Center for Afrofuturist Studies seeking Kickstarter funding for next season

An audience member views Krista Franklin’s exhibition, “…to take root among the stars,” at Public Space One, September 2016. — photo via the Center for Afrofuturist Studies

The Center for Afrofuturist Studies is a little more than halfway to its goal (as of publishing) of raising $4,000 through Kickstarter to support the next round of artist residencies with an all-or-nothing campaign that ends June 22.

The center, which is in its second season, is hoping to raise funds to support three artists coming to Iowa City this August through November, who will develop exhibitions, artist talks, screenings, informal gatherings and workshops for low-income and marginalized youth.

The three contemporary black artists, selected from a pool of about 50 applicants for the 2017 season, are Justin Allen, a writer and performer from Northern Virginia; Rin Johnson, a Brooklyn, New York-based artist working in virtual reality and sculpture; and Jade Ariana Fair, an Oakland, California-based painter, installation artist and performance artist.

“Whenever I talk to people about the program there’s always so much excitement about the fact that it’s happing in Iowa City,” center director Anaïs Duplan said. “Iowa City is not thought of as a place where things like this are happening, so it is literally new terrain. And thinking about Afrofuturism in connection with the midwest is a conversation which hasn’t happened yet.”

Tiona McClodden’s youth workshop, held at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, May 2016. — photo via the Center for Afrofuturist Studies

The center’s annual budget of about $12,000 provides stipends for the artists to cover things like housing and travel expenses (allowing them to focus on their work), covers studio and exhibition space and supports the youth workshops.

Last year, Duplan said the center attracted a diverse audience, both in culture and background as well as age.

“Something that I heard a lot was that people felt welcomed into this space,” she said. “There were these new topics they were thinking about and seeing, but it was a very inclusive and open space where anyone with any amount of experience could engage with them.”

Last year, the center hosted seven artists, who stayed for shorter time periods from May through the end of the year. This year, the artists will stay for longer, consecutive stretches to give them more time to interact with the community — the first artist is staying for two weeks and the next two staying for a month and a half each. This year, the residencies will also focus on a theme — ecologies.

“We’re hoping to tie in thinking about Afrofuturism and thinking about ecology, which is something that I haven’t seen before,” Duplan said. “It ties in to the environment or thinking of ecology as systems, as related to the body or language or culture. So much of the culture of Iowa City revolves around agriculture and the land and making a living from land-based energy. And the environment, the diminishing of the prairie is on people’s mind lately.”

Alexandria Eregbu’s youth workshop at Coralville Public Library, October 2016. — photo via the Center for Afrofuturist Studies

The youth workshops, in which the visiting artists work to share one of their skills with local kids, are organized in partnership with Iowa City’s Broadway Neigborhood Center and The Dream Center. Last year, around 150 kids attended the workshops.

“There isn’t anything else like this happening for the youth that we program for,” Duplan said of the workshops which are designed to include low-income children and children of color. “They don’t have programming being designed with them specifically in mind. So these workshops are sort of special occasions.”

Although Afrofuturism is often associated with sci-fi or fantasy, Duplan said that the center focuses on what she called “mundane Afrofuturism,” inspired by the “Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto” by Martine Syms.

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“We like to think about it literally as: How can we consider the future of black and brown people — the near future, having to do with next month,” she said. “It’s especially important in Iowa City in that there are a lot of artists who are people of color in the community, but they aren’t as visible. There’s a whole demographic of people that get left behind and aren’t represented by the existing programing. The center sheds light on artists of difference that are working here. Something the entire country could use is an invigorated focus on artists of difference.”