Souls Grown Deep Community Partnership is dedicated to improving the quality of life of communities that gave rise to the art made by African American artists of the South in the care of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation. In 2018, this entity absorbed the Foundation as a supporting organization, ensuring that SGD’s board and staff embrace racial and economic justice as our overarching goal. In the intervening two years, SGDCP has made grants and committed $1 million to social impact investments with direct and indirect benefits to people of color in the Black Belt.
SGD recently 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:
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.
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.
Opportunity for Gee's Bend Quilters
The average annual income in Gee's Bend is under $10,000, and well over half of the residents live in poverty. Some live without proper electricity and plumbing, and most do not have internet access in their homes. These challenges have significantly limited Gee's Bend quilters’ ability to connect with a global audience and market their quilts beyond the local quilters' collective. To address this, Souls Grown Deep and our 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 Rights
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.
Supporting the Next Generation in Gee’s Bend
SGD is actively supporting ABC Elementary School in Alberta, with curriculum-based learning tools drawn from the proven Visual Thinking Strategy (VTS) teaching philosophy and practicum.