After being locked out of their studios at 76 Atherton St. for the second time since 2018, artists who are part of the African American Master Artists in Residents Program (AAMARP) held a protest in front of the studios on June 27.
The artists in the program, which is associated with Northeastern University and has been in negotiations with the university’s administration for two years, were not given notice that the locks would be changed, according to L’Merchie Frazier, who has been one of the program’s artists for more than ten years.
“The lock out has been very stressful for the artists considering that we are in a COVID Pandemic and that this nation has been nationally and globally crying out against institutional racism,” Frazier said in a recent press release.
AAMARP was founded in 1973 by artist Dana Chandler, who “was a part of the Northeastern family,” Frazier said. The aim was “to be a program that would represent art of he black world and provide connection to community locally, nationally, and globally,” she said.
Throughout its years, AAMARP has been given space by the university for up to 14 artists to operate. “We have been functioning as a community cultural arm for Northeastern University and have maintained that throughout our existence,” Frazier said. But she said that “there has been a distancing process occurring” from the university.
“This lock out denies artists who critically need access to their art supplies, materials, tools and artworks, much on which their livelihood depends,” the release states.
“This is absolutely ridiculous. We have to work in order for us to eat. Black Artists Matter. They must open these doors. Now,” Gloretta Baynes, Director of AAMARP, said in the release. The release also noted that the lock out has taken place “When the State has also called on non-evictions during this unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.”
Fraizer said the rally on June 27 included artists, people from the community, and the press.
“Our demand is for peace,” she said.
As a result of the protest, Frazier said that Northeastern University has allowed the artists to go inside the studios for 30 minutes—escorted by someone from the university—to remove items only. Artists are not permitted to work in their studios, even though “other functional units are in the same building,” she said.
Northeastern University provided the following statement to the Gazette: “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and in compliance with public health guidelines, Northeastern University closed its Boston campus beginning on March 17. As a result, all university buildings were closed and key cards to electronic locks on exterior doors across the entire campus have been deactivated. Only essential employees, including researchers, have been given key card access to campus buildings. Everyone else has had to request temporary access. The university’s warehouse at 76 Atherton Street was treated the same as all other university buildings.
After years of discussions between AAMARP and the university, the artists requested time to move to alternative space, which was scheduled for early September. The artists have been occupying space rent free at Northeastern for more than three decades, largely without any connection to the university. However, due to the effects of the pandemic—including the fact that discussions were largely on hold for months—the university will extend its plans to relocate the artists until the end of the 2020 calendar year.
We are grateful to the artists—and all in the Northeastern community—for adhering to public health guidance and moving to remote work. By doing so, they have helped combat the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and enhanced the safety and well-being of the entire community.”
Frazier said that AAMARP has “listed our demands,” and that there are still ongoing negotiations with the university. “We will be joining with our community and making sure that we are sustainable,” she said.
“Northeastern’s action against some of Boston’s prominent Black artists is happening when NEU’s President Aoun announced in an open letter to the NEU Community that a part of their “mission” is to ‘build community,’ Aoun’s letter said that in addition to initiating ‘actionable steps’ the University is developing “Cultural Competency and Anti-Racist Training,’” the release states.
Susan Thompson, an AAMARP artist, responded to Aoun’s letter by saying, ““NEU says one thing and then does another. The reality is we (AAMARP artists) are the poster children for institutional racism on their campus. NEU has demonstrated to us that they are not being a good community partner.”
AAMARP also announced a new series, “Justice on the Stoop,” in which a different AAMARP artist is featured each Saturday from 3:00-5:00pm outside the studio at 76 Atherton St. The artists are also asking the community to support access to their studio space by contacting Northeastern University, City Councilor Kim Janey, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.