art and activism, announced its upcoming Fellowship for Abolition and the Advancement of the Creative Economy (CDM-FAACE). The first three artists selected as fellows are Autumn Breon, juice wood, and Oto-Abasi Attah; they will each receive a $100,000 stipend and healthcare.
The theme of the inaugural fellowship is “Inglewood and Prototyping the Abolitionist Imagination,” stressing the importance of CDM’s location in Inglewood, a historically Black city from the 1960s through the ’90s (though Latinos are now the majority), bordered by South Central LA to the East, the 405 freeway to the West, and the 105 freeway to the South. All three fellows have roots in Inglewood, and they spoke about the impact that restrictive housing covenants (known as redlining) and freeway construction have had on communities of color in South LA.
“All of these borders exist because of freeways and streets that we did not make, but our identities did come from that,” Breon told Hyperallergic.
“For the first cohort, it was important to say that we were in a historically Black neighborhood that is dealing with displacement,” explained CDM co-founder alexandre ali reza dorriz, citing “stadium-driven gentrification” linked to the recently built So-Fi Stadium.
Dorriz co-founded the Dairy Mart in 2019 with fellow artists noé olivas and Patrisse Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. The trio met as MFA students at the University of Southern California and have since created a Social and Environmental Arts Practice MFA at Prescott College in 2019, the curriculum for which has helped shape the Fellowship’s.
Each fellow not only has previous connections to Inglewood, but to the Dairy Mart itself. Breon curated the first exhibition there, Attah painted a mural of the late rapper Nipsey Hussle on its exterior, and wood asked the Mart to house a community fridge they helped organize in 2020. These links between the CDM and the surrounding community are key to another aspect of the fellowship called CDM Projects, for which the fellows are tasked with proposing programming, events, workshops, or other strategies to engage with their neighbors.
Even before they opened in 2019, the CDM was prioritizing outreach. “They just said, ‘Hey come break bread with us. We want you to see the Dairy Mart and tell you about what we’re working on.’” says Breon. “As a result, there were all of these points of connection between creatives in the community. It feels like the fellowship is just adding infrastructure to what was already happening organically.”
The second important part of the inaugural fellowship’s theme is “abolition” and all three fellows were invited to apply based on their demonstrated commitment to art and abolition. “We sought out individuals who were already practicing at that intersection,” Blakeney says.
“As a team, we often talk about abolitionism as having two arms: one is abolishing traumatic systems for communities of color such as policing and carceral systems,” explained dorriz. “The other end of abolition is being tasked with recreating systems, repairing, transforming. We exist at that latter end where imagination is met with healing.”
For the fellows, these are not abstract concepts, but things they deal with on a daily basis that become challenges as well as fuel for their art practices.
“As Black people, our ability to use our imaginations is often diminished, our ability to sit and reflect is often diminished, and our ability to take up space is something that is not really fathomable, because of the stereotypes that are put on us,” says Attah, who describes himself as a “visual storyteller” whose practice encompasses painting, drawing, film, and animation.
The fellows are not given studio space onsite but rather continue to work in their own studios, coming together at the Mart for group critiques, weekly workshops, and talks with guest speakers that cover everything from the history of performance art and film to archiving, museology, and taxes for artists. They will present a culminating exhibition in the fall of 2023. The program also features an internship program, connecting the fellows with younger artists from the community. The first iteration of the year-long fellowship is funded by a grant from an anonymous foundation, according to CDM Executive Director Ashley Blakeney.