Linda Goode Bryant
Linda Goode Bryant was born in 1949 in Columbus, Ohio, and currently lives and works in New York City, New York. In 1972, Goode Bryant received her BA from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and studied art history at the City College of New York until 1974, later receiving her MBA from Columbia University in 1980. In the many different titles and hats that the artist has worn throughout her decades-long career, including educator, gallerist, activist, filmmaker, and farmer, Goode Bryant has sought to realize ideas that were previously thought impossible through a choreography of passion, commitment, skill, and community. From creating the first Black commercial gallery in New York City to founding an urban farming nonprofit on concrete yards and city rooftops, Goode Bryant’s works empower communities and create tangible change, allowing others to realize their impossible ideas alongside her.
One of Goode Bryant’s earliest projects, Just Above Midtown (JAM), is a prime example of how the artist takes seemingly impossible concepts and makes them real. The Midtown gallery opened in 1972 with Goode Bryant as founder and director and was one of the first commercial galleries to show Black artists and artists of color. Rather than run on the promise of financial success, the artist created a space where artists were free to experiment and be inspired by one another while keeping the gallery open through the creative use of debt, interpersonal skills, resilience, and an unending belief in the idea of JAM. Before it closed in 1986, the gallery hosted exhibitions of work by Janet Olivia Henry, Randy Williams, Ishmael Houston-Jones, Maren Hassinger, and many more. It was a site of intense discussion and debate around questions of art, particularly art by Black artists. Forty years after its founding, JAM was the subject of a 2022 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces, which brought together works from the fourteen years of JAM alongside a series of performances, installations, and activations across New York City.
During and since the years JAM was operational, Goode Bryant has sought to understand and build community, examining how community members are empowered within it or feel a sense of ownership over it. In her 2003 film Flag Wars, which she co-directed with documentarian Laura Poitras, the artist takes the gentrification of a neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, as an opportunity to investigate what happens when two oppressed communities are at odds. Her latest ongoing work is Project EATS, an initiative of the Active Citizens Project, through which Goode Bryant works with a team to grow fresh produce in New York City and provide it to underserved communities in food deserts, like in the Brownsville neighborhood, while also giving residents in these communities the skills to farm themselves.
“It never really was about objects, it never was about commerce, it was about creativity, and frankly, JAM was an artwork for me.”
Linda Goode Bryant