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Book Reviews

Point From Which Creation Begins: The Black Artists' Group of St. Louis

By Published: December 19, 2004

One of the things Looker emphasizes is the ways the group managed to recruit funding, which in some senses was crucial to its founding as well as its dissolution. There was always some controversy in the group about how to accept money from white liberals and foundations, and its outspoken politics of Black Power and tell-it-how-it-is presentations of race relations. In the history of the group, every member was black except for one: Muthal Naidoo, a South African expatriate of Indian ancestry who participated in the theater arm of the collective. The audience, with whom the BAG insisted on maintaining interactive relationships, was mostly black but definitely had a white component as well.

While Point From Which Creation Begins does deal primarily with the BAG, it touches on related events in other cities. But most importantly, it provides a template for focused creativity as a tool for social mobilization. Portia Hunt's description of events as a "meta-analysis, a performance inside a performance" holds true in many ways, as it turns out.

Art collectives have been an essential part of the musical history of the United States, and they've been particularly important in the development of jazz in the days since its transition from popular music to "art music" to underground culture. The do-it-yourself ethic that dominated the BAG's empowerment thinking persists in many forms today, including most recently the use of the internet to disseminate information on music and musicians, and the rise of independent record labels as a means for making meaningful connections with audiences everywhere. Local action can transform into both local and global influence, if channeled the right way.

Suggested reading:
Poets of Action: The Saint Louis Black Artists' Group, 1968-1972 by Benjamin Looker

Photo credits:
Oliver Lake: Photo 2001 by Roscoe Crenshaw
Cast of a BAG play: ca. 1969, courtesy Oliver Lake

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