By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
Experiencing art is often a necessarily social occasion. Whether watching a play or attending a gallery opening, art is often public by nature. The COVID-19 pandemic has naturally proved to be a major disruptive force in the art and entertainment communities.
To combat this disruption, The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Office of Public Art began a public search for artists in an effort to respond to the crisis.
“A couple days before the official stay-at-home order came through, we launched our Artists Bridging Social Distance initiative,” said Divya Heffley, associate director of the Office of Public Art. “The goal of that initiative was to be responsive to the crisis in real time.”
The initiative worked to fund artistic content that could transcend the physical barriers to art in these times.
“There were only two things these projects had to do: they had to follow guidelines for public health and safety, and they had to be widely shareable, in any media,” said Heffley.
After review by an independent third party, three grant recipients were chosen from 32 submissions at the beginning of May. One of them is Black Dream Escape, an artistic collaboration between rest doulas Onika Reigns and Windafire. Their work centers on black and indigenous rest practices, and to that end, they would host monthly in-person lullaby sessions, along with one-on-one rest consultations.
Black Rest ThoughtPathways arose out of Black Dream Escape’s monthly lullaby sessions. The advent of COVID-19 made it impossible to meet in person, so Reigns took these lullaby sessions online, doing daily live lullaby sessions on Instagram. These were dubbed “COVID Cares” lullaby sessions, and it was this work that was submitted to the Office of Public Art.
“When the grant from the Office of Public Art came to our attention, we decided to make June about Black Rest ThoughtPathways,” said Reigns. “We were looking for ways to bring people in where we could pay them, because we believe that if we ask another artist to do something, we pay them an artist’s fee. That’s one of our core values.”
Black Rest ThoughtPathways is a series of YouTube videos, posted every Wednesday in June to Black Dream Escape’s channel. Each video contains guided meditation, guests who speak on a variety of topics related to rest practices, and instruction on ways to build these practices individually. The videos also open and close with lullabies, written by Reigns and Windafire.
“Our thought pathways are always instructional but more just theory on how people can build rest practices, being black and indigenous in this oppressive world that we’re in,” said Reigns.
Helping to cultivate these practices is very important to Reigns, as she understands intimately how this pandemic is affecting communities of color.
“This is a restless and frightening time for not only the world at large, but especially Black and Brown communities who are being disproportionately affected by all of the consequences of the pandemic,” said Reigns. “It is imperative that we supply our communities with opportunities to decrease stress creatively.”
Reigns also hopes that this work will help connect viewers to their predecessors, noting that communities of color have always found ways to rest, even under threat of death.
“We try to help people remember physically and emotionally that our ancestors had a specific way,” said Reigns. “We aren’t originating rather than reminding people that this has been our way.”
For more information about Black Dream Escape, visit their Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube channels.