If you were one of the many commuters passing through the Utica Avenue A/C train station this weekend, then most likely you had the good fortune of witnessing something quite unusual and rare– a 1940s pink Cadillac outfitted with speakers and broadcasting live jazz.
What you experienced was “OJ Radio,” part of an exhibit entitled, “Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn,” produced by Creative Time and showing Fridays through Sundays, from 12:00pm – 6:00pm through October 12.
The exhibit– which launched on September 20 and is curated by Nato Thompson and Rashida Bumbray– represents “jazz,” one of four, key artistic reflections on the social infrastructures that stimulated 150 years of local Black self-determination in Brooklyn, specifically in the neighborhoods of Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy.
The idea behind the Cadillac featured in the installation borrows from the cover of an album “To The East Blackwards,” by the hip hop group X Clan— a reference to The East Cultural and Educational Center, founded in 1969 in southwest Bed-Stuy, explained Taja Cheek, the site manager for the exhibit.
The East was deeply rooted in the black nationalist movements of the 1960s, and was founded primarily by educators who had lived through the New York Board of Education crises, particularly the struggles for community control of schools and curriculum.
Jitu Weusi, one of the founding members of The East, went on to start The Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium in Bed-Stuy, long known as a center of jazz, particularly during its “Golden Age” of the 1940s and 1950s, attracting top-tier jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and many others.
The OJ Radio installation, curated by Odabenga Jones & Associates, is an ode to Weusi, The East and the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium: “It’s a real Cadillac that they found and had repainted and had specially fabricated and re-purposed for this installation to realize Wesui’s vision,” said Cheek.
Every hour, local DJs rotated, playing their personal selection of records in honor of Weusi, while passersby jumped into the Cadillac, snapped pictures or relaxed in the courtyard soaking in the sounds.
From 1:00pm – 2:00pm each day of the exhibit, the radio broadcasts a live community dialogue, moderated by DeeArah Wright from Gather Brooklyn, between two local organizations on how to best facilitate asset-based capacity building and shared objectives.
Saturday’s discussion dealt with community art spaces and ways in which arts-based organizations can work as activists with artists, in helping to maintain the creative cultural integrity of the neighborhoods in the midst of demographic shifts.
To read about the “medicine” portion of the exhibit, realized through The Free People’s Medical Clinic, click here.
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