It's an honor. Please introduce yourself to our readers...
My name is Zaiche Johnson. Since I don’t ergonomically fit into areas of convention, below is a sampling of some my endeavors:
I was born into this quixotic world to actualize an existential commandment developed from the ionic hopes of my parents and ancestors. I am on an archaeological excavation for uncharted mediums and justice in totality. Originally from Spanish Harlem, I find myself splitting time among NYC/Austin/Jacksonville.
What are the main projects or programs you're working on or involved with in Jacksonville?
Curating two Mayor Gillum murals for New Florida Majority at Austin’s Soul Food on N. Main Street; Commercial and residential interior design and construction with Founder and partner Stephanie Reyes of MOTIF; Community and humanitarian infrastructure-building and black reparative economic work through Yellow House with Founder/ Director Hope McMath; Curating The Balance King residency (Sidewalk Sessions) at Cool Moose; Unilateral Media Projects, Pen + Frink; Mentoring and Basketball Training; Developing a Vegan Popcorn Line with co- founder Jeremy Nix, Popped Quiz; Developing a vegan burger, The Zaiche with Cool Moose Cafe; Commercial development projects with Khalid Majied; Pedal Party: Freedom of Health Initiative with co-founder Mal Jones; a new filming partnership with Isaac Brown of Jellyfish Smack Productions; Publishing a collection of poems and other written works with Shavone Steele; and, the usual: hugging babies, carrying groceries for strangers, and being a hostage negotiator for the community against a power utility monopoly.
You're extremely passionate about sociopolitical issues. How do you feel these concepts intersect with the arts?
I definitely feel, through the prism of capitalism, art has mutated into an object of commodified sterility, incarcerated by the well-to-do and obtuse agents of hobbyist epidemia. Art modalities, must be resurrected through the osmosis of annulment, from the systems that infected the DNA of virtuosity. Life, is the uncredited sphere in which the nomenclature “art” is publicized as, “we should all strive for a dimensional comprehension of the social/political constructs that have sovereignty over our daily existence,” so, a paramount conduit to interrogate and dissect these constructs, is art and culture!
How do you connect your art and artistic efforts to education and community outreach?
Education is a gargantuan term, and I have an aversion to the Victorian nature of conventional academics, so academia for me, can be the death of being intellectually malleable, because of certain preconceptions induced by standardized academic culture. Art, in its most glorious iterations, can touch actual people within our community; especially when art is weaponized as an apparatus to deconstruct oppressive systemic pathologies and form tangible coalitions for abolition.
You've lived and worked in many different cities and markets - some that would be considered more advanced than that of Jacksonville's. How do you view the evolution of the arts in this city and where do you see our growth heading?
The consolidation of Jacksonville created a municipal impediment, in terms of how the matrix of power was distributed, through a geopolitical coup to savagely undermine the societal dexterity of the Black community. Throughout the historical canon of civilization, there is infallible evidence of a cultural response to structural oppression, and the sub-textual resistance to modern ante-bellum art systems, and it's operational independence. The organizations on the periphery of these restrictive philosophies, are the genesis of a new municipal episteme. There is a dialect of abolition, that reverberates throughout the battered landscapes framed by exclusionary deprivation. The pith of this evolution to which you referred, is in the molecular expressions from the survivors.
What are your feelings on affirmative action and diverse representation in the arts and cultural sector?
Affirmative Action, often functions as an institutional misnomer, because of the apertures in the classification process of a “minority;” which in its current form is applicable to gender, class and ethnicity but in obtuse proportion. The beneficiaries, can be created from an isolated metric without factoring in the historical discrimination of a specific group that may be in higher ratio.. in specific cases (like in the Asian-American students enrollment lawsuit against Harvard). So, we need a reimagined solution, that dismantles the mechanisms of ethno-nepotism within hegemonic institutions. Diversity, is the equitable distribution of wealth, power, access and justice; it is not “multicultural participation” , and as long as, the art venues, culture media, philanthropic organizations, and public institutions recycle the nefarious policies of structural racism, it will ensure that their spaces for public patronage will continually calcify.
Jacksonville has been described as having an overall identity crisis. Do you agree with that notion? What do you feel is needed for Jacksonville to come into its own and "find its identity"? Do you feel like the Arts are a driving force behind solidifying this identity?
There is a pervasive sentiment, that I’ve discovered in my travels and meeting those people outside of Jacksonville, which is dictating what the city is NOT: a Mecca for cultural modernity. The governance and wealth-sectors seem to be interested in theatrical progression, similar to a sports franchise that sells “championship or bust” mantras, but are content with the “fiscal stability” of their isolated profit context of sold-out home games and merchandising. In this metaphor, the arts and culture conquistadors, must be prepared to die on the field to win the chip, despite dysfunctional management.
In your opinion, what are the challenges or obstacles Jacksonville is facing when considering forward or upward movement and growth - particularly in the realm of the Arts?
The wide spectrum of the fiscal disregard for arts-funding, and the demographics of those with expendable income generally perceiving art as a situational backdrop instead of an existential necessity, are monumental barricades to progression.
What are the greatest challenges you face as an artist and arts professional living and working in Northeast Florida?
Livable wages haven’t made it into the lexicon of the regional economic discourse, which matriculates down into every sector of business and compensation. Intrinsically, I have polymathic tendencies, which happen to be a proficient trait for earning a living.; otherwise, I could always perform as a subway busker if Jacksonville has mass transit, during the absent net of the soon extinct Social Security years.
How do you define success in what you do?
Obliterating the disingenuous notion that success is only validated by ascension within stratas of capitalism.
We'd like to thank Zaiche for his participation in this interview. We'd also like to thank you for reading.
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Please email Jihan@CulturalCouncil.org