Dana Chandler Asks: Is Northeastern finally eliminating AAMARP?

Above: Screenshot from July 2, 2018, showing no evidence of the program’s existence in a search of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities where the Department of African American studies is.

Updated July 13, 2018

Northeastern University appears to be eviscerating the watershed African American Master Artist-in-Residency (AAMARP) from its institutional memory. On July 1 and 2, 2018, we took screenshots of search results of the term “AAMARP” from two Northeastern University departments under which current program leaders indicated the program was administered.

The university seems to have removed the program from its website. Moreover, university officials have begun apparent eviction proceedings against the current 13 AAMARP artists. They’ve feverishly moved to eject them from the space they’ve occupied at 76 Atherton Street in Jamaica Plain for nearly two decades.

Within 48 hours of their June 28, 2018 letter giving the ‘occupants,’ as they called them, just 14 days to move, the university abruptly locked the artists out. Despite claiming this was an emergency related to “code violations” and “safety issues,” as well as accusing the artists of illegally residing on the premises, the university appears to have been planning this action for some time.

Prof. Dana Chandler, 77, is legitimately angry about Northeastern’s latest attempt to terminate the program he founded as a community space and visual artists complex in 1978 and directed until 1993. He shared his sentiments with reporter Greg Cook of Wonderland, who’s written the most comprehensive account to date about the university’s latest attack against the venerable program and its artists. For Chandler, this is hardly his first time seeing AAMARP targeted for elimination by university officials.

In a July 2, 2018 interview with Cook, Chandler told the long-time reporter, “I think that they have done with us. They’re following the pattern of things across the country if it has to do with black people. They’re ending stuff. They’re acting like a lot of people of your persuasion. They have no use for us,” Chandler said.

Screenshot from July 2, 2018, showing no evidence of the program’s existence in a search of the College of Arts, Media, and Design where AAMARP is supposed to be administered.

DigBoston, which also covered the impending eviction, apparently agrees with the artist. Olivia Deng, the article’s author saying, “The JP ouster has been perceived by some as a particular blow to the African-American artist community and artists of color, which also reflects national trends”

The article also states the artists have gotten an extension from the university until July 31, 2018, so they can remove their heavier items safely.

Originally, however, in its rush to remove the artist from the space, according to Wonderland, the university told artists of their decision in a letter to program managers. The missive states, in part, “Per our letter to AAMARP program leadership, starting July 1, access is available from 8 am to 6 pm until the space can be cleared* and significant work can begin to repair the damage and eliminate the hazardous conditions that have been putting people’s safety at risk.”

The university’s original letter, essentially a 14-day notice to quit, explains officials’ reasoning behind its demand the artists vacate. It asserts, “Due to these hazardous conditions and the need for the university to secure the premises, we are advising you that the occupants must vacate the building and take any personal items with them.”

The letter’s author, Maria Cimilluca, Northeastern’s vice president for facilities, told the artists “We understand that this news may disappoint you and others, but given the deteriorated condition of the building, and the derelict way that some of the users/occupants have abused the space, we have no alternative to the planned approach.”* (*Emphasis ours.)

However, the university has not cured any of the code violations in the nearly two decades since they began claiming code violations got found by ‘patrols and inspections.’ Instead, they are blaming artists for code violations in a structure the university owns and has departments that also occupy the building, including Cimilluca’s own facilities employees. That makes the institution obligated legally to rectify their alleged violations.

The university claims violations like “false walls” of flammable materials, unauthorized padlocks the university does not have keys for and that could entrap people in the case of a fire, rigged electrical and plumbing” according to The ARTery.

They’re contending the program members represent an “independent program” and have failed to make repairs it’s allegedly obligated to fix that the university claims to have long informed AAMARP exist.

Conversely, the university doesn’t appear to believe artists from another program who also maintain space on the floor below AAMARP artists, are in any danger for their safety. That’s despite Armini’s assertion he fears another Ghost Ship Artist Collective tragedy, referring to the 2016 fire at an Oakland warehouse that took 36 lives.

All those artists, who apparently are formally associated with the university, are white. Does the university have legitimate claims or does it have another motive for removing the black artists from the space?

“There are no substantial uncorrectable problems with that building. They don’t want this program there because it occupies what they see as useable space,” Chandler told Cook in their interview.

But, the latest salvo from the university in its over 35-year campaign to eliminate the black arts program left its 13 artists barred from entering the building after the university locked them out on July 1, 2018.

Decades-long AAMARP artist, renowned photographer, Don West told Cook, “They were locking us out. They had changed the locks and did it right in front of us. … They did change the lock on the front door, which meant we were locked out.”

Boston Art News responds on Twitter to a story written by WBUR’s The ARTery. Besides WBUR and Wonderland, few other media outlets have covered Northestern’s action against AAMARP.

Chandler got a phone call early Sunday morning, July 2 informing him of the lockout after which he promptly called his daughter and artist agent, Dahna Chandler. The younger Chander, who also is an award-winning investigative journalist, immediately began researching the situation as she contacted journalist colleagues and informed supporters.

The university denies these allegations, and in an email exchange with WBUR’s The ARTery about the July 1 lockout, Michael Armini, Northeastern’s senior vice president of external affairs told producers that day that they “need sources who tell the truth.”

However, it’s difficult not to conclude that the university’s leadership isn’t living up to its motto is “Light, Truth, Courage.” As Cook’s article shows, it’s caused more heat than shed light with its behavior, including allegations against the artists that they’ve failed to substantiate and that observers might consider defamatory or libelous.

Its decision to initiate the lockdown on the weekend before a major national holiday, when most students and faculty are gone for the summer, looks calculating and craven. But the act hasn’t gone unchallenged, as the university may have hoped.

As local media outlets and community organizations, including the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition, coalesce to fight the program’s termination, Professor Chandler stands with current AAMARP artists in opposition to the university’s move, which he views as “Trumpian racism.”

He believes the university must reconsider its pernicious campaign ostensibly to remove permanently some of the country’s most renowned and respected black artists from the campus.

Further, he and other AAMARP supporters assert the university has an obligation quickly repair the premises and restore the artists and community’s access to space they currently occupy.

Additionally, Northeastern, they say, should publicly commit to ensuring the program will remain in full operation with its complete support. Just as it has been in the past, AAMARP should be an integral part of the arts or African American studies departments with a comprehensive online presence like any other university program.

Professor Chandler and his daughter await the university’s decision and hope it disproves the appearance of another act of racism (as well as ageism) against these artists. They also hope they’ve misinterpreted the visual evidence here showing the university is attempting to eliminate the program from institutional memory.

We contend AAMARP, which brought significant attention to Northeastern and some of its first major government grants for being the first program of its kind, has earned the right to be part of the institution’s campaign to continue rising up the rankings on its favored list.

Otherwise, it appears that this university has done what so many other organizations and groups do when they no longer find African Americans useful to their goals—tossed them away like refuse.

Please read more about AAMARP, its founding and its decline after Professor Chandler left the program permanently in 2004. Contact us for interviews with Professor Chandler, who is happy to discuss this debacle the university created for AAMARP with the press.

(c) 2018. Dahna M. Chandler for The Celebrated Activist Artist, Inc. All rights reserved.