From July 14-16, ArtsWave kicked off the Truth & Healing Artist Showcase at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The culmination of the 2023 Black and Brown Artist Program, the showcase spotlights 18 local artists who examine themes of healing, rebirth and reconnection through fashion, painting, sculpture, film, music, podcasts, theater, dance and more.

Michael Thompson can be called an artist, designer, ethnographer, writer, speaker, poet and more. He draws from all those experiences when he makes art. "All those things exist at the same time in my brain," he explains. "I utilize those tools to tell whatever story needs to be told." His latest work tells a story to match that integrative, interdisciplinary philosophy.

"Murmurations" is a large scale oil painting that depicts the mesmerizing movement of large flocks of starlings. Alongside them are human figures, partly falling back and partly moving forward. The canvas is backlit, which lends it a unique dimension of contrast between light and dark. The brighter parts of the canvas have transparent layers that appear to glow from within. The dark, opaque seem to shine in the gallery light. The lighting track behind the canvas emphasizes the shapes of both the bodies and birds.

The result illustrates the power of collective, community action. Thompson studied the expanding and contracting patterns of starling flocks in preparation for the new work. "The way they actually fly is that one starling influences four or five in close proximity," he notes. "They're influencing and reacting to each other." In the domino effect from a micro action to a macro impact, he sees a metaphor for how an individual can create ripples of change by influencing and reacting to members of their own community. That influence can bring communities together to connect and heal, especially during what the United States Surgeon General calls an "Epidemic of loneliness and isolation."

"Attrition," a short film by Silas Tibbs, explores the African American experience through Orwellian speculative fiction. Set 40 years after a military crackdown on a protest leads to the establishment of the Department of Social Regulation, "Attrition" follows a disillusioned Black war veteran and his wife as they prepare for an interview that could their lives.

The narrative's foundation comes from a conversation in which Tibbs helped a friend realize their suggestion for handling an influx of immigrants would require implementing fascism in the United States. On that foundation, he adds his own lived experience. As a child accompanying his parents to apply for government assistance, he witnessed cracks in the system, like arbitrary income limits that immediately cut off financial aid and shelter rules that treat third shift workers with hostility and suspicion. Those unyielding bureaucratic limitations come through in the film as the characters grapple with the difficult choices they must make to navigate the dystopian world.

Tibbs sees truth as a critical and sometimes overlooked step in the healing process, noting, "There are times, in certain spaces, where it feels like we're trying to close the wound before we finish the surgery... How can we heal if we can't diagnose?" To that end, he hopes to inspire vigilance in audiences. Having studied communication and rhetoric, he has watched in alarm as state legislatures have implemented laws governing what speech is allowed in places like higher education institutions.

The other main takeaway Tibbs hopes to impart with "Attrition" is empathy, as one of his "biggest passions with art is connecting one human experience to another." His goal is for the short film to serve as the first step toward a more complete narrative arc — one that ultimately bends toward solidarity and healing.

ArtsWave's Black and Brown Artist Program supports local artists of color who interpret the themes of our times. It is made possible through the generosity of the City of Cincinnati, Duke Energy, Macy's, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Fifth Third Bank and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Over the past three years, the program has awarded $742,108 in grants, funding a total of 67 new commissions from BIPOC artists.

If you missed out on opening weekend, you haven't missed your chance to see all of these remarkable works. The Truth & Healing Film Festival will screen ten films again on Sunday, July 30 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Admission will be free that day thanks to the Fifth Third Community Days program. You can visit the Truth & Healing Visual Art Exhibition through September 10 in the Freedom Center's Skirball Gallery.