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Fly, Fabulous, and Comfortable Together: The New Eagle Creek Saloon at STABLE Arts

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Over the last several decades, Memorial Day has become synonymous with Black Pride in Washington, D.C. This year, STABLE Arts welcomed the holiday with the opening of Sadie Barnette’s traveling exhibition, New Eagle Creek Saloon (New Eagle). The commemorative installation is named for the first multi-racial queer bar in San Francisco, operated by Barnette’s father, Rodney from 1990 to 1993.  

It emerged as a response to racial profiling practiced at other venues, and as Sadie described, was a place for people to be “fly, fabulous, and comfortable together.” A hub for social activity and civic engagement, patrons were instrumental in passing an ordinance that prohibited San Francisco bars and restaurants from requiring three forms of ID from people of color. New Eagle was the only bar to offer an interactive video game experience to educate customers about safe sex, HIV and AIDS and where DJ Black (@blackismusic) played the first set of their thirty year career. 

The installation is a reimagining of the saloon’s ethos translated through Sadie’s imagination. Inside the gallery, a U shaped bar is adorned with alternating hot pink and sparkly iridescent surfaces. Archival images of people the Barnettes refer to as “members of the bar” are embedded along the counter top, while cutouts spanning the base serve as pedestals for reproductions of record and tape players from the early 90’s.

Requiring roughly 150 square feet of space and 8 feet of overhead, the back of the bar boasts an arch with a neon pink sign that reads “Eagle Creek” in a retro script. On either side, shelves house pothos plants, photographs, books and other bits of ephemera. Directly behind, three framed fragments of mirror from the original bar hang on the wall, holding memories of the past as they reflect new faces back into the structure. Open for service, stools and glittery booths invite you to sit, stay, and enjoy the scene.

 

Photo by Gregory Staley
Photo by Gregory Staley

As I moved through what was clearly a living monument, I couldn’t help but think about Barnette’s work as an interesting rift on what we currently define as public art. Earlier this spring I attended a lecture given by Renée Ater at the James A. Porter Colloquium where she presented “Public Art as Community Praxis.” Over the course of her lecture, she discussed artists like Michelle Browder and Ada Pinkston who challenge the fixed nature of sculpture, using objects and space as anchors for impact-driven engagement.

Michelle Browder’s Mothers of Gynecology (2021) a statue made of discarded metal as an homage to the enslaved women who were experimented on by Dr. James Marion Sims, serves as a visual reference for a larger initiative around reproductive health. Browder works closely with local gynecologists to provide education and services to those without access. Ada Pinkston’s Zymurgy transformed an empty parking lot in the Hamilton-Lauraville area of Baltimore City into an activity and performance space. Using etched acrylic, large scale projection mapping and LED lighting, storytelling workshops and other programs connected residents from across the city over the course of several weeks.

Though Barnette’s project doesn’t adhere to the traditional public setting, I think it adds nicely to Ater’s conversation, given the way it engages audiences. New Eagle propels us beyond the static object, as a participatory, ever-evolving experience. Enriched through programming, it transforms public art from a salutatory moment to having an active role in reinforcing the values and lessons its tangible body means to invoke.

With every new location, the exhibition adapts slightly to its surroundings, collaborating with local performers, educators, and organizations to present site-specific programming. All the while, connecting strangers, unearthing stories and inspiring action.

 

Photo by Gregory Staley
Photo by Gregory Staley

For  D.C., STABLE  has partnered with Harriet’s Wildest Dreams, an abolitionist defense hub working against state sanctioned violence; DIRT, an independent platform for critical arts discourse and The Psyce Podcast, featuring music and pop-culture, along with many others to produce events aimed at bridging audiences.

“When I first witnessed the exhibition, it appeared to reach the widest audience possible because it’s not a white wall gallery where things are sterile and fixed, it’s very active,” says Stable Director Maleke Glee. “It sets the standard for what I want to do at Stable, being very intentional about inviting in communities that may not often go to a gallery space.” 

During regular viewing hours, a soundscape curated by Adrian Loving features popular tracks from the early 90’s plays in the background while the cocktail menu honors D.C.’s Black queer history with drinks named for instagram personality and influencer Rolling Ray, The ClubHouse where the Memorial Day tradition started, and Welmore Cook, a founder of Black Pride. “DC has such a rich history and I wanted to make sure Stable participated in the celebration of a black queer present, past, and future,” explains Glee. 

Which brings me back to New Eagle’s unique place in the realm of public art. At the opening event, Rodeny Barnette candidly recounted his experiences as a Black Panther and an openly gay man while working in an activist space. Conversations like these fuse past and present. Here, what we leave with, is just as important as what we bring. If this spirit of pride and activism can permeate multiple communities across geographic locations, gaining collective mass, what can be said for our ability to harness that power to shape the future? 

We need only look back forty-two years at the first DC Black Pride, now a week-long celebration that’s been replicated in fifty locations across the world. And to the Barnettes, STABLE, and others whose work feeds the soul of public art to nourish the masses.  

 

New Eagle Creek Saloon will be on view at STABLE until July 8th. Learn more about the exhibition and upcoming programs here

 

Psyche Podcast at STABLE Arts Event
Psyche Podcast at STABLE Arts Event
Photo by Gregory Staley

Photos courtesy of STABLE arts, credit to Gregory Staley

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