Exhibition features work inspired by Marshall Shorts' Black Creatives manifesto

When Marshall Shorts was asked to participate in Scott Woods' “Holler” project back in March, he wasn't necessarily surprised. An artist and design professional, Shorts was a natural fit for Woods' 31-black-art-events-in-31-days showcase.

But Shorts was invited as a lecturer — the only lecture held during the month of poetry readings, music and dance performances and the like.

“I took it as a sign that I needed to finish this thing,” Shorts said in a recent interview in his Blockfort studio.

“This thing” is the Black Creatives Manifesto, a document asserting a collection of ideas and ideals that has since proved to be an utterance around which creatives and people of color of varying pursuits have rallied. (Read it for yourself, if you haven't already, at blackcreativesmanifesto.com.)

“It was me saying, ‘Here's what I think our response to what we have experienced and the current political-social climate is, and I hope this affirms you as black artists,'” Shorts said. “It was for me first. But it was always kind of with the spirit of others when I was working on it. I wanted to make it universal … regardless of how you identify within that [creatives] space. Black people aren't a monolith.

“I tried to make it broad enough to resonate with black creatives from all walks. The principles themselves are in the true spirit of the black power movement. Each principle can be applied not only to black creatives. … Anybody should be unapologetic about what they create.”

Shorts will tell you he considers the manifesto a collective effort. He shared the document with a small group of friends and colleagues, who provided feedback and input before Shorts created the final version and posted it online.

“I consider those people more than just co-signers,” Shorts said. “For me, the manifesto was a black power moment — an affirming moment for black creatives.”

The Black Creatives manifesto serves as the nexus for a group exhibition in the gallery space at Blockfort titled “BLK PWR Mixtape.” The exhibition, which borrows its name from a 2011 documentary about the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and early '70s, is the first formal representation of the manifesto's concepts. It is co-curated by Shorts' studio-mate, David Butler.

“We reached out to a mix of artists with a prompt of, ‘What does black power look like today?'” Shorts said. “And then we said, ‘Here's the manifesto. Use it as a springboard to think about things you might want to create, or to provide existing work that centers around the manifesto and its themes.'”

“BLK PWR Mixtape” opens during the sixth annual Creative Control Fest (CCF), which Shorts co-founded. While not formally a part of the festival, “BLK PWR Mixtape” does fit nicely with the event's goals of expanding racial and ethnic diversity in creative industries in Columbus and connecting creatives of color to the city's creative economy. CCF's ongoing success also played a part in inspiring Shorts' assembly of the manifesto.

“I had been reflecting back, and I had been having this vision,” Shorts said about the convergence of the manifesto, exhibition and conference. “We're fortunate to make it past five years [of CCF], and some things started to manifest as a result of what we started. Throughout that time we've been experiencing difficult things, but we see where we are in terms of growth. We've had more pre-registrations for this conference than any before. So it just came out. The manifesto worked for the conference, to affirm the accomplishment and affirm that what we set out to do is happening — that black creatives are more prevalent than what we've seen before in a lot of different spaces. It's a celebration of those things.”

Designers (Jamal Collins), musicians (DJ Rhettmatic), entrepreneurs (Ethan Holmes) and more will be speaking, teaching and participating in this year's CCF. Shorts is most excited to welcome Atlanta-based artist Dubelyoo, of whose work Shorts has been a fan since he was in college. Dubelyoo, Shorts said, is one of those artists he always imagined would someday be part of Creative Control.

“It all came with taking an action and just starting, and we really hope to inspire other people to take that step,” Shorts said. “If you want to start something and you want to see that manifested, sometimes it takes grinding it out.

“In the manifesto is recognition that there was a time when we doubted ourselves. For me that was the goal — to share that black creatives experience certain things in certain spaces, and that based on my experiences, that was not always feeling like what I was contributing was valuable. So it's a … continuous reminder to keep grinding.”