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The Business Of An Artist Is Hope

Marc Bamuthi Joseph has been involved in the creative realm ever since he can remember. The son of Haitian immigrants, Joseph was commuting from his home in Queens, NY to Broadway at the age of 10 to understudy Savion Glover in The Tap Dance Kid. But Joseph also grew up with Hip Hop, and the rhythms he heard helped shape his artistic path. A spoken word poet, playwright, and librettist as well as a dancer, Marc Bamuthi Joseph is keenly aware of the power of art to change lives.

"If you're a lawyer, your job is to prosecute or defend. If you're an artist, you're in the hope business."

This year, Marc Bamuthi Joseph will add to his busy life, becoming an artist-in-residence at the University of Washington's Meany Hall for the Performing Arts.


Co-hosts Vivian and Marcie talked to him about how his family helped pave the way for the unique artistic path he pursues.



Photo of a Black man with a greying beard, in a lavendar collared shirt, colorful tie and stylish green suite
Marc Bamuthi Joseph


ABOUT THIS EPISODE'S GUEST


BAMUTHI (Marc Bamuthi Joseph) is a 2017 TED Global Fellow, an inaugural recipient of the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative, and an honoree of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. Bamuthi’s opera libretto, We Shall Not Be Moved, was named one of 2017’s “Best Classical Music Performances” by The New York Times. His evening-length work created in collaboration with composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, “The Just and The Blind,” was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and premiered to a sold-out house at Carnegie in March 2019. His upcoming opera “Watch Night” is inspired by the forgiveness exhibited by the congregation of Emanuel AME church in Charleston, and will premiere at The Perelman Center in New York in 2023.

While engaging in a deeply fulfilling and successful artistic career, Bamuthi also proudly serves as Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. He is in high demand for his creative approach to organizational design, brand development, and community mediation, and has been enlisted as a strategic partner or consultant for companies ranging from Coca-Cola to Carnegie Hall. His TED talk on linking sport to freedom design among immigrant youth has been viewed more than 5 million times, and is a testament to his capacity to distill complex systems into accessible and poetic presentations. Bamuthi's community development philosophy, called "The Creative Ecosystem", has been implemented in dozens of cities across the United States and is the subject of several critical writings, including one of the seminal essays in "Cultural Transformations: Youth and Pedagogies of Possibility", published by Harvard Education Press.


Bamuthi is the founding Program Director of the exemplary non-profit Youth Speaks, and is a co-founder of Life is Living, a national series of one-day festivals which activate under-resourced parks and affirm peaceful urban life. His essays have been published in Harvard Education Press; he has lectured at more than 200 colleges, and has carried adjunct professorships at Stanford and Lehigh, among others. A proud alumnus of Morehouse College, Bamuthi received an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the California College of Arts in the Spring of 2022.


Visit Bamuthi's website


 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT


VIVIAN PHILLIPS

Hey, I'm Vivian Phillips.


MARCIE SILLMAN (00:01):

And I'm Marcie Sillman. And this is Double Is DoubleXposure <laugh>


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:14):

DoubleXposure is a podcast where we plumb the deepest depths and the tiniest cracks of our world to understand how culture and creativity shape our lives.


MARCIE SILLMAN (00:26):

This episode launches DoubleXposure's third season we'll be talking with artist and activist Marc Bamuthi Joseph.


Vivian, I wanna welcome you to the first episode of season three of doubleXposure.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (00:50):

Can you believe it? We made it Three Seasons, <laugh>. That means that this started somewhere around the pandemic. Are we still using that word, <laugh>?


MARCIE SILLMAN (01:00):

I, I'm not sure we're done with the pandemic from what I read, but yes, we started talking about this, I believe it was Autumn of 2020, if I'm not mistaken. And we did it and we just kept going. And I have to say before we talk about our first guest, who I'm ecstatic to present on this podcast, that all of our guests this season are amazing,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (01:25):

I think we scored. My goodness. You know, and it is again, um, when we think about the fact that we were talking about this three years ago, we decided to just do it. And then to have so many wonderful people in our universe say yes. I mean, I think that's the piece that I am incredibly grateful for. Not the fact that we're just, you know, running our, our mouths. I was gonna say jobs, but running our mouths on the airwaves. But the fact that, you know, we've had such wonderful conversations with incredible change makers who happen to be creators and creatives.


MARCIE SILLMAN (02:03):

We're starting with somebody that, you know, Marc Bamuthi Joseph. I knew Marc Bamuthi Joseph's work, but had never had a conversation. And there were so many inspirational things that he shared with us in this conversation. But mostly he talked about artists as being in the business of hope.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (02:26):

Yes. Yes


MARCIE SILLMAN (02:27):

And so I think maybe we could dedicate our whole podcast season to


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (02:32):

Hope,


MARCIE SILLMAN (02:33):

To hope.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (02:33):

Oh, I love it. I think the other thing that I actually really loved about talking to Bamuthi is so much of his life is marked with a hip-hop timeline. And this is the 50th anniversary of the advent of hip-hop as a cultural phenom. And it's just so delightful to listen to all of the references to hip-hop that we were just like kind of clueless about. But it's okay. <laugh>


MARCIE SILLMAN (03:03):

<laugh>, We're, we're just so slightly older than, than he is. But I, I have to say for people who aren't familiar, you will become very familiar and then you'll be seeking things out. Right. And left and re-listening to this interview, Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a choreo poet to use his term. He, uh, was a dancer, still is a dancer, and he is a performance poet, an award-winning performance poet. He's now a librettist. He works with the Kennedy Center as a vice president for a big title, social change,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (03:40):

<laugh> social change.


MARCIE SILLMAN (03:40):

Yeah, something like that. That's what it's about. Yeah. And as he said, he's a scholar, so he's all of these things. His work, which you'll hear a little bit of in the podcast is amazing. But as I was listening back to this interview as I was editing it, 'cause that's one of my jobs with the podcast, I was thinking that every word, even when he is not performing a poem, he's speaking in that beautiful language.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (04:05):

Yes. And I will just add to that, that I've had the absolute pleasure of not only knowing his work, witnessing his performances, but sitting in rooms with Marc, where the conversation about where art is going happens. And I've always found myself hanging on his absolute every word. So it's really a, a wonderful opportunity to have this chance to introduce to those folks who may not know this individual, who happens to have had 5 million TEDx talk views, <laugh>, join that crowd, if you will. But we are so, so honored to have had the opportunity to speak with Marc Bamuthi Joseph.


I wanna say thank you, Marc, for joining us today. It's always a pleasure for me to get to interact with you in any way. And it's particularly inspiring that you will be the speaker for the ArtsFund luncheon, which is coming up on September 14th. It's the first time that this luncheon has taken place in person in a while. And I just can't think of a better inspiring speaker for that particular event. I just think that it's worthy of, um, mentioning that you're no stranger to Seattle. This is not a place that's, uh, brand new to you. You've got some history here.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (05:30):

Little bit. Yeah. Probably going back, man, almost 20 years for sure.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (05:36):

I think 2003ish.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (05:38):

2003ish, Word Becomes Flesh at On The Boards. Yeah, I think it was December. 'cause I remember Jay-Z's Black Album came out right around that time and I was, I was bumping that album, walking in the neighborhood. But we've done Word Becomes Flesh in Seattle. We did The Brakes in Seattle. I, I, I think we had two different runs because we did it at Bumbershoot. We did a, a piece called Red, Black and Green, uh, blues also in the area. Yeah. And just living in the Bay Area for so long, we share a lot. I, I think, um, and coming from the East Coast, being a native New Yorker, as I got adapted to the Fresh Coast, it was really important that I spent some time your way.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (06:27):

So you're not a stranger. You're obviously an in incredible creative. And I think way back in, I don't even know when it was that Smithsonian Magazine named you one of America's most innovative young artists. So how did you become involved in the arts? I know you're a dancer. Take us all the way back to maybe age 10ish, something like that.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (06:55):

Yeah, so again, I grew up in New York and there were definitely commercial opportunities that were, let's use the word available. 'cause they were available. They weren't necessarily accessible, but they were definitely available. I also grew up, I was born in 1975, so I grew up in the same place in the same time as hip hop was. As a child of immigrants, there was definitely Haitian music in my house, Haitian culture, Haitian food, um, in my house, when I stepped outta my house, there was hip hop. And then when I got on the train, there was Broadway, that train ride from Queens, New York to Times Square when I was 10 or 11, constituted me, uh, working on Broadway as an understudy for Savion Glover in a show called The Tap Dance Kid. So that was my first kind of real touchpoint in terms of, um, the commercial arts. But those first two layers are probably more important in terms of my creative development, the touchpoint of Caribbean culture and of, um, and of hip hop. And then, you know, the train, which was the conduit, um, between Worlds was where I read a lot. And the, and the first thing that probably broke me open truly as an artist was Ntozake Shange For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enough, which I remember reading on the F train going from Queens to Manhattan. And that's the thing that really broke me open, I think.


MARCIE SILLMAN (08:31):

Was there always this consciousness that you wanted to be an artist?


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (08:35):

Oh, not at all.


MARCIE SILLMAN (08:37):

So what were you thinking as, as this youth going back and forth?


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (08:41):

Listen, if I'm real, I wanted to be alive. I'm in my body. I'm, I'm in this body as a person of Haitian descent, you know, I often say my, my grandparents, my parents, they didn't immigrate here for me to not be dope <laugh>. So the thing that I wanted to do first was just pay the ancestral debt, be alive, be a credit, um, to aspire. But I didn't think that art was necessarily the, the medium. I remember seeing Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing in the movie theaters in 1989. And I remember the feeling that I had when I left the theater. And I, I remember the feeling of it was provocation and paralysis at the same time. It was a film that stopped me in my tracks. And that was probably the first inkling that I had in my bones of what art could do. And so less than wanting to be an artist in terms of like fabricating material or performative content, what I wanted to do was make the planet safer for people who looked like me and more vibrant and dynamic, because that's what people like me were doing. Art was the mechanism and a bridge to an aspirational future. And less of like, oh, I want to dance like Ailey, or I wanna sing like Aretha, or I wanna, it, it was more like, what is the horizon asking for? And art was a way to get there.


MARCIE SILLMAN (10:23):

Yalked about wanting to aspire and I think about immigrants to this country. You mentioned that your, your parents didn't come here so that you would be nothing you wanted to make that mark. Did they see art as a way for you to make that mark? Or were they pushing you to like be a doctor or a CPA?


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (10:43):

Yeah. Not quite. I mean, my mom in particular, I give them both credit, but my mom in particular just kind of supported the both of us. I have a younger sister and really was a good improv partner. She said yes to just about everything, she said yes and to just about everything. So if there was a curiosity, she supported that curiosity as, as far as I could take it. But it, it, it wasn't like be a doctor or, or else, you know, you're, you're a failure. Isabelle Wilkerson talks about migration not as a kind of mechanism of geography, but really as an indicator of how far folks are willing to go to be free. You know, it's, it's about the distance traveled in search, it's about the distance traveled in yearning. Now, what did happen was, in addition to doing this theater work, I was also doing commercials and did a television series and all these things.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (11:47):

And I, and I think for my family being able to like, sit down at the, at the VHS and like record commercials on Saturday mornings, I, I, you know, I I would be on commercials and then they would send the tapes of those commercials back to Haiti. I think that, that, that was a kind of signifier of Americanness. And so it's not that they were pushing me to be an artist, but I think in the yearning to be American, there was something about a presence on television, you know, that that was a, a kind of signifier of a certain level of arrival.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (12:27):

That's so interesting. You know, you speak about paying a bit of ancestral debt. And what I witness in your work is not only do you do that because you ref, you reference your, your family in almost everything that I've seen. And you also pay it forward. Word Becomes Flesh is really that, that letter to your then unborn son.


EXCERPT FROM WORD BECOMES FLESH (12:48):

Welcome to the spoken world. The living were a dream, defer, reversed, returned back to the original path for whites, for browns, for black, for greens. Feel me? Welcome to the spoken world, unspoken heard, unfocused blurb, a bird of youth, a sooth, a truth, a muse of mind. You are divine.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (13:18):

You know, in the search for Americanness, how is it that you got from Queens to Morehouse College? And, and when you got to Morehouse, did you study theater, dance, literature? What did you study and how did, how did all of that prepare you for the career that you have now crafted for yourself?


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (13:38):

I grew up in a really culturally rich time. I, I just missed the internet in college. Thank God <laugh> <laugh>. You, you, you know what I mean? Like, I like, I like, I think I had an email address, but, um, you know, actually it was awesome because my college experience was one of having to make culture material experiences that were kind of ephemeral, but also deep and saturated in the Red Clay of Atlanta, Georgia. I went to a hoity-toity, uh, private school on the upper east side of Manhattan. I got a scholarship to go to, um, to go to Morehouse. Uh, my mom insisted, she said, you know, we can afford free. And you know, obviously the, you know, the, the legacy, um, you know, from, uh, from King on down. But my freshman year I met this guy named Saul Williams, who is, um, in my mind one of our greatest living poets.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (14:41):

You know, at the time he was a 20, 21 year old senior, um, in college. And he was selling his chapbook <laugh>. I, I, I met a whole bunch of other poets, um, also on campus. But 1993, you know, that's the, that's the year that Outkast's first album came out. Outkast is probably, not only are they important as innovators in hip hop culture, but they're important as rep, as southern representatives of hip hop culture. Because coming from New York, it's like anything outside of the five boroughs, it's like, what's that? You know, like maybe, you know, we give Jersey a little bit of dap but really, you know, but going to Morehouse two was important because it and Atlanta in general, you know, formed a kind of capital of African America. The Atlanta University Center, Clark Atlanta University, Morris Brown, Morehouse, Spelman, these places of higher learning attracted young black strivers from all over the country. And so what I really got outta Morehouse, I ended up graduating with a, uh, with a degree in English. What I really got was a sense of African American possibility and dynamic and, you know, this kind of ethos that I continue to follow, which is that I just don't trust art that doesn't bleed or sweat or cry. And that kind of passion is really the foundation for, um, where I've gone since.


MARCIE SILLMAN (16:21):

It’s so interesting when you talked about poets because you founded something, an organization Youth Speaks that has big strong presence here in Seattle, and you won a poetry slam. And I'm kind of interested in the face with two masks, the written ness of poetry and the performative nature of poetry and how you made that turn.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (16:45):

Yeah. Well, um, I grew up as an academic, so I, you know, I mentioned Ntozaki Shange, who's a, who's a crossroads figure in, in a lot of ways. Um, because not only was she profound on the page, but she is a, an ev she was an avowed choreo poet, which means that not only was her work supposed to live orally from mouth to ear, but it also was to live in the body. And that actually is probably, she is my most direct creative ancestor. But, you know, so I I, I read Nikki Giovanni on the page. I read Shakespeare on the page. I read William Carlos Williams, I read Sylvia Plath. I, I, I read all these, I read Homer. Like I, I read all these poets on the page, but again, I was listening to hip hop, you know, so Black Thought and KRS One and Chuck D of Public Enemy and MC Light and Lauryn Hill and Queen Latifah and Das Effects and Redman.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (17:49):

And there were all these MCs. And so when I think about my poetic, it very much is, does it move me in the ear? Does it make me miss my subway stop?


EXCERPT FROM WORD BECOMES FLESH

Me and the boy wear the same shoe size. He wants a pair of air Jordan fours for Christmas. I buy them and then I steal 'em from his closet, like a twisted Grinch themed episode of Blackish. The kicks are totems to my youth. I wear them like mercury on my black man feet. I can't get those young freedom days back fast enough. Last time I was really fast, I was 16 out running a doorman on the Upper East Side. He caught me vandalizing his building, not even on some artsy stuff, just stupid. Of all the genders, boys are the stupidest <laugh>. Uh, 16 was a series of barely getting away and never telling my parents, I assume that my son is stewarding this tradition well.


Sixteen was the Low End Theory and Marvin Gaye on repeat. Sixteen is younger than Trayvon, and older than Emmett Till. At the DMV, my boy’s in line to officially enter his prime suspect years. Young, brown and behind the wheel, a moving semaphore signaling the threat of communities from below. On top of the food chain, humans have no natural predator, but America plays out something genetically embedded and instinctual in its appetite for the black body. America guns down black bodies and then walks around them bored, like laconic lions next to half eaten gazelles.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH

As much as the kind of sensitivity and precision of meter is a, a kind of metric for me of how poetry should live on the page, the soulfulness of the spoken word practiced at, um, you know, at an excellent level is when I'm kind of organically and at this point, intuitively drawn to more than anything else. You know, I I think the, the notes on a score can be beautiful if you're a conductor, you read music, et cetera. But, you know, let me hear Oscar Peterson play. That's something different.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (20:15):

I think that, you know, just listening to you talk about choreo poetic presentation, but you've expanded quite a bit from your poetry, your choreography and your written work. And now you are a librettist. You have included opera and collaborations with composers and for several major pieces. So tell us a little bit more about those collaborations and how they've allowed you to express yourself as both an artist and an activist.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (20:48):

I really appreciate that question. Yeah, I mean, I think of operas as long ass multi-character poems set to music. You know what I mean? Like, we know who the composers are, we know Mozart or we know Verity, but we don't really know who the Librettists are in, in a lot of ways when you go to an opera particularly, 'cause so many of them in the United States are performed in German or Italian, you, you're really just kind of asking for like a bare bone story. But you're, you know, most of us are there for the music. But I am here for the narrative. And so, um, in 2017, I premiered an opera in Philadelphia, choreographed and directed by Bill T. Jones and composed by Daniel Bernard Romaine called We Shall Not Be Moved. You know, the, the story of in, of developing that opera very much came out of, um, prolonged interface with the public school system in Philadelphia and how our public school systems are generally speaking, if not pipelines directly to, you know, um, involvement in the prison industrial complex, then definitely pipelines to lower standards of socioeconomic status.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (22:12):

So, um, while I was considering the public school system in Philadelphia, I was also considering, uh, John Africa and the organization Move and the bombing of the Move House in Philadelphia in 1985. So I created a speculative fiction about these five young people who, um, get in trouble in North Philadelphia and decide that they want to learn from the ghosts that live in the ashes of the, um, of the Move House. That interface with contemporary classical forms is, is part now of an extended conversation that I'm having. I, I made a piece for the Atlanta Ballet. I, um, recently made, um, a four-part suite, um, The Forgiveness Suite for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I made a piece with, uh, Carlos Simon called Breadth, which, um, is actually being released. Uh, the live recording is being released by Decca Records this coming Friday. Uh, September 1st. Yeah, I got a record deal. Yeah, <laugh>. But yeah, that, that's a piece for, um, commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra and, um, performed with myself, conducted by Jonathan Rush and a 150 person chorus as, as well as the entire orchestra. And then this, uh, fall Bill and I are collaborating again on a new piece at the Perlman Center composed by Tamar-kali called Watch Night.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (23:46):

Uh, just a quick question. I, I know that you're artist and resident at Meany in, at the University of Washington. So will Watch Night come to Seattle?


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (23:56):

I hope Watch Night comes to Seattle. 'cause Watch Night I think is gonna be dope. What's definitely coming to Seattle. What's actually premiering in Seattle is a piece called Carnival of the Animals, which is a piece that, um, I'm making that premieres in April of 2024. Um, the Carnival of the Animals traditionally, you know, the donkey or the cuckoo or the swan sons. And traditionally it's just kind of performed as this litany of movements. And for your listeners who are less familiar with the name, you've definitely heard the music. If you've like gotten on a, a United Airlines flight or if you've seen Harry Potter, you know this. But what we decided to do was, um, consider the animals in the political jungle and what the piece considers is, what if the Capitol building on January 6th was a zoo? Who were the animals in that carnival?


MARCIE SILLMAN (24:54):

Our conversation with Marc Bamuthi Joseph continues after this short break.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (24:59):

Our music is courtesy of Big World Breaks, many thanks.


MARCIE SILLMAN (25:03):

And this year we welcome our sponsor, LANGSTON, cultivating Black Brilliance from their home at Seattle's Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the Historic Central District.


You mentioned 2017, that big, first libretto was based on perceptions of schools. I know you're a teacher, although listening to all the work that you're creating as a generative artist, I'm not sure how the teaching fits in. So how does the teaching fit in ,or doesn't it anymore?


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (25:42):

Maybe less formally? I, I'm more of a pedagogue, I would say, than an educator, if that makes sense. My, uh, graduate degree is in education, is in secondary education. I, you know, I taught in schools and, and for those folks that are less familiar with the Youth Speaks family and really the, the, the radius of the Youth Speaks family, the outer edges of, of that radius, uh, is Brave New Voices. Brave New Voices is a national youth poetry festival that happens in different cities around the country. It, it draws upwards of 500 young people from around the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, and, and Africa, together for a four or five day poetry festival. The work that I was doing there was really where I honed educational practices, uh, a kind of liberatory pedagogy that I extrapolate and think about in terms of how I administer, which is probably how I got to the ArtsFund luncheon, because I, I think about administrative practice as a creative practice, and I think about creative practices as scaffolded events where inquiry is centered and the job of the artist is to cultivate a culture of invitation through inquiry.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (27:04):

And all that tracks back to my work in the classroom. You know, the classroom work is a little less about like, here's some content, go memorize it. And it's a little more like, here's a question, let's think about it and let's think about the application of those responses in a way that makes the world better.

VIVIAN PHILLIPS (27:24):

So when you talk about scaffolding and the craft of both teaching and the creative practice, what are your thoughts about how in fact social justice is embedded in both of those things? If in fact, it is.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (27:43):

I currently work, uh, at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC um, my title there is Vice President of Social Impact and Artistic Director of Cultural Strategy. Coming from where I come from, and definitely living on the West Coast, living in Oakland for the last 20 some odd years, there was definitely a political adjustment that I had to make in terms of not just DC but the specific adjacency to the federal government that comes with working at a National culture center, which also is a living memorial to the 35th president of, of the United States. So that meant I had to think about social justice differently. I had to think about social justice in terms of the American project and in terms of American promise and the scaffolding therein is right there in the Constitution. You know what, what I like to say is that the Constitution itself is a critical theory.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (28:43):

It authors a form of government that the world had never seen before. So while we look at it as a series of laws or a series of decrees, it's actually a series of ideas about freedom. It's a series of theories about freedom that are codified in, you know, in the charter that they are. So that in and itself is a scaffold. And the reason why we have these amendments is 'cause it's like, oh, we didn't really get it right. So more women please, or, you know, sovereignty of the body, please or <laugh>. You know what I mean? So then the work at the Kennedy Center is less about the Constitution as a fossilized document and more about the design of an American future, and what is the role of art in terms of an equitable future? How do we center creativity in making something for all of us? If, if the constitution is a 200 year old freedom design, how do you live that design in the current moment and how do you innovate it so that, um, it has maximum benefit?


MARCIE SILLMAN (30:00):

It's so interesting to hear you talk about that because it's something that Vivian and I both value, but art and cultural expression is not exactly America's national priority, especially when it comes to funding it, making it accessible to a wider group. How do you reconcile this mission that you're on with the Kennedy Center and the sort of cold, hard facts of this country?


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (30:26):

Yeah, I mean, there is no poem that's gonna undo white supremacy. There is no right, like, there is no like, compositional piece that will eradicate heterosexism or dismantle the patriarchy. So I try not to think of my practice in terms of these entrenched social and, and really foundational social pathologies. I think about the work generationally, and this is where it gets a little, um, I don't know, this is where we recall this idea of ancestral debt. Everything that we're doing now is not for us. Everything that we do, just like everything that was done for us, I don't know who I am working for, but I know that if I don't do the work, they're going to be in a worse situation. So it, it, I think that that's just kind of the thing about art in general is when we compare it to these macro pathologies, there's no way that we can win. So that’s not the measure.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (31:33):

Just like if, if you took the banking system and tried to assign metrics of magic or inspiration to it, it couldn't win. And, and the problem is, is that capitalism is such a, you know, like the capitalist ethic is such a superseding idea that we're always like, okay, but it's not making money, so therefore it's not valuable. It's like, well, that's just not true. The, the real question is why isn't our healthcare system more like a poem? Why isn't our legal system more like a dance? And I say this all the time, like on all of the boards of all of these arts nonprofits, there are powerful technocrats, there are powerful lawyers, there are no artists. If you took all the Fortune 500 companies and you did an audit of their boards, I I bet you less than 1% of the people on those boards are artists. You know, it's, it's not apples to apples here. And, and the, the question of value and like pairing value is probably a dangerous game for us. Um, I, I think it's important that we stay in the lane where we're gonna win. That lane is inspiration.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (32:49):

You are speaking to a “Amen Corner” when you talk about the incorporation of a artist on board. You know, we are both advocates of the embrace of creativity in every level of society, particularly in policy. Um, because, you know, the creativity takes you to yes, first and then works you through, uh, to where you can't go. So, you know, get to the meat of it. And I know that people will wanna listen to this interview over and over and over again because it is so filled with incredible nuggets of enlightenment. But you'll be here on September 14th, and you are here to give the keynote address at the ArtsFund annual luncheon. I'm gonna ask a silly question. Is it gonna be a traditional speech?


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (33:40):

Will it be a traditional speech? Probably. I, I think I, I think I know what I'm gonna wear. I probably will, um, have to have a touch of silver somewhere in the, in the gear because our, our queen will be in town right around then. Will it be a traditional speech in the sense that there will be a person saying words, <laugh>? Yes.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (34:05):

<laugh>,


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (34:05):

Yes. It'll be traditional. Um, I like to talk about futurity and I like to talk about the idea of a transformational future and locating ourselves with a particular task. And that is to weaponize hope. It sounds a little hokey, but that's actually the gig. I named all these other vocations and all these other kind of aspects of our society and their job, if you're in the financial industry, your job is to make profits and sometimes like make up weird and arcane instruments to make other people more money than they can handle. Like, that's your job. If you are a lawyer, your job is to prosecute or defend. If you are an artist, you are in the hope business. You are in the inspiration business. Now, back to Marcie's question, how do you codify the value of hope? And that is where I think leaning into the future as an industry is really important. And, and where we make the relationship between present solvency and future inspiration material for ourselves, and where, where we normalize this kind of, um, this idea of inspiration as a particular kind of currency that pays for the future that we seek.


MARCIE SILLMAN (35:37):

I wanna pull back. We started talking about you and your family and your riding, reading the poems on the train from Queens to Broadway, and you're just, uh, it's like a, a cup of tea. You're steeped in this, but how has living this life in the business of inspiration and awe-producing art, how has it shaped you and the man that you are not too far away from the half century, Marc, if you don't mind me saying so.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (36:07):

I don't mind you saying so. Okay. How has it shaped me? It's like asking someone who is in the ocean what the water feels like. I guess I can talk about temperature, but I can't really talk about consistency. So all I know is, it's not that I'm like joyful all the time. It's not like I live in a, you know, space of like awe all the time. Like, I watch like corny stuff on Netflix. I, you know what I'm saying? Like, I, like, I, I do all the things. I, I, I don't know, I, I floss, I put on socks. Like I, you know, it's not like I'm not living just a, a mundane human experience, but I anticipate that there is something better than this. My kids did this, um, Black History Month assembly during February, uh, a couple years back. They were in elementary school at the time, and they did a, um, this performance of Bob Marley of Redemption Song.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (37:18):

And I was like, how's Bob Marley black history? You know, because it's just like, so he, he and his music is so present for me, but, you know, when I sat and thought about it, I, I was like, okay. So I was five when Bob Marley passed away. And at the time, it had been 15 years since that happened, right? There was more time between Dr. King's assassination and my birth than between Bob Marley's death and my kid's birth, which is to say that history is not only, or just in black and white, and the same way that that history moves us forward, the future has to move forward too. Someone has designed downtown Seattle in a particular way. Someone has designed the University of Washington's campus in a particular way. People look at environment and people think about infrastructure and they make retail spaces, education spaces, um, domiciles in a very specific way in anticipation generally of profit.


MARC BAMUTHI JOSEPH (38:38):

I guess what I think about is moral infrastructure and how that has to be designed and developed also in a specific and intentional way. And because I'm inside of that, Marcie, I don't, I'm not really like how has it shaped me? I, it's just what I do and I'm very, very fortunate in that it doesn't feel outside of me. I I'm not consumed by it again, like I do consume a lot of dumb stuff, but I am oriented, I, I would say in, in a way that's about leaving this place just a little bit better.


MARCIE SILLMAN (39:17):

Wow. That's all I can say is wow. For someone to just have the, the depth of passion and the creative chops to act on it and to then inspire 'cause he's in the business of inspiration. Marc Bamuthi Joseph works for me and he just reminded me again why I value art and artists so highly.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (39:41):

I think again, he um, articulated it much better than we could have ever done, the significance of incorporating creativity and artist into the ways in which our world operates. You know, when he talks about the fact that you look at Fortune 500 companies and you will find less than 1% of representation from the creative sector says a lot to me about the direction in which we should be going. But we are not going, and you and I are consummate advocates for the incorporation of creativity into every area of our, our existence.


MARCIE SILLMAN (40:25):

Here's something that just stuck with me so much so that I had to write it down. Listeners, you can't see this, but I have a page with like scribbles everywhere. Yeah. But this really stuck with me,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (40:36):

Matching my page of scribbles on scribble <laugh>.


MARCIE SILLMAN (40:38):

He says, the real question is why isn't our healthcare system more like a poem? Yes. Why isn't our legal system more like a dance?


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (40:47):

Like a dance,


MARCIE SILLMAN (40:48):

Exactly. Well, so this isn't just your one shop. 'cause if you're listening to this before September 14th, not only can you get the joy of listening to this, but you can actually see Marc Bamuthi Joseph in Seattle speaking, he's giving the keynote address at the first in-person ArtsFund annual luncheon since the pandemic, I believe.


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (41:10):

Yeah, I think that's true. And I am just thrilled and can't wait for September 14th, you know, so that I can be in a room full of other people, other like minds who are advocates not only for creativity, but for ongoing support of our arts sector. And I don't think anyone better than Marc Bamuthi Joseph could have been chosen as the inspiration for that idea. And if you're listening after September 14th, fear not. I think one of the things that UW Meany has done over the last couple of years has been incredible with Bill T. Jones as the, uh, guest Artistic Director, I think it is. But coming April, 2024, Marc Bamuthi Joseph as Artist in Residence there, will be premiering the Carnival of Animals, and I just can't wait to see that. We know it's going to be unique and different and exciting. So we'll look forward to seeing our audience, our listening audience, join us in person there as well.


MARCIE SILLMAN (42:20):

I'm just so grateful that he agreed to speak with us. I believe he was in Washington DC doing his other job at the Kennedy Center because he set the bar really high for the season three of doubleXposure. But I am so confident that the guests that follow over the next few weeks will meet that bar and just leave everyone who listens, ready to go re-energized and recommitted with a, a passion to the work. DoubleXposure’s Executive Producers are me, Marcie Sillman,


VIVIAN PHILLIPS (43:04):

And me, Vivian Phillips. Associate Producer, Hillary Northcraft.


MARCIE SILLMAN (43:08):

If you like what you're hearing on this episode of doubleXposure, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app and check out our website, doubleXposurepod.com.


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