The Ostracon: Dispatches from Beyond Contemporary Art’s Center, an arts writing site by Nicole J. Caruth and Paul Schmelzer, looks at figures and ideas outside the mainstream of contemporary art—from public policy, indigenous rights, and folklore to community organizing, historic preservation, environmental science, journalism, and food justice—that may offer insight into new forms of making art that are more responsive, relevant, and connected to the way we live now as individuals and communities. Taking its name from the pottery shards used in ancient Athens when voting to ostracize community members, the site aims to celebrate, instead of push out, voices from art’s periphery.

Portrait of an Anti-Fascist Gravedigger

“I’m unburying these books before I’m buried,” says Jack Zipes, a retired folklorist and German professor who, at 84, is republishing long-forgotten anti-fascist children’s books through his imprint, Little Mole & Honey Bear. Despite being 80, 100, or more years old, these stories prove timely in an age of Donald Trump, insurrection, and the Proud Boys.

The Hitleresque Keedle crushed, a detail from Deirdre and William Counselman’s antifascist tale.

Ceding Power: Paying the Rest Debt

The final piece in the “Ceding Power” series explores the discourse on rest as a type of reparations. What does it mean to rest and how can the return of energy aid human repair?

The Nap Ministry, “A Resting Place,” 2019. Site-specific installation at Ponce City Market, Atlanta, for Flux Projects. Photo: @capturedbytabia

Bulbancha Forever: From NOLA to Minneapolis, a movement to revitalize Indigenous names grows

In their practice of “one-word activism,” Jeffery Darensbourg and artist Ozone504 have been working to revive usage of Bulbancha, the Choctaw name for New Orleans since well before the city’s founding some 300 years ago. Their efforts prompt a broader look at Indigenous naming and what it can teach us in fractious times.

Graffiti in Bulbancha. Photo: Jeffery Darensbourg.

Ceding Power: The Chicken Versus the Pig

What’s the difference between a donation and reparations? In this second piece on reparations in the arts, Brandi and Carlton Turner, co-founders of the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production, share their perspectives on charitable gifts and possibilities for change in arts philanthropy.

The Mississippi Center for Cultural Production, Utica, MS.

What to do with a broken democracy: Ostracism and other lessons from Athens

Just days from the most consequential presidential election in modern times, the brokenness of the political system of the United States could scarcely be more evident. But how to mend the fractures in our body politic? In a bit of poetic irony, perhaps the solution can be found through more brokenness—in particular, the shards of pottery from which this site takes its name.


Ceding Power: On Reparations in the Arts

Reparations for Black Americans can take many forms. What might this look like in the arts? This post kicks off a conversation series with artists and culture-makers about the possibilities for distributive justice in the arts to repair the historical and ongoing damage of anti-Blackness.

Courtney Cook and Italy Welton. Photo: Ed Forti. All images courtesy of JACK, New York.

In Minneapolis’s Third Precinct, a restaurateur puts justice at the heart of rebuilding plans

“Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served.” Shared online after Gandhi Mahal was destroyed in the unrest sparked by George Floyd’s murder, the words of Ruhel Islam went viral. Now that the dust has settled, the Minneapolis restauranteur and sustainability advocate discusses what’s next, for his business and his multi-modal mission of “bringing peace by pleasing the palate.”

The rubble where Gandhi Mahal once stood. Photo: Paul Schmelzer.

How on earth will we build a whole new world?

Leah Penniman, the co-founder of Soul Fire Farm and author of Farming While Black, talks about healing from generations of land-based trauma and creating a more just food system.

Leah Penniman. All images courtesy of Soul Fire Farm except where noted.

Black Birth Matters

Documentary film and photography—from George Stoney’s All My Babies (1953) to LaToya Ruby Frazier’s 2018 photography series for the New York Times—have played a critical role in efforts to humanize Black maternal and infant mortality statistics.

“Simone Landrum holding her newborn son Baby Kingston” © LaToya Ruby Frazier. Courtesy the Artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York / Rome