Power in Community: Black Moon Tulsa

Written by Monica McCafferty

"Black power is community, and it always has been," says Elizabeth Henley, artist and founder of the collective Black Moon. As a solo artist, Elizabeth remembers struggling to gain a platform within the existing arts infrastructure of Tulsa. But now, she says, it's easy to create opportunities to showcase the work of black artists. Mirroring the purpose that emerging black collectives served in the 1960s and 70s, today’s collectives exist as a receptacle for creative intuition to compound and flourish, while also providing the brawn needed to survive in the business. "Part of our mission statement is to make self-sustaining artists who can live off their practice. We realize that being an artist right now is a business. "What I want for all of the members is to have a cushion of funding and make more money doing what they love," says Elizabeth.

While organization is a vital piece of this mission, funding is just as important. Black Moon has received all of its funding from individual donations, all of which have been used to secure studio space and materials. "The whole point of us having a space is so that we have control over what type of artwork we get to put up and to have a space where we feel comfortable to create," says Elizabeth.

Tulsa boasts well-funded programs, offering individuals who are committed to living and working here hearty stipends. While some programs are open to current residents, much funding is reserved for transplants. Critics of the programs appreciate their presence and value but note that there should be more investment in the existing community. "I just think of how much more powerful it would be to have that same investment locally. "We're here already," says Elizabeth.

Although she admits her own art has taken a sacrifice, her non-profit and business experience has paved the way for her to do the meaningful work of managing Black Moon’s support and connections, "In the back of my mind, it's a tie to the history of Tulsa and Greenwood. Back to black people coming together and pushing for something better for ourselves. We're pushing for equity in creating art and being seen. There's something special that happens here in Tulsa when people pick that up and help each other out. Let's figure out how we can do this together."

While activism can be an important part of being a black artist, "it’s a delicate line" says artist Raegene (Omni Meraki). "I want to create because I enjoy creating, but also for someone who doesn't have the knowledge I do, to access it through my work." 

As our broader Tulsa community continues to grapple with how to better equitably fund and commoditize art, the message to creatives is this: "Your job is just to create," says Raegene. "The more you create, the more opportunity you have to make something important, something that speaks to you and the community."

The beauty of a collective, and sourcing between communities and individuals, is the shared resource of self. Pooling our creative intuition and personal talents creates opportunity on a larger scale. "We will flourish", says artist Jiji Mac. "I think everybody's creative…I think we all can unlock that power within us, to help each other. We can create for each other, and with each other."

To many, Tulsa is undoubtedly a special place. And it is Black Moon and others alike that help cultivate what we have to offer. "If Black Moon wasn’t here, I probably wouldn't be," says artist, C.A.P. "It’s really a community of people who are trying to do something greater for the city that keeps me here."

The collective is in the process of attaining official non-profit status to secure more robust funding and plans to partner with Mother Road Market, Gathering Place, and host more events in their space at Wompa in the near future. Support these artists by checking out their work and donating at blackmoontulsa.com.