Artist As First Responder is a relatively new philanthropic organization dedicated to escalating the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other artists of color, but its roots have been in and part of the Oakland art scene for over a decade.

Ashara Ekundayo moved to Oakland in 2010, and was one of the seven co-founders of an early co-working space, Impact Hub Oakland. She also launched Omi Gallery, which hosts pop-up and virtual art shows. As a Black feminist and artistic curator, she has been committed to researching, documenting, and archiving the work of creators for over three decades.

The concept of Artist as First Responder (AAFR) really emerged after the attacks in New York City, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2011, Ekundayo told us.

“The reality is that artists show up first with reaction and also innovation,” and that creativity helps move us forward, she said. And more broadly “we respond through our creative core whether or not we consider ourselves artists.”

The AAFR concept was formally introduced by Ekundayo in 2016 during an Oakland town hall called “Breaking the Silence,” which highlighted ongoing issues related to women, girls, and women-identifying people of color in the city.

But AAFR as it exists today was “really one of the silver linings of COVID,” Ekundayo said. Recognizing that she was one of the lucky people able to stay home, safely working on computers, she took time to slow down and “put some bones on the infrastructure” of AAFR. The 2016 town hall eventually led to a collaborative effort of about 12 women, women-identifying, and gender non-conforming people working to create an organization that aligns with the work they are already doing and want to continue to steward, Ekundayo said.

What emerged is a six-point philanthropic and interactive arts platform that recognizes, and financially backs, artists of color that use their creative practices to help heal communities. It supports a range of activities from public talks and site-specific ceremonies to a re-granting pilot project and artist residencies.

Read the full article about Artist As First Responder by Carrie Sisto at Hoodline.