Posting of Confederate flag opens dialogue on racism, change
A recent incident near the Rauschenberg Residency property left several visiting artists and staff in disbelief, but they are turning it into a positive by using it to encourage discussion and change.
On April 29, Director Ann Brady was contacted by two artists and subsequently the staff.
“This flag had been put up on a neighbor’s property,” she said.
A Confederate flag was flying from an L-shaped sign post on the edge of the adjacent property, held together with rope and turkey feet. Words written on the flag said, “The South Will Rise Again.”
“The neighboring property owner was not aware,” Brady said, adding that he was not in Florida and no one at his home had put it up. “He was mortified, he was apologetic. He condemned it immediately.”
The man gave Brady full permission to take it down, which the resident chef did.
“He went over and took it down immediately,” she said.
Only days before, a new group of artists had began arriving at the Rauschenberg Residency to spend nearly five weeks creating, working and collaborating together. Eight of the 11 were on site at the time.
“It was the fifth day of their residency,” Brady said.
She noted that the group did not know if it was intentionally directed at them or not.
“We always have a mix of artists, artists of color, artists from other countries, artists who have never been to Florida,” Brady said. “Those flags are very hateful statements that affect people deeply and not positively. There was a lot of very deep hurtful feelings and questioning of should they even be here.”
Favianna Rodriguez, an interdisciplinary and social practice artist and activist, was one of the artists who witnessed the incident. She explained that the individual work and projects by the current visiting artists focus on addressing mass incarceration and the criminalization of people of color collectively.
“They predominately work in African American and Latino communities,” Rodriguez said.
“Many artists here are from the South. For us to see that symbol, which we clearly understand,” she added. “It was shocking because we felt a sadness and shock and somewhat disgust that we can never escape these symbols. They were symbols that actually legitimized violence against black people.”
Because of the focus of the artists’ works, Rodriguez noted that they are not blind to reality.
“We understand that there are policies in this county that unjustly target black and Latino people and incarcerate them,” she said. “So we already come with an understanding that racism continues to be a problem in the United States.”
Rodriguez explained that for her, the Rauschenberg Residency is a place she hoped to find some quiet and peace, to rejuvenate in order to find new and better ways to address racism and its related issues.
“It was just a shock because we’re all here to rest,” she said.
“We’re in very polarizing times right now in this country,” Rodriguez added. “Even in places like Captiva, where people go to get away, sometimes you can’t get away.”
Brady explained that there was a fishing tournament taking place in the area at the time and she believed that the flag may have been put up by non-local people participating in the contest.
“We want people to come here and feel safe,” she said. “We want them to be able to go where they want to go and do what they want to do. We want to be a place that is open to everyone and inclusive.”
“Equity and transparency are important to us,” Brady added.
It because of this, regardless of how the flag came to be, that the Rauschenberg Residency staff and visiting artists are working together to turn what was a negative incident into something positive.
“It takes education and real relationship building,” Rodriguez of eliminating racism.
She explained that people inherit structures of racism, which are identified by categories like structural, instructional, interpersonal and internalized. Discussions should focus on how to unlearn these things.
“Unless a community actively works to undo that, little things will happen,” Rodriguez said.
The goal is to transform a community into one where everyone belongs.
“It’s important to talk about it. We want to talk about it, but we also want to work with the Rauschenberg Residency,” she said. “How can this be a catalyst for more dialogue, more procedures and where the community can engage in these topics?”
Rodriguez explained that first, they are creating procedures so that future visiting artists, especially those of color, have some context of what happened. The artists are also helping to create protocols so that individuals feel welcomed and safe. She said they also want to engage the Captiva community.
“In a conversation around how we can create a space where everyone belongs,” Rodriguez said.
For example, many restaurants and businesses in her hometown have put up signs up that read things like, “Everyone is welcome here,” then the signs directly say “blacks, immigrants, gays” and so on.
“How do we make intentional steps to make sure everyone feels welcome?” Rodriguez asked.
She cited value statements and employee training as other options for businesses.
Brady noted that the organization is addressing the incident internally, as well.
“It’s unfortunate that it happened any time and, in particular, when we have artists here,” she said, explaining that the island can at times seem separate from the world and the problems facing it.
“But obviously we’re in the world, and this reminded us that we are in the world,” Brady said.
Rodriguez anticipates that the artists will have a lasting relationship with the foundation.
“It was a very hard moment for all of us together, but the results that are coming out of it are all worth it,” she said. “All these (negative) incidents are moments of discomfort that lead to transition.”
Brady reported the incident to the local authorities and the Southern Poverty Law Center. In addition, she told the Captiva Community Panel members about what had occurred at their May 8 meeting.
“The panel understands that people who come to Captiva should not feel threatened,” President David Mintz said.
Secretary Mike Mullins thanked Brady for not staying silent about the incident.
“It’s never too soon to bring attention to something like this,” he said. “You want to nip things like this in the butt.”