Top row (from left to right): Evita Mensah PC: Evita Mensah, Jesse Huddleston PC: Derrick Beasley (top right smaller pic): The Loving Communion of the Sardiniers, PC: same (top right larger pic): Young artists with City of Durham's Office of Youth PC: Morgan Crutchfield Bottom row (from left to right): (bottom left larger photo): Winnie Okwakol PC: APW MEDIA, (bottom left smaller photo): The Searealists PC: same Art Ain't Innocent PC: same, The Kids Liberative Collaborative, PC: Jesa Rae Richards

Since 2018, the Durham-based arts collective Art Ain’t Innocent has spurred conversations around arts equity in the area—beginning with its name.

According to the collective’s website, the name emerged out of a conversation about artists and institutions taking responsibility for harm and acknowledging that art isn’t neutral. “Art Ain’t Innocent,” organizer Monét Marshall said, and thus, a name—and adage—was born.

The group’s previous projects have included the 2021 short film Eat Art, a call to pay artists fairly, and 2020’s Mural Project, during the thick of Black Lives Matter protests, in which the collective commissioned 48 Black artists to paint 44 murals downtown. 

This Saturday from 10 am to 12 pm, the group is running its inaugural Durham Art Parade, which will wind through Lakewood and Lyon Park. Ahead of the event, the INDY chatted with organizer Meg Stein, a co-founding member of the collective, about the parade and the work Art Ain’t Innocent does in the Triangle. 

Tell me about the mission of Art Ain’t Innocent—who are the main organizers? 

Art Ain’t Innocent is a multi-racial, cross-cultural, cross-class Southern arts visioning collective based in Durham, NC. Since 2018, we have been igniting conversations, actions, and creating community in alignment with our mission, vision, and values that prioritize actual arts equity. One of the main goals of our mission is to create more equity in the arts in Durham and to embody that vision in everything we do. We believe that art is powerful, that artists should be resourced and able to thrive and that all of this can happen in an equitable context that helps move all of us to the world we want to see and live in.

Art Ain’t Innocent is currently a collective of 7 artists, cultural organizers, and humans living and working in Durham. The group of us are the main organizers of the parade and came up with the idea. With the parade, we wanted to create a space for artists and the art community to be out together in physical space and to experience joy and celebration together. The last few years have been challenging for everyone and a lot of artists have felt isolated or directionless and have experienced difficulty from the decrease in art opportunities and gatherings during the pandemic. 

It always is a good time for a parade, but right now feels like an especially good time. So we’re the main organizers, but we absolutely couldn’t do this without the help of our 10 collaborators, who are all people active in the arts community who we are in relationship with and who share our vision and values. I also want to highlight one of our collaborators that is also the parade’s Grand Marshall, Jesse Huddleston.

What are you hoping artists and organizers gain from the parade? 

We hope that this parade brings people joy. Whether people come to the parade, hear about it, or see pictures or videos, we hope that their experience is one of joy and celebration. We hope the parade reminds people that artists are vital to our community and that artists are workers who need resources, support, and opportunities in order to thrive. We hope that artists feel seen and appreciated. We hope that people who create art or are creative feel emboldened to call themselves artists too and to keep making and creating. We hope that this parade is a reminder of how much all of us need art in our lives. 

We also want to highlight that we are intentionally not presenting this parade in downtown Durham. We have noticed that a lot of the time, art presentations and resources can be concentrated to downtown Durham and to the people who can afford to live and work there. We envision a world where there are both more resources for the arts and where more resources are spread throughout Durham. 

So for us, it felt important to present this parade outside of downtown. We picked a route in the Lakewood and Lyon Park neighborhoods in order to bring art to historically Black neighborhoods in Durham and to provide models for ways that art can exist in spaces throughout the city. 

I noticed on your website that it’s in Spanish and English, which is refreshing and really cool (I’m Latinx and it’s lovely to see this accessibility). Who came up with this?

That’s great to hear! Language equity is important to us and with the parade, we were able to more fully step into our vision for language equity with the help of one of our collaborators, Antonio Alanis who has been invaluable to this process and has truly made it happen for us. 

How can people volunteer/reach out to for more information about getting involved with the parade and attending?

We hope people will come out on Saturday! The parade starts at 10 am at the Scrap Exchange. I’ve attached a map that shows people the route and where to park. People are welcome to see the parade from any spot along the route. The parade will go until approximately 11:30 or noon and then will end at the Scrap Exchange where the floats will be on display in the parking lot for our after party. The after-party goes from 12-2p and is being DJ’ed by Gemynii and the Dou Nou Cuisine food truck will be there as well. Everyone is welcome to come see the parade and/or come to the after-party! 

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