October 2020 Neighbor of the Month: Creating Art Through Community and Community Through Art
Brianna Harlan is a multi-disciplinary artist and organizer.
According to Brianna’s artist statement on her website, “My work is driven by the need to confront how systems violently condition our relational identity, and how that influences quality of life, health, and habits.” Before moving to New York City, Brianna worked as a neighborhood liaison with Center For Neighborhoods.
Read on to find out how Brianna is creating art through community and community through art -- both in New York and in Louisville.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I grew up in Louisville, then moved to Indiana when I went to Hanover College. While I was there I studied abroad in Mexico. I moved back to Louisville after college, then moved to New York City last August. I’m currently studying to get my MFA in Art and Social Action at Queens College, CUNY.
What have you been working on in your neighborhood?
I’ve been working on my “Black Love Blooms” (BLB) initiative. The mission of BLB is to share free flowers and messages of love to Black people, for Black people. The love notes express messages such as, “Black & Beautiful; the world gives you so much hardship. Here is something soft.” The public recipients of these flowers and notes are asked if they would accept these unconditional, loving gestures for a part of their identity that is often historically associated with struggle, erasure, and hurt.
I started BLB in New York in October or November of last year, then brought it to Louisville for Kwanza. I did it in Louisville again for Juneteenth. I actually organized volunteers so that it could happen in four states on that weekend. We reached around 800 people.
I currently have a solo exhibition in New York surrounding this theme. The gallery has turned into an activation space and built environment for Black Love Blooms. There are art pieces, documentation of the action, loving spaces, and photos and videos of people when they receive flowers. It’s basically everything Black Love Blooms is, turned into a space rather than an action or formal gesture.
How did you get involved in this work?
BLB Louisville started because I didn’t know black communities in New York. I wanted to show them appreciation and connection. I think we need to remember that what we do affects other people, and what they do affects us. This is our biggest responsibility as human beings. People need to find their way to be active -- find a way that fits them. That’s something we should be doing all the time.
What do you love about your neighborhood?
You find your own communities within the spaces you belong to in New York. It’s such a busy place and there’s so much happening all the time. So you have to be intentional if you want to build those relationships. The fact that you have to be really intentional and choosing, that choice makes you active all the time in the communities you’re part of in a way that’s really beautiful and that becomes part of your life and your existence. It’s not just a project.
What are your hopes for your neighborhood in the future?
Choice is really important for me. It’s become something that’s important in every relationship I have. Feelings, good intentions, ideas are all great, but it’s the choice that really activates things. Choosing to be a good neighbor and maybe starting small.
I think this moment is showing us more than ever that if we don’t care for each other, it literally threatens our survival. It’s been happening for a long time, but it’s even more apparent now.
In addition to her Black Love Blooms initiative, Brianna is also leading the 502 People's Report, an action project focused on making Louisville’s arts industry more equitable. She also recently created a site-specific public art piece featuring Breonna Taylor in front of Louisville Metro Hall. Learn more about Brianna’s work in Louisville and New York by following her on Instagram.
Do you know someone who deserves a spotlight? If you would like to nominate a neighbor to be a “Neighbor of the Month,” email firstname.lastname@example.org. (Please include their name, neighborhood, and why you think they should be Neighbor of the Month.)