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What gives us permission to edit black history on Wikipedia?

Can you edit black history? Heather Hart, 40, a black artist from New York, has spent February leading Charlotteans in doing just that. Hart, an Artist-in-Residence at McColl Center for Art + Innovation, said, “Everybody feels that they can come out to a protest or a rally in the street, right? It’s something that I don’t do very often. It’s not my medium per se.”

The medium that she has introduced to Charlotte as a method for inciting change — and editing history — is Wikipedia. Anyone could participate in one of the four Black Lunch Table edit-a-thon sessions with Hart this past month, the last of which was Feb. 25. It all falls under the Black Lunch Table project she began in 2005 with another black artist, Jina Valentine, with whom she connected at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. They both wanted to create something accessible.

The Black Lunch Table project seeks to mobilize a democratized (re)writing of history featuring African-American artists through discursive forms of content like video chats with different grad schools across the country, audio archiving sessions and edit-a-thons.

“The nice thing about Wiki is that it is a publicly sourced site — encyclopedia, basically — and that means that the reason it was created is to kind of create something nontraditional that is sourced from different points of view,” Hart said.

And the random people who have gathered for the Charlotte edit-a-thons (including local artists both white and black) are helping Hart push back against Wikipedia’s definition of a “notable” artist. Hart says that definition has left out a lot of black artists.

“‘Notable’ in Wikipedia standards would be having two major solo museum exhibitions,” she said, “but that doesn’t fit all types of artists. … We’re trying to put together a combination of credentials that would equate to that but in different fields.”

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Like reviews from a major newspaper publication, a museum group show, a combination of gallery shows, local articles — anything to make sure that whatever Wikimedian is vetting the article understands this spotlighted artist belongs in Wikipedia.

“If you can get a combination of about five bibliographical entries, then that is a pretty solid article,” Hart said. She passed around a packet of information gathered from a local library, while another participant browsed Creative Loafing for content.

It’s a process. When Hart brought the Black Lunch Table project to Charlotte, she compiled a list of 30 local artists through her own research and McColl Center’s resources. But she only found local library resources for three of them.

Take a look at the Black Lunch Table Wikipedia page for Charlotte. The red font represents artist names that aren’t attached to any articles on Wikipedia. The blue indicates that they have been placed in Internet history through articles, which can still use editing. Enter: random Charlotteans.

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From Wikipedia: Meetup/Black Lunch Table

“I hope that the editors that learned Wiki editing here will continue to do that,” Hart said, “and these Meetup pages will be archived on Wikipedia so you can always look at this list and continue to edit.”

Bottom line, she said, “I would love for all of those names to turn blue.”

Photos: Katie Toussaint

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