In dialogue with What Black Is This, You Say?, the long term public artwork by Chicago-based artist Amanda Williams at Storefront for Art and Architecture, an evening of readings, propositions, conversations, and musings on the plurality, complexity, and nuance of Black experience(s) took place on the evening of April 26, 2023. 

Organized collaboratively by Storefront and The Cooper Union, this symposium celebrates the forthcoming monograph of Amanda Willams focused specifically on the public nature of her project What Black Is This, You Say?. Featuring an inter-generational group of artists, writers, scholars, thought leaders, and musicians, this event gathers them for an evening of creative exchange around the stakes, questions, and new horizons that Williams’ project puts forth. 

This symposium includes a reading by New York Times culture writer J Wortham, a keynote lecture by Andres L. Hernandez, a panel amongst Williams, Deana Haggag, Justin Garrett Moore, and Mabel O. Wilson. As well as a special sonic performance by singer, songwriter, and poet Jamila Woods.


About the Participants

Andres L. Hernandez is a Chicago-based artist, designer, and educator who re-imagines the environments we inhabit, and explores the potential of spaces to support creative production, public dialogue, and social action. He is the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s inaugural and current SPACE artist-in-residence at Curie Metropolitan High School, a 2018–19 visiting artist-in-residence with the University of Arizona School of Art, and a 2018 Efroymson Family Fund Contemporary Arts Fellow.

Hernandez is a member of the performance collective Dark Adaptive with artists Torkwase Dyson and Zachary Fabri. Hernandez is cofounder of the Revival Arts Collective with Mecca Brooks, Frankie M. Brown, and L. Anton Seals, and founder and director of the Urban Vacancy Research Institute. From 2017 to 2019, he was an exhibition design team member for the Obama Presidential Center Museum, and currently serves as a creative consultant for other public projects and initiatives. Hernandez received a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University and a Master of Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he is an Associate Professor.


Deana Haggag (she/her) is an arts administrator, cultural worker, executive leader, and strategic advisor. She is currently a Program Officer in Arts and Culture at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Prior to joining the foundation in May 2021, she was the President & CEO of United States Artists, a national arts funding organization based in Chicago, IL. During her tenure, USA saw unprecedented growth, expanding its Fellowship award program, launching the Berresford Prize, and developing coalition efforts to advance support for individual artists most notably including Artist Relief, a $25 million COVID-19 emergency fund, and Disability Futures, a multi-disciplinary initiative supporting disabled creative practitioners. Before joining USA in February 2017, she was the Executive Director of The Contemporary, a nomadic and non-collecting art museum in Baltimore, MD, for four years. 


Justin Garrett Moore is the inaugural program officer for the Humanities in Place program at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.  His work focuses on advancing equity, inclusion, and social justice through place-based initiatives and programs, built environments, cultural heritage projects, and commemorative spaces and landscapes.  He has extensive experience in architecture, planning, and design—from urban systems, policies, and building projects to grassroots and community-focused planning, design, preservation, public realm, and arts initiatives.

With over fifteen years of public service with the City of New York, Mr. Moore has led several urban design and planning projects, including the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Waterfront, Hunter’s Point South, and the Brooklyn Cultural District.  From 2016 to 2020, he was the executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission, where he spearheaded initiatives to address social equity and sustainability through improved built environment design and public processes.  His work spanned housing and community development, place and open space design, historic preservation, public art and monuments, and civic engagement.


Amanda Williams is a visual artist who trained as an architect. Her creative practice employs color as a way to draw attention to the complexities of how race shapes the ways in which we assign value to space in cities. The landscapes in which she operates are the visual residue of the invisible policies and forces that have misshapen most major US cities. Williams’ installations, paintings, and works on paper seek to inspire new ways of looking at the familiar, and in the process, raise questions about the state of urban space and ownership in America.

Amanda has exhibited widely, including the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, a solo exhibition at the MCA Chicago, and a public project with the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis. She is a 2018 USA Ford Fellow, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptors grantee, an Efroymson Family Arts Fellow, a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow and a member of the multidisciplinary Museum Design team for the Obama Presidential Center. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. Williams lives and works in Chicago. Amanda Williams was selected as a 2022 MacArthur Fellow. 


Mabel O. Wilson  is the Nancy and George Rupp Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, a Professor in African American and African Diasporic Studies, and the Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) at Columbia University. At GSAPP she co-directs the Global Africa Lab. Wilson joined the faculty of Columbia in 2007 and she has held fulltime and visiting appointments at UC Berkeley, California College of the Arts, Princeton University, Ohio State University and the University of Kentucky. She is trained in Architecture and American Studies, two fields that inform her scholarship, curatorial projects, art works and design projects. Through her transdisciplinary practice Studio &, Wilson makes visible and legible the ways that anti-black racism shapes the built environment along with the ways that blackness creates spaces of imagination, refusal and desire. Her research investigates space, politics and cultural memory in black America; race and modern architecture; new technologies and the social production of space; and visual culture in contemporary art, media and film. 


Jamila Woods is a poet and R&B singer. Jamila Woods was born in Chicago and raised on the city’s South Side, in both Washington Park and the suburb Beverly Hills. Woods’s father is a physician, and her mother is a spiritual healer. 

Woods graduated from Brown University with a BA in Africana Studies and Theatre and Performance Studies. She has cited Gwendolyn Brooks and Lucille Clifton as poetic influences. In 2012, she published her first chapbook, The Truth About Dolls, which includes a Pushcart Prize-nominated poem about Frida Kahlo. Her poetry has been featured in the anthologies The Uncommon Core: Contemporary Poems for Learning & Living (2013), Courage: Daring Poems for Gutsy Girls (2014), and The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (2015).


J Wortham (they/them) is a sound healer,, reiki practitioner, herbalist, and community care worker oriented towards healing justice and liberation. J is also a staff writer for  The New York Times Magazine, and co-host of the podcast ‘Still Processing,’ They occasionally publish thoughts on culture, technology and wellness in a newsletter. J is the proud editor of the visual anthology “Black Futures,” a 2020 Editor’s choice by The New York Times Book Review, along with Kimberly Drew, from One World. J is also currently working on a book about the body and dissociation for Penguin Press. J mostly lives and works on stolen Munsee Lenape land, now known as Brooklyn, New York, and is committed to decolonization as a way of life.



Storefront would like to thank the support for this program from The Cooper Union and The Cooper Union’s School of Architecture. Storefront’s program is made possible through the support of the Graham Foundation, the Ruth Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature; public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; the Storefront Circle and Storefront’s Board of Directors, members, and individual donors. Graphic Design for WBITYS? by Polymode.