The need to repair, improve, and some would say beautify America’s aging infrastructure, helped U.S. President Joe Biden score some major political points with the passage of his $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill in November 2021. It will be a while before the majority of Americans get to experience actual physical results of the accomplishment and come to fully appreciate what it means.
The power of art, however, is such that it allows creatives like Lady Pink, Banksy, and Eduardo Kobra to apply their particular visions of future possibilities for public architectures more immediately. Even public areas subject to war can function as art installations which convey messages more aligned with hope and beauty.
The henry Street underpass in Savannah, Georgia, is a very unique feature of the city’s infrastructure. Its solid design appears more than capable of continuing for years to support the freight cars which rumble across the rail tracks above it nearly every day. The walls of the underpass have also long proven an ideal space for various visual artists to express themselves. I have not been as bold as some to place images directly on the walls of the underpass, but the structure has inspired creative efforts by me more than once.
The first time I shared the story of my enduring interest in the Henry Street underpass was in June 2018 when I completed work on two fine art photographs: “Henry Street Underpass Number 1 and Number 2.” With those images, I mostly wanted to document what stood out for me as the passageway’s amazing design largely defined by giant steel X’s. I had walked through it many times as a child but only much later, after leaving and returning for extended stays, did it strike me as something extraordinary.
More recently, I wondered what it might look like to utilize the space as the setting for an art installation. The prospect was an unlikely one to attempt on the street itself but completely doable as reimaginings presented on a mixed-media canvas. With that in mind, I have been able to produce a series of "Henry Street Underpass Art Portal” art pieces. A detail from Number 1 is seen above. Two complete images are now available for purchase on Fine Art America.com and Pixels.com.
It is obvious that art cannot accomplish the kind of work which machinery and engineering will over the next few years as different types of infrastructures are reinforced, or completely replaced. What it can do is help us remember that notions of progress do not have to come at the expense of beauty or mindfulness in our lives. In fact, each can help enhance the valued purpose of the other.
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Explore Black Music Month at Bright Skylark Literary Productions
It’s true I’ve been critical of human beings becoming overly-dependent on artificial intelligence (AI). Although there’s no question it can help improve our lives in certain ways, it can also be used to seduce people into giving up too much personal power. In addition: it makes it easy to dismiss such things as the ethical concerns which determine how many of us do or don’t experience our collective human condition.
Where and when to draw lines of AI propriety has to be mindfully considered for many reasons. For example: How comfortable should anyone be entrusting their health to a “doctor” who relied on AI to pass final med school exams? How much can anyone presenting themselves as an “expert” in any field be considered a professional if they lack the ability to discern for themselves the accuracy, or least the plausibility, of automated information?
My Human Bias and ChatGPT
To challenge any biases of my own concerning what some media commentators are calling the “AI revolution,” I allowed myself to be guided through a test run of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. With the help of a more knowledgeable human associate, I asked what kind of insights it could offer regarding a current GoFundMe Music Heritage Project. I anticipated comical results similar to ones comedians had been quoting to draw big laughs. It didn’t exactly turn out that way. A few of the results follow below and others will be in the article titled Artificial Intelligence and Authentic Human Concerns scheduled for posting on LinkedIn.
Since producing a human-written book on the life and times of radio programmer Theron “Ike” Carter is one primary goal of the Music Heritage Project, I wondered about its possible impact outside Carter’s hometown of Savannah, Georgia (USA). ChatGPT suggested this possibility:
“…The book could provide a model for documenting and preserving cultural heritage in other communities, serving as an example of how local residents and cultural leaders can work together to celebrate and preserve their shared history and identity. This could have broader educational benefits, as it could inspire other communities to undertake similar projects and could contribute to a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of American cultural heritage.”
In all honesty, I had considered possible educational applications but not the noted “broader educational benefits.” My human conclusions had come from video-recording weekly interviews with Mr. Carter for more than a year. The chatbot had determined its AI analyses by drawing on digital resources beyond my instinctive reach. My feelings might have been mixed but how could I deny, at least in this case, the validity of the results?
What, then, about the GoFundMe Campaign?
I had scheduled the GoFundMe Music Heritage campaign to run from Jazz Appreciation Month until the end of African-American Music Month because of Ike Carter’s work in the industry. All that made good human sense. It took the enthusiastic counsel of someone who knows much more about AI than me to ask the chatbot what reasons potential donors might have to feel good about supporting the campaign? This the first part of the answer:
“…Contributing to the GoFundMe campaign could provide a sense of personal fulfillment and satisfaction for donors, as they contribute to the preservation and celebration of an important cultural legacy. This could be particularly meaningful for donors who have a personal connection to Savannah or who have an interest in music or cultural heritage more broadly.”
And here is the second part of the answer:
“By contributing to the project, donors would become part of a community of individuals committed to celebrating and preserving Savannah's rich musical heritage, and would have the satisfaction of knowing that they played a role in creating a valuable cultural resource.”
Did smiling while reading the above response mean I was allowing myself to be seduced by AI-powered reasoning? It could be interpreted that way. Except I had already immersed myself in the organic process of collecting, sorting, and structuring relevant creative material in my own human way. This was a case where it might be said I had accepted a limited partnership with AI to construct the kind of dialogue someone might have had with a Shark Tank expert.
Humanity at a Crossroads
There is no doubt situations will arise (and already have arisen) where AI will provide life-saving assistance. Does that mean we should relinquish to it all the essential components of what makes us human? Including not caring about the livelihoods it threatens to erase en masse? Or reducing our own capacity for analytical thinking? I’m inclined to say no.
So what now? As with any historic situation placing humanity at a crossroads of hopefulness and doubt, we first weigh the risks before us. Then we proceed, or step firmly on the brakes, with caution. [Also check out: Artificial Intelligence and Authentic Human Concerns]
Co-author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Author of These Black and Blue Red Zone Days
Enjoy More Conversations with the World
The article on Josephine Baker (1906-1975) for Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance was written by Sandra L. West (1947-2019). Until working on the book project with her, my perception of the great diva had been shaped primarily by quick glimpses of classic black and white images of her dancing either nude or semi-nude.
She was to me a pretty, comical, innately sensuous, island girl with some vague connection to the United States and France. Research revealed and corrected the many layers of a misunderstood truth.
I began this post to draw attention to the above Josephine Baker tribute art series. Just as I was completing it, disturbing news arrived: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s Department of Education had rejected an Advanced Placement course addressing different aspects of African-American Studies. The rationale for doing so was that it paved the way for ideological indoctrination into the “Woke movement” as fueled by Critical Race Theory. That is something DeSantis has strongly opposed and stated the proposed AP African-American Studies course lacks educational value.
Dr. Lisa Hill, one of the authors of the program, said at its launch in September last year: “The course encourages students to examine each theme from a variety of perspectives, without ideology, in line with the field’s tradition of debates.” In short, the objective is to expand access to the kind of knowledge which impacts our understanding, or misunderstanding, of the demographically evolving world in which we live. It was the same goal that I and different contributors to Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance had when completing it.
Perceptions and Realities
The intensity of DeSantis’ objection to progressive initiatives when it comes to racial factors have long puzzled many People of Color. Perception of the governor’s political strategy is not very different from how Justice Clarence Thomas’s unyielding conservatism is viewed among many Blacks. While it appears to make no sense within the context of their daily social reality, it stands up well enough as abstract legal conception.
A frequent assumption regarding DeSantis is that he is Latino and his interests should, therefore, automatically align with those he decries as woke ideologists. However, despite the smiling photograph of him on Hispanic culture pages, the governor’s publicized heritage is Italian––not Latinx––going back several generations. He clearly has found it more politically advantageous to let Americans assume whatever pleases them while presenting himself, more than anything else, simply as a committed conservative republican.
It would be fair enough at this point to ask what any of this has to do with my current celebration of Josephine Baker. The answer is pretty much: everything. Were it not for the social, political, and financial inequities and omissions which daily impair the lives of people belonging to different demographic groups in America, there would be no need for certain types of corrective considerations. As it is, levels of awareness concerning different cultural experiences directly influences the quality of all Americans’ lives.
What I knew and did not know about Josephine Baker’s story prior to studying it in depth for Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance had caused me to consider her in much less regard than I should have. But it wasn’t the victorious Baker and other Harlem Renaissance greats who had lost out to all those years of unknowing. It was me and other misinformed individuals like me.
From New Art Series Product Page:
"Cheers went up around the world in 2021 when French officials announced American-born actress, singer, and World War II spy Josephine Baker would become the first Black woman to be inducted into the Parisian Panthéon. The announcement made me smile because Josephine Baker is one the historic figures celebrated in Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (this year 2023 is the 20th anniversary of the encyclopedia’s publication).
"The new 2023 edition prints of Baker featured in this series are mixed media and digitally textured interpretations of classic historical photographs and posters categorized as public domain. Some of the new prints are abstract expressionism, or surrealistic impressionism, and others enhanced antique sepia. Baker is widely celebrated during Women’s History Month, Black History Month, and in general as an iconic international entertainer. I sometimes think of her as America’s loss (due to the extreme Jim Crow racism practiced in the United States during her lifetime) and France’s gain."
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.