The Bakery was founded on the notion that art is pivotal to human existence. When we opened our doors in 2017, we were overwhelmed with creative need and recognized how much of a void there still was despite the growth that Atlanta had experienced in the past decade. It was more than new venue fever; it was the outpouring of desire for experimental, low-cost, accessible spaces; something that has once again become jeopardized since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We were founded on a DIY model of self-resilience and communal practice, which continue to be essential foundations considering the importance of mutual aid over this past year. While food and shelter are necessary for survival, art, in the broadest definition, is also necessary to keep one’s spirit alive.
To be clear, The Bakery was not intentionally founded to be a “queer space.” It was created as an alternative to the status quo, to the normalcy that people embrace. Most directly, it was founded by my mother and me, both cisgender straight white women. However, The Bakery was ultimately shaped by all the people who helped along the way. Many of our early volunteers were queer, trans, and/or nonbinary. Therefore, these ideas became incorporated into the core vision of what The Bakery would become. In the landscape of evolving ideas about the labels we apply to each other, bridge builders and safer spaces are pivotal.
Experimental, community-focused practice has been at the heart of our programming since 2017. We do it for the process and for the connections that happen along the way as much as for the finished product. From beginner electronic workshops to B.Y.O.A. (bring your own art) group art shows to natural dye classes, we have strived to foster an interest in less traditional definitions of Art with a capital A. Thankfully, digital creators brought much visibility to Black Lives Matter. While new technologies help spread awareness and provide connection, a flat screen cannot replace the real-life, sometimes awkward, enriching experiences of meeting and working with people in person. “People need the little thrills of being a part of something bigger than themselves,” says long-time Bakery team member Amanda P. Norris.
Most recently, we had the joy of bringing together 14 artists for a collaborative mural in Your Dream World: An Atlanta Vision Board. The unexpected moments that happen through real life collaboration cannot be replaced by online programming. Next month, we will be working with Magda Dumitrescu to host two workshops focused on the ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) movement from the 1990s, which protested the CDC for its inhumane testing of antiviral drugs, slow-paced studies, lack of concern for queer well-being, and lack of inclusion of women in trial studies.
Magda, an anthropology student at GSU, will explain the beautiful subtlety of activists going to die-ins in silk pajamas and the powerful undertone of that action: “A lot of this activism can be characterized as a celebration of resistance and refusal to be silenced.” Thus, the workshops are focused on queer community care and on the joys that can take place in the face of trauma and oppression.
It is through reminders like these that we are inspired to keep doing this work. So often we are asked to measure our success in pie-chart metrics, but this value system holds little worth to many in our community. Yes, we must all take care of ourselves, but to define success solely as social and financial status over others is the antithesis of what we are striving and advocating for. Herein lies the artists’ dilemma, the constant push and pull between wanting to give up, but also knowing that you are affecting many people in tangible ways.
So, what does art look like during a pandemic? It looks different, but in an economy that didn’t value art much to begin with, it also looks the same. It’s hard to measure your success in an environment that is going to be affected for years to come. Even if the “industry” comes back, it will take a long time for the full ecosystem to recover, and while there is sadness in that, there is also a deep need for change. I’m currently struggling with the big picture, the fear that we will never see our city with countless sustainable DIY and alternative spaces. Yet I know what matters is that people continue to be seen, heard, and feel like their existence is allowed even in the binary systems within which we are forced to operate. As Amanda P. Norris says, “life in a global pandemic is bleak, but life in a global pandemic without art is really bleak.”
The Bakery is a collective of creative thinkers aligned around social justice principles, environmental concerns, and the belief that art is pivotal to existence. We utilize and critique technology as it changes the human landscape while providing resources to emerging artists. Learn more at thebakeryatlanta.com.