Black Table Arts (BTA) is a new cooperative for Black artists in the heart of south Minneapolis.
The shared, creative work-space, performance space, community gathering area, and book store is, in the words of founder and executive director Keno Evol, “unapologetically Black.”
Evol is a lifelong south Minneapolis resident. He has spent years advocating for arts literacy as a poet, writing instructor, and spoken word artist. He said, “I’ve been working toward opening BTA as a physical space since 2015. It’s a continuation of the work I’ve done for years around political engagement, the creative arts, and Black joy.”
In this time of racial reckoning across America, Evol said, “There aren’t nearly enough Black artist spaces. Black people need safe places where we can gather to laugh out loud – while working steadfastly to create the world we want to live in.”
The name Black Table Arts was chosen because it speaks to a value and a history of Black culture: of coming together around a table to share what is there.
Evol explained, “We chose the cooperative economic model for BTA because we know we are stronger together. Historically, co-ops have been a way for people to respond to an economic need through mutual aid – not just to survive, but to thrive. ”
He continued, “We are excited to welcome Black artists into our membership family. For community members who want to support our work who aren’t Black, consider sponsoring a Black artist for membership who couldn’t otherwise afford it. We anticipate many events post-COVID-19 that will be open to the public, and our book store will be a community resource for all to enjoy.”
Benefits of membership
Individual members have access to the 1,800-square-foot co-working space, podcast recording studio, community gathering area, performance space, and outdoor patio. Amenities include free wifi and IT support, use of MacBook desktop computer and iPads, noise canceling headphones while working, free color printing and copying, book store discount, office supplies, and more.
The model is Pay-What-You-Can, with a suggested minimum donation of $10 a month (both for members and for sponsoring members).
Membership for local businesses starts at a flat rate of $150 a month, with scholarships available. Staff will help coordinate use of BTA book store, private offices, and conference room for product display, events, and social networking opportunities as needed.
Location with purpose
It’s no accident that BTA is located just seven blocks from the Third Precinct Police Station. Evol explained, “In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, we got a lot of relational and financial support. As artists, we bring imagination and empathy to all of the community organizing work that we do. We believe it is vitally important to have artists, and especially poets, in close proximity to where things go very wrong in the world.”
He continued, “Art and artists keep the enthusiasm of protest alive. Art makes people want to stick around. It motivates people to ask more questions, and links the heart to the mind. It gets you to think about power relationships, and to ask yourself, ‘How can I be part of making sure people are treated fairly?’”
The BTA team looked at three different properties for their brick and mortar location, and ended up choosing the building at 3737 Minnehaha Ave. It was the last property they saw, and was in the roughest shape. Evol said, “There were no floors and no ceilings, but the landlord was very interested in having us. We could see it happening here.”
A more equitable world
A core belief at BTA is that art makes organizing possible. Without creativity, organizing doesn’t have the breath to sustain itself, according to Evol. BTA is bringing Black artists and community members together to organize for better Black futures. Evol said, “It’s the artists who keep their eyes on the ball. We can’t get distracted by the circus of politicians. With abundant thinking, cooperation, and solidarity, we are organizing toward a more equitable world. If we believe that ‘We got us,’ then we’re good.”
Beginning March 1, member hours will be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. Email blacktablearts@gmail with questions, and visit www.blacktablearts.com. The book store will be open to the public with the same hours. Inventory will include Black writers, Black history, and cultural/artistic production across different media.
BTA is hosting an extended grand opening celebration Thursday, Feb. 25 through Sunday, Feb. 28. COVID-safe protocols will be in place.
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