*YOU BETTA WERK* at MoMA PS1 as part of VW Sunday Sessions. © 2015 MoMA PS1, New York. Photo: Charles Roussel

With niv Acosta, Davarian L. Baldwin, Alicia Garza, Uri McMillan and Kevin Omni Burrus

YOU BETTA WERK celebrates the convergence of two seminal liberation movements that emerged out of Harlem: The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the House and Ballroom Scene.

In August 1925, 500 Pullman porters gathered in secret at the Imperial Elks Lodge, Harlem, to protest deplorable working conditions. Led by activist A. Philip Randolph, they formed the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, united under the motto “fight or be slaves.” It was the first African American led labor organization and a forerunner of the struggle for black dignity and civil rights.

Sixty years later, the same Elks Lodge was one of the principal locations for House Balls, immortalized in the 1991 film, Paris is Burning. Ball culture—with its strivings, stylings, acts of self-expression and self-determination—was its own strike towards freedom, proclaiming the validity, beauty and power of queer lives.

These distinct liberation movements can be understood as aftershocks of the Great Migration, where massive population shifts of black Americans from the rural south to urban centers transformed political and creative cultures and provoked new ways of organizing.

Guests include Davarian Baldwin, a scholar of black urbanism and the Great Migration; Alicia Garza, special projects director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter; Uri McMillan, a scholar of performance and queer studies; and Kevin Omni Burrus.

Dance artist niv Acosta presents a performative response on the activist possibilities of gathering.

The program takes place in conjunction with the exhibition One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North at The Museum of Modern Art.

YOU BETTA WERK is organized by historian Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, author of the critically acclaimed Harlem Is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America and the illustrated children’s story Jake Makes a World: Jacob Lawrence, A Young Artist in Harlem.

MoMA PS1’s acclaimed VW Sunday Sessions performance series welcomes visitors to experience and participate in live art. Since its founding in 1976, MoMA PS1 has offered audiences one of the most extensive programs of live performance in the world. VW Sunday Sessions highlights artists responding to contemporary social and political issues through a wide variety of creative and critical lenses. Encompassing performance, music, dance, conversation, and film, the series develops and presents projects by established and emerging artists, scholars, activists, and other cultural instigators. With a focus on artists that blur and break traditional genre boundaries, VW Sunday Sessions embraces the communities in New York City that create and sustain artistic practice.

Since 2012, VW Sunday Sessions has presented a commissioning program resulting in new work by Trajal Harrell, Mårten Spångberg, Anne Imhof, Tobias Madison and Matthew Lutz Kinoy, Hannah Black, and Colin Self. Additionally, the VW Dome Artist Residency offers a platform for creative development and experimentation for artists at all stages of the creative process.


Sunday Sessions is organized by Jenny Schlenzka, Associate Curator with Alex Sloane, Curatorial Assistant and Rosey Selig-Addiss, Associate Producer.

Sunday Sessions 2014-15 is dedicated to Mike Skinner, 1974-2014 Volkswagen logo

Sunday Sessions and the VW Dome at MoMA PS1 are made possible by a partnership with Volkswagen of America.

Major support is provided by MoMA’s Wallis Annenberg Fund for Innovation in Contemporary Art through the Annenberg Foundation.