BLACK EUTOPIA :: Interview with Rae Chardonnay Taylor

Community discussion on Black Labor @ Carters Barbershop :: Westside, Chicago : IL - Photo Credit: Nicole Harrison

Community discussion on Black Labor @ Carters Barbershop :: Westside, Chicago : IL - Photo Credit: Nicole Harrison

Black Eutopia engages the community by reimagining the use of communal space. A barbershop will become the setting for performance and discussion around Black labor featuring music performance, visual art, and hair styling. The nature of a barbershop as both business and art practice allows for a complex dialogue that conceptualizes a unique marriage of the two.
— Westside Art Chicago
"Rae Chardonnay" Taylor  Photo credit: Nicole Harrison

"Rae Chardonnay" Taylor
 Photo credit: Nicole Harrison

ABOUT:
I am Rae Chardonnay Taylor.  I'm a DJ and event coordinator.  I love music and I love food.

Where does your interest in organizing special events come from?
It comes from liking to bring people together…  I’m a behind the scenes type of person.  So, I really get a kick out of being the machine behind it all.  I like organizing and planning.

Is Black Eutopia more of a series or an event?
Yeah, I would consider it more of a series.  It’s definitely not a one time occurrence.  So yeah I would consider it a series.

What is Black Eutopia?  Where did the idea for Black Eutopia come from?
Black Eutopia right now is somewhat of a pop-up series that aims to address critical topics without a very critical format.  It is a community engagement series essentially.  The goal of it is to enter a space and engage the people that are already in that space.  To get them to talk about some of the issues that is faced by that community in which they reside in or which they work in. 
Black Eutopia also features art, live art, live performance and visual art as well. 

The idea for it, came from me wanting to create my own festival.  Just in the process of thinking about that, Black Eutopia stemmed out of a scale back.  I wanted to have my own festival and I had these big dreams, thoughts and ideas about it.  I wanted to do it, so I had to start scaling back on what it looked liked.  So, it started out relativity small but I still think I got my point across.

How did you come to decide on the kind of programs you wanted for this series?
I think, how I came to that conclusion was wanting to involve and kind of insert myself more on the Westside of Chicago.  Because this is home, I see things happen here that I would like to “unsee” sometimes or change or want other people to see as well but maybe in a different light.  I think that’s a large part of how the programming came about.  So, thinking about how I could insert myself into the community and bring up somethings that aren’t frequently discussed amongst those various people, I guess; in these various spaces I’m popping up in, so to speak.

How important was Carter’s Barbershop and the North Lawndale community to the design of this event?
For me it was extremely important because a place like Carter’s is a staple in the neighborhood.  I needed to be in a space that people were already comfortable in.  North Lawndale was important because this is where I come from and I’m attempting to spend more time in North Lawndale. 

So Carter’s was also very important because as most people know barbershops are already very communal space and barbershops already, kind of, foster an environment of open dialogue.  So I needed that type of space so that everybody in there was comfortable with whatever the dialogue was.  


What was your method for engaging the community and getting them involved in this event?
For this first one, I did start very intimately in terms of engaging the community.  I wanted to focus a lot on who was already in Carter’s or coming into Carter’s.  So that was, kind of, playing it safe for me.  For many different reasons, I guess.  By playing it safe, I mean in terms of planning and organizing this being my first one.  Not over doing It or under-doing it. 

So making an attempt to involve community members, I reached out to the owners of the barbershop to help with a lot of that.  I hit the pavement a few times to talk to a few people about it.   I reached out to a few organizations that do work in the North Lawndale area.  I also spent time in the barbershop.  On random days, I would go up there and be in the space for a little while.  I would talk to the people that were coming in and out; talk to the other barbers.  So that’s the gest of it.

Why the topic of Black Labor?
Topic of black labor because I’m a person that works a lot and everybody I know works a lot.  And because I was interested to, kind of, examine what that looks like in neighborhoods that are predominantly resided by blacks but they are not working in those neighborhoods.  That was one of my main reasons for this being the first topic.  Also, I was thinking about the industrial revolution and how much involvement black people had in that, that may sometimes get overlooked or not talked about. 

What does it mean to have a Black Eutopian space?
For me, it means having a space that we feel is the most ideal to experience and is for us.  A comfortable space that allows us to experience the things we like, things that we don’t like, things that we don’t know about.  It’s all about the ideal space for black folks.

How did the opportunity to be featured in Chicago Artist Month come about?
It was a simple as a submission really.  I submitted it and they doug it, I guess, a whole lot.  They really liked it and then made it a featured program.  I didn’t have to do an interview.  I just submitted the program just to be listed in their book or calendar.  I had no idea I would be a featured program.

What was that feeling like when you realized you were a feature?
It was interesting to say the least.  It put a little bit more pressure on me, for sure.  But, I appreciated it and I think it was necessary.  It kind of gave me that leverage or that push to not just do it one time and to be able to build off the momentum of being a featured program.

What was your strategy for pulling this event off?
I worked with a young lady name Leah Gibson and her organization called Westside Art Chicago.  She was a huge help in getting the project funded and helping me put it together and everything.   So, in terms of strategy, my strategy was using the resources I had access to already.  Doing that without making it one of those type of events where you see all the same faces; using all my resources but not overdoing it. 

What is that network and how did you develop a certain level of support?
Once I came back to Chicago I had a certain mindset that I came to do what I came here to do.  It actually didn’t start out as community programming stuff.  It started out strictly music and art.  But I think that I’ve been able to develop this network that I have through connecting with people in a genuine way and just being off that genuine connection.  Nothing is ever forced.  If it feels forced, then I don’t go.  I don’t follow through on it.  So, that part of how I have the network and the support for projects like this.

I was able to work with artist here on various projects.  I think you get back what you give.  I think I’ve been able to give a lot and I think those people I was able to give to had no problem in giving back to help out with the project and support that project.

As an event planner, what would you like to implement in the communities you serve?
If I could, I would like to implement more programs for teenagers because they seem to be the ones no one knows what to do with them.  So, if I could do that, that would be great.

And what kind of programs would you generally implement?
Definitely music, art and maybe some sort of educational component, like Science, because I like Science.  Yeah, something that would involve those three things.  That would also take some research and some time because nobody knows what teenagers want to do.  I can be planning events for days and they not show up because that’s not something that they want to do.   

What should we be considering or thinking about with the idea of reimagining communal spaces? 
We should be thinking about how to bring what we want to us.  How to use the spaces that are already in our neighborhoods for the things that we see fit…  It’s not easy to go downtown or something and trying to get a space to use for whatever.  So, I think that we should really be considering what those spaces are, how we access them, and how we use them.  Consider also, if and how, the reuse of those spaces help in some sort of economic facet.  Like, is it something that can give people jobs?...  Some kind of service in it.

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