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How this podcast is fighting underrepresentation, one artist at a time

Dr. Pia Deas. January 10, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedMediumPeople
Name 10 Black artists who aren’t entertainers.

That includes writers, painters, directors. Or how about this: Name 10 Black activist who aren’t Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X.

Could you name even three contemporary Black artists making waves who live in your city?

Dr. Pia Deas wants her students at Lincoln University — and the rest of the world — to understand that African American culture is more than a couple of very important figures.

“I wanted my students to see that we have a vibrant culture now, that people are creating things now,” Deas said — people “who are alive and are having these ideas now.”

Thus, “Contemporary Black Canvas,” a podcast dedicated to celebrating the “depth and breadth” of Black artistic and intellectual thought through interviewing contemporary artists from many disciplines, was born. In the vein of the Black Arts movement of 1965, Deas wants to spotlight artists who illustrate all the ways the Black imagination is a vibrant and dynamic force.

"I wanted my students to see that we have a vibrant culture now."
Dr. Pia Deas

A grant from the Leeway Foundation paid for recording equipment and a grant from Pennsylvania Council of the Arts paid for a consultant to help navigate the logistics of getting a podcast up and running on iTunes or a website. CultureWorks also helps manage some financial aspects of the podcast and functions as an office space for Deas.

Podcasts have steadily increased their hold in the new media market. In 2016, 21 percent of Americans had listened to podcasts in the past month according to Pew Research. In 2013, that number was at just 12 percent.

“On the podcasts that are creatively oriented I would say 99.9 percent of the artist they invite are white,” said Deas. It was something she noticed during the hour-and-10-minute train ride to Lincoln University every day. “You would never know Black artists exist on these podcast and I was getting angrier and angrier.”

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Lack of diversity is a problem across all media platforms. In film, for instance, seven percent of casts reflected the racial makeup of the United States, found a 2016 study done by University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. In radio, minorities make up 13 percent of journalists, found The Radio Television Digital News Association.

Quartz reported last year that only 18 percent of podcasts in the iTunes podcast directory had at least one non-white host.

Deas intends to combat the podcast diversity problem by training her research assistants to make their own podcasts or inspiring her students to create their own.

"It’s important to identify yourself with people who look like you."
Madison Washington

“It’s important to identify yourself with people who look like you,” said Madison Washington, a research assistant for “Contemporary Black Canvas” and a Pan-Africana Studies major. Washington is a firm believer that it’s important to know artists who are movers and shakers right now — people like podcast interviewees Yolanda Wisher, Philadelphia’s 2016-2017 poet laureate, and BlackStar Film Festival founder Maori Karmael Holmes.

When Washington heard the podcast in class along with fellow researcher Jasmine Newton, she saw Deas’ vision and realized how it could add to the Black community.

“It’s all about connections, it’s all about networking — just having heroes that look like you,” said Washington.

The most beautiful thing Deas has heard thus far on her journey to spotlight more of the African diaspora’s unsung heroes making art in the present day? This verbal love letter by visual artist Akili Ron Anderson: “I could study the African face for a thousand years and never be tired of it.”

Project

Contemporary Black Canvas

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