Souls Grown Deep advocates the inclusion of Black artists from the South in the canon of American art history and fosters economic empowerment, racial and social justice, and educational advancement in the communities that gave rise to these artists. Souls Grown Deep derives its name from a 1921 poem by Langston Hughes (1902-67) titled The Negro Speaks of Rivers, the last line of which is "My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”
Souls Grown Deep Community Partnership pursues racial, social, and economic justice by grant-making, values-aligned investments, underwriting projects, advocacy, and forging collaborations with a variety of like-minded civic organizations, businesses, and nonprofits.
In March 2021, Souls Grown Deep made a $600,000 investment in Paskho, the socially responsible, Black-owned lifestyle apparel company, which will establish a localized production pod in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, home of the renowned quilting community where more than 100 of the artists in the Foundation’s collection have lived and practiced. The presence in Gee’s Bend extends Paskho’s efforts in response to COVID-19 and the call for social justice in the United States to on-shore all its manufacturing operations, employing craftspeople across the country and reducing its carbon footprint. The investment also continues Souls Grown Deep’s initiatives to foster economic development in the communities that gave rise to the artists in its collection—which have generated nearly $500,000 in income for the quilters in the past six months—and its commitment to aligning its endowment with its mission and values through impact investing.
In 2020, SGD established the Souls Grown Deep Resource Center, providing free computer and internet access to members of the Gee’s Bend Community, where fewer than half of the residents have home internet access. The Resource Center and its local staff have become the point of origin and operations for numerous initiatives:
Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, efforts to restrict access to the polls have proliferated. The SGD Resource Center is providing online access to voter registration and assistance with applications for absentee ballots.
Seeking to address historic underrepresentation in Gee’s Bend, Alabama, SGDCP is partnering with the United States Census Bureau to ensure a complete and accurate survey of its Census tract in Wilcox County, which currently has the lowest response rate in the state. To encourage participation and enhance access, SGDCP is providing free, public Internet access and laptop computers for the community, employing residents to staff a phone bank, and incentivizing Census completion by distributing gift certificates valid at local grocery stores.
SGD paid Gee’s Bend quilters to produce over 600 cloth masks for distribution at no cost to every household in the area. Assistance with accessing CARES stimulus payments was also provided by trained, local Resource Center staff.
MARKET ACCESS FOR GEE'S BEND QUILTERS
Souls Grown Deep and our nonprofit partner Nest are working alongside Gee's Bend quilters to develop direct-to-consumer channels for the sale of Gee's Bend quilts. Establishing an eCommerce presence will, for the first time, allow for the direct-to-consumer sale of quilts outside of the Bend, and lay the groundwork for sustainable, long-term economic success.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND DOCUMENTATION
Souls Grown Deep provides free fine art photography and portraiture to Gee's Bend quilters. Adequate documentation is needed to protect the heritage of the community, assist scholars in further developing our awareness of the tradition, and facilitate bringing quilts to market online and onsite. Quilters receive either photo prints or digital images of their work.
SECURING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHS
In partnership with the Artists Rights Society, Souls Grown Deep is engaged in a multi-year campaign to secure intellectual property rights, including copyrights, rights of publicity or personality, and moral rights, for the artists in the Souls Grown Deep Foundation collection. ARS supports its member artists through licensing expertise, legal support, advocacy, and educational outreach.