After a questionable denial of county funding, the revered wordsmith and leader of The Diatribe challenges Grand Rapids to step up to support the city’s artistic community, specifically The Emory Arts and Culture Hub.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In a twist on Local Spins’ “Musician’s Soundboard” column giving musicians and songwriters a chance to express their views on issues affecting the scene, we asked Marcel “Fable” Price, poet and chief inspiration architect for The Diatribe, to outline that organization’s plan for a major new project that will support, showcase and house members of Grand Rapids’ artistic community. It’s part of The Diatribe’s mission to use “restorative art to disrupt historical systems of oppression by reimagining education, holistically honoring the community through our approach to our work and creating an unapologetic vision for liberation that is accessible to all.” Scroll down for a video of the project featuring music by Grand Rapids’ Callab.
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Now is the time to stand up and speak up for the things that are important to us.
Grand Rapids is a city that claims to be an artistic hub yet does not invest in independent creatives. It is a city that seems afraid of the authentic storytelling of Black and Brown artists, afraid of what we say and how it will disrupt what feels like the ‘Pleasantville’ they have built.
But what they have erected are walls constructed of red-lined maps, resulting in oppression and the gatekeeping of the funds that we need to survive as well as to make this city the artistic hub it claims to be.
It’s time to get involved. It’s time to use our voices by joining local boards and running for political offices so that we are sitting at the table where decisions are being made.
Here at The Diatribe, we have been working to pave the way for artists, not only by paying them their worth, but by intentionally pouring into them in almost everything we do.
Soon, not only will we be creating a space for them to display their work, but also a space where they can live. Our next project is The Emory Arts and Culture Hub, which will be in Burton Heights.
In December of 2021, we signed an option to purchase the building at 2040 S. Division Ave. and last month, we kicked off our capital campaign to buy and renovate this space, creating a hub of belonging and inclusion in one of the most racially diverse areas of Grand Rapids.
In this way, The Emory will not only be the home base for The Diatribe’s operations, but a co-working space for creatives, neighbors and community advocates. It will be a hub for residents to learn about community resources. It will connect them to people, tools, and levers of change that will improve their lives.
The Emory will also have seven apartments on the second floor rented well below market rate, along with one permanent short-term rental for tourists and creative travelers. In the basement, we are building a 100-person venue that will be accessible to organizations and residents that are looking to rent space for parties, shows and special events.
Our hope is that performances will provide opportunity for all Kent County residents to immerse themselves in one of the most diverse corridors in the community. This will also create a culture of support for the long-standing businesses that exist here, showing the city that there can be development without displacement.
‘NO HAPPY ENDING’ WITH A KENT COUNTY FUNDING REQUEST
In the fall of 2022, we sent a proposal to the Kent County Board of Commissioners with a request for funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars. The county had $127 million, and our request was for $2 million to support our $6 million project.
After organizations submitted applications, an unbiased consultant went through all proposals and flagged them with a green, yellow or red score, with green being the best. Not only did The Diatribe receive an all-green score, but we were proud to be one of only 10 organizations to receive this score. Next, Kent County Commissioners anonymously voted on each project. Of the 18 commissioners in attendance, 11 voted in favor of The Diatribe’s proposal. Finally, the Kent County Administrator suggested projects for funding.
Unfortunately, there is no happy ending to our ARPA funding story. We worked with an incredible reporter who helped us obtain FOIA documents of Kent County Commissioners saying things like:
“Just not The Diatribe (for funding).”
“I don’t think I can support The Diatribe. It’s rough.” “I’d like to see The Diatribe funding go to 4 Star (another organization) instead.” “Did you find any ‘defund the police’ stuff on The Diatribe site/social?”
The Emory is for all people. The Emory is for artists. The Emory is reimagining what truly affordable housing looks like. It will economically invigorate the businesses around it and be a home to small businesses and community alike.
Yet, The Emory was denied funding at the last minute because commissioners wanted to support friends rather than deserving entities with a proven fiscal track record of using state/federal dollars.
I wish this was not part of our story. I also wish others weren’t facing similar issues.
So many other businesses and organizations led by People of Color have the same experience. We do everything right and get pushed out because of preconceived ideas about what we stand for. We’re called radical, and thus miss out on funding that would help us advance the very people and projects that make this city so culturally rich to begin with.
You can read more about what we experienced regarding ARPA in the Michigan Advance here.
BRINGING POETRY TO SCHOOLS, MURALS TO GR’S SOUTHEAST SIDE & MORE
If you, like us, believe in this city, it is important you learn about how it works. It’s important that you get involved and learn to “shake the trees” so that more folks can reach the fruit.
We are not deterred. In fact, we are amped up. We are ready for change and we’re not going to stop until we see the Black and Brown folks and long-standing residents in our neighborhood considered when decisions are being made.
The Diatribe has amplified voices since we started our poetry programming in local schools in 2013. We have been investing in local poets and artists since that time, and now conduct programs in almost 30 schools a year and throw large community events rooted in arts in culture.
You may also know us for our work bringing resilience and beauty to Southeast Side of Grand Rapids through The 49507 Project, a collaborative effort in which we commissioned 15 Black and Brown artists to paint murals on the sides of 15 predominantly Black and Brown owned businesses.
We are not new to this work, but if we are new to you, find out what you’ve been missing and join us for the journey to come.
To learn more about The Diatribe, please visit thediatribe.org. or on Instagram at The Diatribe.
And to tour the building we plan to make our home, The Emory Arts and Culture Hub, reach out to Foster@thediatribe.org. We conduct tours every fourth Monday of the month.
You can support The Diatribe’s work by donating to the organization online here.
VIDEO: The 49507 Project 2021 Documentary (Music by Callab)
VIDEO: Marcel Price Discusses the ARPA Proposal
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