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Artist Neil Horsky Channels Nostalgic Novelty with Women in Community Arts Trading Cards

By Taraneh Azar for BCN #133

March 10, 2021

In many ways, trading cards beautifully represent the concept of community art. As units of cultural ephemera, the value they hold is dependent on the messages they convey-- or more specifically, the people they showcase, celebrate and represent. They’re generally accessible, affordable, and serve to foster dialogue within and across communities. It’s fitting that artist Neil Horsky chose the trading card to showcase and celebrate the work of Boston women and femmes in community arts.

The “Samantha Sadd 2020 Women in Community Arts Trading Cards” serve to honor ten women and femmes in community arts working across a diverse range of mediums in and around the Greater Boston community. This is Horsky’s second set of Women in Community Arts Trading Cards.

The artists and 2020 Samantha Sadd honorees include: muralist and healing artist Silvia Lopez Chavez, musician and educator Ashleigh Gordon, public artist and educator Carolyn Lewenberg, visual artist and performer Lilly E. Manycolors, producer Fallon Leigh O’Brien, poet and author Zenaida Peterson, musician and comedian Angela Sawyer, visual artist and educator Chanel Thervil, artist and publisher Crystal Bi Wegner, and actor and director D. Farai Williams. An eleventh card commemorates community organizer and Boston Community Arts legend, Samantha Sadd.

Both underappreciated and women-led, Horksy recognizes the integral role that women and femmes play in community arts and wanted to honor their essential leadership and work in a novel way. “Not only is [community art] an under-appreciated field, but women have a leadership role in the field,” explained Horsky. “It's always more than just being talented. These women, they’re organizers, they’re leaders. They're actually doing on-the-ground work that has a huge impact.”

Vibrant and reminiscent of old comic strips, the cards were designed and produced by Horsky, with artist bios written by Boston-based arts journalist and musician, Rachel Flood Page. “This year, the style was more inspired by superheroes, by a comic book superhero kind of aesthetic. You get the idea that they're doing this incredible work to help the city which is in a way what superheroes do, right? Just metaphorically,” explained Horsky.

When we think of community art, often the first things that come to mind are murals or external sculptures—art in public spaces that can be viewed and consumed by anyone walking by. But Horsky stresses that community art is hardly restricted to one medium or category of presentation. Rather, any practice that serves or positively engages with a community can be community art. It’s about organizing, advocating, connecting, and any number of mediums and practices can be the vehicle.

“You might not associate some of the things that these women are doing as necessarily community art,” said Horsky. “Angela Sawyer, who is also a musician and storyteller-- I qualify her comedy as community art because she organizes open mics, for example. So, she's creating a platform for people to express themselves.”

Today, the notion of trading cards as a means of artmaking and communication brings with it both novelty and an air of nostalgia. But key for Horsky is the sense of community trading cards foster in that the physical objects become a token of exchange and dialogue.

“The idea of producing something tangible nowadays where there's so much digital content is kind of a nice, refreshing, nostalgic project and sentiment,” explained Horsky. “I'm a proponent of cheap art. I have an ideological stance related to art and accessibility. I feel like this project is another example of community art and trying to think expansively about media and format, like how can community art manifest in these different forms? So having something that is 7 bucks and that you can hold in your hand and that you can share with people easily and that's celebrating peers—all of those things ideologically are really in line with my vision for what community arts is all about.”

Sadd, the longtime director of Hawthorne Youth and Community Center in Roxbury, was one of the community’s strongest advocates for youth, teens and elders. She encouraged young people to be creative and recognize their excellence while keeping generations of families strong and connected through her community organizing work. Sadd also didn’t like having her photo taken, so the image representing her in the set is one of her community.

“The idea of having a posthumous award and it being named after somebody every year who's dead is kind of getting at that this is not some new thing. It's a long standing field. Community arts or artists applying their creativity and gumption, energy to helping the people around them—supporting the people around them—that's age old,” said Horsky. “There's this foundation that has been going on for a long time that women have always been leaders in this field. So that was the idea there of having a posthumous card or honorary legend—to place it in a larger historical context of community art.”

Cards can be purchased at the DAP store and at Above all, however, I encourage you to check out the remarkable work of the artists featured!


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