The Guardian recently spoke with Joy Katz, a Pittsburgh artist and poet who, along with theater director and activist Cynthia Croot, debuted their One Large interactive art project at the Open Engagement conference in April.
When artist and poet Joy Katz learned that Ace Hotel was opening in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh, a historically black neighborhood, she wondered whether developers of the trendy chain were employing black designers and craftspeople on their team. “I was familiar with their design aesthetic, which I find to be very white,” Katz said, “and I brought this up.” To the Ace’s credit, they contacted Katz and asked if she knew of black cabinetmakers, woodworkers and other tradespeople and designers. Katz, who used to be a designer, was confident she could “just ask around and locate black contractors”, so she volunteered to help.
But it wasn’t that easy.
The fact that her search was not simple – “in fact, it was pretty much impossible,” she recalled – was the impetus behind “One Large”, an immersive, interactive art project Katz conceptualized along with Cynthia Croot, a theater director and activist.
Katz and Croot recognized the lack of black designers and craftspeople as a sign of the greater economic inequality in Pittsburgh and throughout the country.
“There’s a system of economic inequality affecting the whole country, and we could see it happening around us in our city,” Katz said. Katz and Croot noted that in their own Pittsburgh neighborhoods, young people of color have few examples of successful business owners who look like them. “Black consumers spend a trillion dollars a year,” the artistic duo said, “yet almost all money spent by black Americans leaves black communities within hours, flowing mainly to white business owners who do not live in or reinvest in those communities.” The phenomenon even has a name: leakage. Perhaps they couldn’t block that outgoing flow of cash, but Katz and Croot wanted, at least, to understand more about its movements and to draw other people into a conversation about money, race, and community.
With a grant from The Sprout Fund, One Large gave 100 participating artists $10 to spend at a black-owned business and tasked them with documenting their experience.
“Many were surprised by how difficult it was just to find a black-owned business. This in itself becomes an object lesson. I think One Large succeeds if this discomfort gets interrogated. It is not enough just to state ‘I felt vulnerable.’ You then have to think about why that was, and what history you brought to that experience that shaped that feeling. Nothing will improve if we don’t have uncomfortable conversations. Discomfort is a way, often the only way, forward,” [Katz] says, reflecting on the past month.
Artists in Chicago, Cleveland, and San Francisco have already expressed interest in launching One Large in their cities. On May 31st, Katz and Croot will upload the artists’ documentation of how they spent their $10 on the project’s website, www.onelarge.org. Meanwhile, you can read the full article at the Guardian to find out more about the project’s origins, as well as reactions from artist-participants, community members, and Katz and Croot themselves.