Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn

Creative Time

Funding Received: 2013
Brooklyn, NY
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
February 21, 2014

Untitled mural at Boys and Girls High School by Normal Lewis, 1976. Courtesy of the NYC Department of Education Public Art Collection

Earlier this month we announced that the title of this ongoing project is “Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn.” The four words in the first part of the title refer to the diverse themes explored by the project’s four incredible artists who are working in collaboration with organizations based in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights communities. For more information on the artists, visit our website.

Recent Wins: Paradise Reconstruction Under the Aesthetic of Funk
Internationally renowned artist, designer, and cultural activist Xenobia Bailey is working closely with the phenomenally dedicated staff of Brooklyn’s Boys & Girls High School. Together they are developing a curriculum-based workshop focusing on the study and practice of design techniques developed by African American communities to beautify the built environment. The concept for the workshop and partnership with the school is deeply rooted in Bailey’s ongoing project “Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk,” which has produced an array of crocheted clothing items, artisanal teas, large-scale mandalas, and tents consisting of colorful concentric circles and repeating patterns.

Although “Funk” is considered by many to be a musical genre made famous by George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Bailey uses the term more broadly to describe a culturally-specific blend of aesthetics, craft, and design as well as attentiveness to the limitless potential of one’s immediate surroundings.

In a recent conversation with Creative Time Chief Curator Nato Thompson, Bailey explained the motivation for her project:

“The ethos of Funk is to use what’s around you, to repurpose, and to be self-sufficient and imaginative. The point is not to go out and buy more, to consume more, but rather to use what’s already around you in order to create entirely new things. This project is about imagination, zero-waste, and getting students to re-think their surroundings and how they go about dealing with their personal needs. “

Insights/Provocation: Why Boys and Girls High School?
From the very beginning, “Funk, God, Jazz, and Medicine” intended to highlight local spaces that were ripe for dialogue about art, culture, and the history of radical Black Brooklyn—“The Borough of Kings.” Boys and Girls High School provides an incredible case study in this regard and delivers on all counts.

Founded in 1878, “The Pride and Joy of Bed Stuy” is Brooklyn’s oldest public high school and home to such famous alumna as Shirley Chisholm—the first African American woman elected to Congress—and trailblazing entertainer and civil rights activist Lena Horne. The school is also remembered significantly as the first stop on Nelson Mandela’s historic whirlwind tour of New York City following his 1990 release from prison on Robben Island.

A lesser-known fact about the school is its incredible collection of site-specific artworks, commissioned between 1972 and 1976 in the wake of a successful decade-long community-led struggle with the Board of Education to prevent the historic institution from being relocated to another neighborhood. Peppered throughout the massive campus on Fulton Street, the works in the collection include a freestanding concrete-and-bronze memorial to the trans-Atlantic slave trade by sculptor Ed Wilson and an untitled 100-foot-long mural by Ernest Chrichlow, who also took the lead as art consultant for the commissions. Working with the campus architects, Chrichlow hand-picked and managed an entirely African-American team of artists—many of whom lived in Bed Stuy—“to prove that we had good competent artists right in the neighborhood.” In the artist’s words, “All they needed was a little recognition and cash.”

Related Links and Readings:
Xenobia Bailey’s Artist Work Journal:

NYC Department of Education’s “Public Art for Public Schools” database.

James Barron, “The Day a Newly Freed Mandela Came to New York” ( / December 6, 2013).

Michele Cohen, “Boys & Girls High School: Art and Politics in the Civil Rights Era” (Prospects / Volume 30 / October 2005, pp 715-749).

Morgan Powell, “Fulton St. Sculpture Deserves Closer Look” (Our Time Press / December 19, 2013).