An Interview with Sheila Gaskins by Lauren Van Slyke

On February 1st, United Artists Inc. will be hosting Art-Part’heid: Bridging the Gap of Disparities in the Baltimore Arts Scene at Space 2640. A Facebook event was created on January 12th and as I type this, there are over three hundred people signed up to attend on the event page.

This meeting is exactly what we need. Not just a coffee shop discussion held among friends or a chat over the proverbial water cooler, but an event that gets people out of their personal groups and into the larger community. I will be there to participate and review the discussion but I wanted to get more information about it first.

One of the members of  United Diverse Artists, Sheila Gaskins, agreed to help fill in some background basics on the event. Her name may ring a bell from the Mark Steiner Show on Art Siloing. Sheila called in to the discussion to give examples of her experience as a Black artist in Baltimore and the read her poem “Art Part-tied.”

BmoreArt: Who is United Diverse Artists, Inc? What is your mission?

Sheila Gaskins: We are  United Diverse Artists or UDA, an artist group that noticed the segregation, white supremacy, and lack of people of color receiving access to funding sources for the Arts. We are aware of the current climate of inequity for space, limited locations, funding, resources and just plain access. Because we are aware of these inequalities we want to talk about them, with other artists and stakeholders in our arts community

B: What was the catalyst for organizing this event?

SG: We noticed unequal representation on boards or decision making policies when it comes to  funding for art projects. We noticed how the Baltimore arts scene is divided in to the haves/ have nots. For example, when it comes to performance reviews in the media there is very little coverage of black plays or people of color in print. We want to level the playing field so everyone has equal access to the arts in Baltimore. Our children are depending on us. This effects us all.

B: Who are the panelists involved? Why were they chosen?

SG: The panelists are individuals in the community that love Baltimore and see the desperate need for change.

B: From the organizers standpoint, what would you like to see happen in the days and weeks after the discussion? What are  UDA’s goals for the project?

SG: The goal is for everyone to be able to talk about these complex topics and come up with some possible solutions or next steps. We understand that we will not solve the problems of racism, segregation, power, inclusion vs. exclusion, and shared wealth in three hours, but we will meet one another and be in one space together and that’s a start.

B: What would you like participants to bring with them on Sunday?

SG: Please on Sunday bring an open heart and a listening ear. Be ready to role up your sleeves to come up with realistic “doable” goals. Just show up. Your presence alone says yes there is a need for change. We can do this, we are artists, we change the world!

This interview was conducted by Lauren Van Slyke, Marketing Director at BmoreArt.

The Sunday, February 1 event was organized by Sheila Gaskins, Mia Jones, Olivia Robinson, Sophia Mak, Melissa Moore, Valeska Populoh, Hannah Brancato, and Michelle Gomez. For more information about the event click here.

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