Champions of Change in Minnesota: Taylor Ngiri Seaberg

The musician and organizer found connections between art and protest in 2020
Taylor Ngiri - Musician & Organizer
Taylor Ngiri Seaberg – Musician & Organizer

Tintype by Carla Alexandra Rodriguez/Blkk Hand

Taylor Ngiri Seaberg showed up for their community in 2020 in a big way—mixing social justice, community building, and art making. After the last concert with their band the Black Velvet Punks in March, the world turning upside down spurred both reflection and innovation. They made a “quaranzine,” produced virtual programming, and led an outdoor socially distant concert at George Floyd Square in the wake of the Minneapolis uprising.

They produced and performed on an album based on the concert called The Art of the Revolution, which is expected to come out in February. Funded by a Red Bull Arts microgrant for protest photography, Ngiri Seaberg recently moved to Chicago. Minnesota ties remain in the form of creative projects and political organizing work with BIPOC, queer, trans youth as part of the Minnesota Youth Collective—which formed a union this past November.

We chatted with Seaberg over the phone to catch their reflections on 2020 and their plans for 2021.

How did 2020 feel different to you than past years?

I’m a transplant. I was born in Germany, and I was a military brat. So, I moved around. I have a “third culture” kind of perspective. When I first came here, it was really hard to acclimate, even though I have family in North Minneapolis on my mom’s side. It’s cold culture—people tend to group with people that they know. It was a hard scene to break into. This past year, particularly in the midst of the tragedy of George Floyd being murdered, there was a lot of mobilization. I was volunteering with my roommates in North Minneapolis, at food shelters and things. It was the first time that I saw people in my Black community, people from other from other BIPOC communities, and white people working in tandem to this degree in Minnesota. That’s what helped me lean into doing a lot of community organizing, curation, and wanting to adapt.

We did a benefit concert in our in our backyard that had 250 people come out. We had 250 masks donated that were handmade by an Ojibwe artist and by one of the band members who was also playing during the show. It was this mass mobilization around community solidarity, but also adaptability of people. If we are going to protest in the street, if we are going to throw a show, we’re going to be really safe about it and try to adapt as best as we can. And it went really successfully. It was like, “Wow, everyone’s just coming together and it feels beautiful.”

What role do artists play in times of crisis?

We’re oftentimes the speaker or the megaphone. Art is becoming a vehicle for dialogue. I was doing protest photography, which is what I ended up submitting to Red Bull Arts for the micro grant I received. I was taking a bunch of photos of the protests. That was the first time I was noticing press networks reaching out to use my photos and being like, “This is a really beautiful piece that you did, can we feature it?” I started realizing all these different things are helping people learn more about what’s going on, especially if they don’t live in the state. And that was really cool.

What are your plans for 2021?

Pioneer PBS actually came to my house back in August and shot a mini documentary of me. That’s going to come out February. And then I also am producing and doing a lot of the instrumentation on a Twin Cities community album, called The Art of the Revolution. And then there’s gonna be a couple of sessions from the Carpet Booth Studios that me and my band Black Velvet Punks did.

 

 

It sounds like you’ll still very much have the ties to Minnesota.

Chicago is not super far. I can hop, skip, and jump if I need to come back for anything. I still have I still have ties to Minnesota. I had a friend in Chicago that happened to be looking for a place around the same time as me and I was like, “Cool, let’s take the adventure.”

Read about all 22 Champions of Change featured in our Jan/Feb 2021 issue.

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