Whole Rest: Black History Month Florence IX (Part II) – Featuring Justin Thompson

I think that arriving in Florence, where value was placed on life much more than it is on work, was key. I was much more interested in living a certain kind of life than I was in making a certain amount of money, and that’s really what sustains me here. Then The Recovery Plan, Black History Month Florence, those were built to make up for all the things that I was not okay with. There’s a lot about this place that I had huge issues with, and I needed to create something that would allow, maybe make more space, more sense for me. And that’s how that happened and it continues to feed me.” Justin Randolph Thompson

In this second half of our conversation, Justin and I continue to discuss the importance of Black History Month Florence and The Recovery Plan, but things also take a personal turn. Justin recounts more intimate stories about his life experiences and journey to Italy, his art, how inspiring it is to encounter and work with people from all over the world, and the unicity of living in a place where value is put on life, not just work. We also discuss racism and visibility, and how visual culture often tells us more than the written archives can and how to look to art for answers and clues.

We end with some hopes for the future and ruminations about both planning ahead and legacy, the significance of mentoring young artists and creating opportunities for them, sharing space and knowledge, involving and welcoming people, and the need right now for a moment of contemplated and collective reflection that will enable us to move forward and create a better society.

Justin Randolph Thompson Biography

Justin Randolph Thompson is an artist, cultural facilitator and educator born in Peekskill, NY in ’79. Based between Italy and the US since 1999, Thompson is Co-Founder and Director of Black History Month Florence, a multi-faceted exploration of Black histories and cultures in the context of Italy founded in 2016. Having realized, coordinated, curated, facilitated and promoted over 300 events and with 8 ongoing research platforms, the initiative has been reframed as a Black cultural center called The Recovery Plan.

Thompson is a recipient of a 2022 Creative Capital Award, a 2020 Italian Council Research Fellowship, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Award, a Franklin Furnace Fund Award, a Visual Artist Grant from the Fundacion Marcelino Botin and an Emerging Artist Fellowship from Socrates Sculpture Park amongst others. His work and performances have been exhibited widely in institutions including The Whitney Museum of American Art, the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and The American Academy in Rome and are part of numerous collections including The Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Museo MADRE. His life and work seek to deepen the discussions around sociocultural stratification and the arrogance of permanence by employing fleeting temporary communities as monuments and fostering projects that connect academic discourse, social activism and DIY networking strategies in annual and biennial gatherings, sharing and gestures of collectivity.

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