The Chronicle of Alma Speed Fox


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, group portrait from left: C. Dolores Tucker, Alma Speed Fox presenting “Daisy Lampkin Award” bowl to Wilhelmina Byrd Brown and Mary Gloster at Women’s Auxiliary of NAACP dinner dance at the Roosevelt Hotel, February 1967. Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund.

When I agreed to write this essay, I knew it had to center around a conversation with Teenie Harris Photographs: Civil Rights Perspectives guest curator Alma Speed Fox. At 91 years old, she’s fought for civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights for over 75 years.

Alma was a friend of my grandmother, Georgetta Holmes Stevens, aka “Big George.” And she’s my uncle Tim Stevens’s “Civil Rights Mother.”

I remember her attending one of my Big George oral history readings. I told a story about my grandmother inspecting my elbows to make sure I was using lotion regularly. Alma shared how back in the day, after making lemonade, black women sat their elbows in the lemon peels to lighten them. It was the only time you were allowed to put your elbows on the table.

But I’d never talked one-on-one with Alma. When she agreed to talk with me, she asked a rhetorical question: “Why, after all this work, haven’t black people come further?” Before I could answer, Alma asked if I’d heard of Derrick Bell.

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The Martin Luther King Jr. Effect in Pittsburgh and Beyond


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with Loran Mann, Charles Harris, Matthew Moore, and Tom McGarrity at press conference, University of Pittsburgh, November 1966. Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund.

Yesterday the nation celebrated the birth of a King—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The greatness of this man’s plight—equality for all people—and the parade of non-violent demonstrations and negotiations, culminating with his detestable assassination, cemented his martyrdom in the annals of history. He was intelligent, courageous, selfless, and seemingly tireless, but also by some reports, lonely at times. Although he was at the top of a very large heap of nationwide civil rights workers, a summit can be a lonely pinnacle, but this King was never alone because men of his stature rarely make the climb to greatness by themselves. There were armies of workers, in every town and municipality across the nation, struggling for equal employment, fair wages, voting rights, adequate housing, and medical care. Most were rarely visible, but their dedication was dynamic nonetheless. Dr. King came to speak for those who had no voice, or those whose cries were not being heard. King stood up for those who were too weary to fight, from being continually knocked down.

When most people think of civil rights their immediate thought is most often of Dr. King at the historic 1963 March on Washington, and the delivery of his “I have a dream” speech. The eloquence of his heartfelt oration stirred an already brewing nation, not only in the conversation of human rights, but for black America, the day-to-day realities of how the struggle affected their lives. What is muddled in this stoic recollection on the national mall are the lieutenants of the cause standing with King—Ralph Abernathy, Jesse Jackson, John Lewis, A. Philip Randolph, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, James Farmer, and many more. These men lead local and national groups such as the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), The Urban League, SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), and many more. Without their support, national awareness of King—the eloquent and brave southern minister—might not have occurred.

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How Sebastian Errazuriz Provokes Viewers to Rethink the Everyday


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Sebastian Errazuriz and his wall of sketches inside his Brooklyn studio.

Fifteen years ago, Sebastian Errazuriz was walking through his native Santiago, Chile, scoping sites for a public art project, when he came upon a rundown taxidermy museum that was going out of business. The owner had been clearing the space and piling the unwanted animals, mostly birds and reptiles, along the sidewalk for the dumpster. Among them was a large, white goose. The 21-year-old design student knelt down for a closer look. The bird smelled. Its neck was broken, its head flopped to one side, and its chest puffed, rigid and unmoving. Errazuriz thought it was “disgusting, awkward, and morbid.” Yet somehow, he says, it seemed funny? Weirdly elegant, even. Darkly cute?

Errazuriz had been struggling to find confidence in his ideas, and here he found a concept he loved. He plucked the goose from the pile and told the museum owner he’d be back with an idea and a blueprint.

This past September, Carnegie Museum of Art debuted Sebastian Errazuriz: Look Again, the first solo museum exhibition of the artist’s work. Since moving to New York City in 2006, art fairs including Art Basel and Design Miami have given his ideas an international platform. His work has been auctioned at Sotheby’s. He was named Chilean Designer of the Year. Now, through installation art, sculpture, conceptual furniture, and fashion, Look Again explores Errazuriz’s most pervasive theme to date: the unavoidable brevity of life. Among the earliest works in the show is Duck Lamp, made in 2004.

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Concrete Ideas and Paper Architecture: Artists Looking for Buildings in the Big City


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Wilkinsburg, PA. Photograph by Joey Behrens.

This is a love story about two women looking for the right match. For months, Pittsburgh artists Joey Behrens and Haylee Ebersole have been on the hunt for a commercial building they could transform into an artist residency and home. It is an ambitious plan fraught with bureaucratic and financial hurdles. Considering the guts and gumption of these two protagonists, this story is worth hearing from the beginning.

Artistic dreams that trump the nightmare of bureaucratic and financial obstacles are infectious and inspiring. There are many interesting and quirky success stories in Pittsburgh to emulate, starting with Jennifer Beals’s industrial-sized single gal apartment and rehearsal space in Flashdance (1983). Haylee Ebersole’s former studio was located in the Mine Factory, an art collective and exhibition space housed in a 4,000 square foot former mine safety equipment factory in the Homewood/North Point Breeze area. The Mine Factory opened last year after a successful Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, a cultural phenomenon that in the last half decade has offered ebullient hope for making pie-in-the-sky projects a reality. Brick and mortar banks now seem imposing, old fashioned, and sluggish by comparison.

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December Snapshots: Looking Ahead to 2015


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Film still from ‘Subatomic: The European Organization for Nuclear Research,’ the final installment of The Invisible Photograph documentary series.

The Invisible Photograph: World Premiere of Subatomic set for February 26, 2015

Join us for the fifth and final documentary world premiere for The Invisible Photograph, set at the European Organization for Nuclear Research on the border between France and Switzerland! The same series that has featured photographs buried underground, retrieved from old Amiga floppy discs, rescued from data created in outer space, and resuscitated from the trash heap, now journeys to its final destination to explore how photographic technologies are being used to visualize the subatomic world. Join us on February 26th for the world premiere screening of Subatomic and enjoy custom cocktails, lively discussions, and a chance to meet CERN scientists! Click here to read more and register.

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