On Inauguration Day, I had the pleasure of spending the last hour or so of the Obama Administration with Artivist (art activist) Shawn Dunwoody. Shawn and I had met at the Activism Fair and decided we’d rather have a coffee at Sasso on Park Avenue rather than watch Trump’s inaugural address on tv.
Rochestarian have known Shawn, a visual storyteller, for years. Shawn’s murals of Frederick Douglass and Austin Steward are just two of his colorful and captivating works spread across Rochester and Monroe County. Most recently, Shawn and young apprentices launched the Fruit Belt Project, a beautification and public art movement focused on the JOSANA neighborhood.
That afternoon, we talked a little politics. Both of us are highly skeptical that Trump will realize his promises to help the working classes. Trump’s gilded cabinet filled with men of his own ilk reveals his true affinities.
I asked Shawn if Trump’s election would change how he brings art directly to the people. Shawn said his practice may become more purposeful. But, ultimately, Shawn’s grassroots approach is less about national politics in Washington than in face-to-face interactions right here where we live. Without hesitation, Shawn believes he can find common ground with Trump supporters even if they did vote differently in November.
We talked a little Obama, in the last hour of his Presidency, looking at an article, “My President was Black,” written by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic.
Shawn found much admirable in Obama’s presidency and thinks that in the next years Obama may feel less constrained to take stronger positions on race.
At the same time, Shawn emphasized that Obama is just one person. He can be a leader or an inspiration. But for Shawn, artivism is all about starting community conversations, like going into schools and talking with kids one-on-one. It’s about a lot more than one person.
I also learned that Shawn is a poet. Around 2000 or 2001, Shawn wrote “Psalms of the Glackx.” Influenced by the Dr. Seuss ethos, the poem is designed for both children and adults. Shawn has performed the piece at many venues, including Writers and Books and Javas.
Today Shawn offers the written version. Shawn thinks – and I agree – that “Glackx” is as relevant today, if not more so. Shawn anticipates performing “Glackx” in the near future.