from Black Lunch Table training material
A search for “Black Lunch Table” or “BLT” on Google returns some expected images. Search in Wikipedia and see a rich history of meet-ups organized by Jina Valentine and Heather Hart, two artists who initially hosted an event mimicking a lunchroom discussion to provide space and time to dialog about critical issues affecting African American visual and performing artists. According to its website, the Black Lunch Table (BLT) “mobilizes a democratic rewriting of contemporary cultural history by animating discourse around and among the people living it.” Representatives of the organization travel to different institutions in order to host a Wikipedia edit-a-thon as an activity that fosters community interaction while addressing the lack of representation for people of color.
Despite the fact that Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced project that should therefore represent the diversity present in the general population, statistics estimate that 91% of editors are White and 77-87% are men. With such an overwhelming lean towards the White male in both content and perspective, Wikipedia becomes a microcosmic reflection of the cultural bias present in Art History and cultural studies to this day. But the prospects are not so bleak. In recent years, socially-conscious institutions have started hosting edit-a-thons – particularly inspired by the Art + Feminism initiative – aimed at injecting marginalized voices and creating or enhancing entries for figures from under-represented communities. At these events, editors who have been awoken to social inequities gather and receive training on how to make probably the most-used information site by all, about all, and for all, and then dedicate time to working on individual articles.
Photo by Sukhmani Kaur
The Fisher Fine Arts Library hosted the Black Lunch Table to conduct such an event, focusing on Afrodiasporic artists with special attention paid to those based in Philly. It was the first of a series of edit-a-thons to highlight minority artists, the second dedicated to Latin American artists (this Friday, April 12th), and the third to cis and trans women artists (next Friday, April 19th). While encouraging women and people of color to become editors is a goal, the larger mission is to amend discursive practices, gain visibility for marginalized artists, and combat bias – something that necessitates everyone’s participation. Needless to say, the events welcome editors from all backgrounds, not just those in their respective scopes.
Editors, artists, and librarians arrived at Fisher’s foyer last Friday afternoon for a training session conducted by BLT founder Heather Hart, who walked participants through the history of BLT, the 5 pillars of Wikipedia, bias on the site, and how to become an editor to start making things right. For a few hours, the Fine Arts Library broke all of its own rules to transform its regal foyer into a lunch table; attendees got to work, fueled by caffeine, snacks, music, good vibes, and the motivation to bring recognition to Black artists living, working, and embedded in our community.
Several local artists were in attendance to have their portraits taken by Penn junior Mary Osunlana for their own Wikipedia entries (another of BLT’s initiatives is to put faces to articles to literally increase artists’ visibility). Her portraits from the event can be found here along with other documentation of the event and Fisher thanks her for contributing her time and skill.
Philadelphia-based artist Erlin Geffrard poses for a portrait to accompany his newly-minted Wikipedia entry. Photo by Mary Osunlane.
Although BLT has packed up and Heather has headed to her next meet-up, the edit-a-thon is far from over. The list of artists whose entries need creation or expansion will remain on the meet-up page for editors to work on them on their own time. Each of the two remaining edit-a-thons will kick off with a training session like the one at BLT; so if you couldn’t make it last Friday, there is still opportunity for you to fill in gaps of documentation for Black artists in Philly, as well as the Latin American artists and cis and trans women artists in focus on 4/12 and 4/19, respectively.
Please consider joining us for the remainder of the Month of Wiki to help help us mobilize our communities' collective knowledge for the arts!