The Black Lunch Table (BLT) is an oral-history archiving project, which was first staged in 2005 and is an ongoing collaboration with New York-based artist, Heather Hart and Chicago-based artist, Jina Valentine. The BLT’s primary aim is the production of discursive sites, wherein cultural producers engage in dialogue on a variety of critical issues. BLT mobilizes a democratic rewriting of contemporary cultural history by animating discourse around and among the people living it.

Organized around literal and metaphorical lunch tables, Black Lunch Table takes the lunchroom phenomenon as its starting point. Our roundtable sessions provide both physical space and allotted time for interdisciplinary and intergenerational discussions, bringing together a diversity of community members and fostering candid conversations. The Wikipedia edit-a-thons we stage mobilize a collective authoring of a specific set of articles pertaining to the lives and works of black artists.

Each roundtable’s dialogue will be documented on our online archive. The archive structure will enable web visitors to search this dynamic database using a variety of metadata tags. The BLT archive is significant in that it will provide a unique collection of primary source material relevant to the work of academics, cultural producers, researchers, and emerging artists, internationally–presenting contemporary cultural history as it is recounted.

COVID-19 and The Movement for Black Lives

By the time you read our summer newsletter, you likely will have encountered statements from numerous institutions and individuals telling you that they stand in solidarity with Black people and the fight to end racial injustice. The murders of Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and countless other members of Black communities have redirected popular discourse to focus on the ongoing work of Black artists, creators, activists, protestors, and families fighting to end white supremacy and the injustice faced by Black and marginalized people in America and beyond. Protests across the country have been met with statements of solidarity and support from corporations, arts organizations, academic institutions, and individuals echoing the words Black Lives Matter.

In these statements, what strategies are museum administrations advocating for? What opportunities and resources have they committed to share in order to educate their communities on the history of white supremacy, the ways their institutions have been complicit, and their plans to rectify their own systematic racism, violence, and implicit bias? In response to the death of George Floyd, the University of Minnesota cut ties with Minneapolis police, effectively refusing to fund an organization at the epicenter of the protests against systemic racism and inequality. Ben and Jerry’s corporate statement to dismantle white supremacy provided more history, context, and action than most of our political, educational, or cultural institutions. We ask: how are our colleagues in art institutions also doing this work?

Black Lunch Table is committed to being a resource for amplifying voices and experiences of Black visual artists, collecting and archiving their histories as they are lived and experienced, and using our model of catalyzing these conversations in integrated settings as well. But as we continue to face injustice, white supremacy, and systemic violence with impunity, we must note that Black people should not be relied upon to fight for our lives and educate others on how to stand with us. Resources for supporting individual Black artists, Black-owned arts organizations, and donating to community organizing efforts have been shared across social media platforms to direct and guide all of those looking for some way to help. These resources are incredibly important right now and everyone should have access to reliable channels to both demonstrate and access support. And still, you should not be relying on your Black friends, family, colleagues, and mentors to do this research and education for you. We ask you to question: what does solidarity look like?

From every vantage, be it protest, riot, sit-in, defunding, hiring, or petition, the ongoing movement led by Black people across America and around the world remind us that empty promises, ambivalence, and blanket statements will no longer suffice. As you contribute to the ongoing work of Black people, we ask you to truly consider what it means to stand with us. To stand up against white supremacy. To educate yourself and your community on racism and injustice. And to act. We ask you to consider what it means to act and participate in this ongoing movement of change and justice. The work began before now, and it will continue until it’s done.