“Everything I’ve ever done in life is about how one creates wealth that is in the community.”
Linda Goode Bryant
Over her nearly 50-year career, Linda Goode Bryant has assumed many roles: gallery owner, filmmaker, farmer, entrepreneur. In each position, she has advocated for a connection to “our innate ability to use what we have to create what we need.” This has been the guiding principle behind her diverse ventures—from Just Above Midtown gallery (1974–86) to the urban farming initiative she established in 2009, Project Eats—all of which have championed collaboration, curiosity, and experimentation.
Goode Bryant arrived in New York in 1972 with two young children, quickly becoming a fellow at The Metropolitan Museum before being hired by The Studio Museum in Harlem to run the Education department and work closely with contemporary artists. Her experience alerted her to the biases in art institutions at the time and fueled her desire to fill a gap in the city’s contemporary art landscape. Responding to the frustrations of many artists of color who felt excluded from galleries and museums, Goode Bryant decided it was time to “just start a gallery ourselves.” In 1974 she founded Just Above Midtown (JAM), an art gallery and self-described laboratory that centered around African American artists and artists of color. Initially located in the heart of New York’s major commercial gallery district, JAM’s explicit purpose was to be “in but not of the art world.” The gallery offered early—and often unique—opportunities to artists now in the MoMA collection, such as David Hammons, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O’Grady, Howardena Pindell, and many others. Nengudi has described JAM’s energy as “vibrating,” a space where artists “were given carte blanche, and there were no restrictions.”
JAM was a place where black art and constant debate flourished. The gallery embraced artists working with abstraction and experimenting with inexpensive materials, video, and performance, as well as self-taught and West Coast artists. It organized exhibitions that explored mixture in art and society, actively encouraged collaborations between artists, and fostered nuanced critiques of the commercialization of art. As part of their mission to build new relationships with the city’s art audience, Goode Bryant and her cohort incorporated forms of gathering in the gallery’s programming, including the Business of Being an Artist talks and workshops, aimed at artists’ professional development, and Brunch with JAM, a $5 series featuring lectures by artists and museum curators. The gallery also published two broadsheets: Blackcurrant, featuring artist interventions, and B Culture, an interdisciplinary publication with features on music, art, literature, and popular culture.
After closing the gallery in 1986, Goode Bryant dedicated herself to filmmaking, directing the documentary Flag Wars (2003) with Laura Poitras. Filmed over four years in Goode Bryant’s hometown, Flag Wars is an intimate portrait of a community in flux that explores the tensions between preservation and gentrification. Goode Bryant’s other films include Hurricane Teens (1998) and Can You See Me Now? (2006), collaborative projects that explore young people and community formation in New York City and beyond.
In 2009, Goode Bryant founded Project Eats, an urban farming initiative aimed at sustainable food production in black and brown communities in New York City. Just as JAM came about through a determination to create a needed space for artists of color to show their work, Goode Bryant’s current project is geared toward another kind of collective production that bridges culture, nature, and sustenance.
Thomas J. Lax, Curator, and Argyro Nicolaou, 12-Month Intern, Department of Media and Performance, 2019
Note: the opening quote is from BOMB Oral History Project: Linda Goode Bryant by Rujeko Hockley, April 11, 2019.