Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ani DiFranco Cancels Songwriting Retreat After Protests Over Plantation Location

Singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco has cancelled a planned retreat in White Castle, LA over protests that the location was once a slave plantation.

The retreat was set for June 25 to 29 at the Nottoway Plantation and Resort and was announced on DiFranco's website on December 17. Joining Ani for the retreat were Toshi Reagon, Buddy Wakefield, Hamell on Trial and others.

The problem with the location first broke when it was discovered that the website for the plantation had a history page that said:

In 1860, John Randolph owned 155 slaves and 42 slave houses which made Nottoway one of the largest plantations in the South, at a time when most owners possessed fewer than 20 slaves. Made up of both field hands and house servants, the Nottoway slave community played a very significant role in running the plantation and house.
Fans were outraged by the location and immediately took to Twitter and Facebook to protest the retreat being held at a place with such a dark history.  Those comments finally reached DiFranco, who has cancelled the event and written that she was not aware of the history of the plantation.
i have heard you: all who have voiced opposition to my conducting a writing and performing seminar at the nottoway plantation. i have decided to cancel the retreat.

when i agreed to do a retreat (with a promoter who has organized such things before with other artists and who approached me about being the next curator/host/teacher), i did not know the exact location it was to be held. i knew only that it would be "not too far outside of new orleans" so that i could potentially come home to my own bed each night. and i knew that one of the days of the retreat was slated as a field trip wherein everyone would come to new orleans together. later, when i found out it was to be held at a resort on a former plantation, I thought to myself, “whoa”, but i did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness. i imagined instead that the setting would become a participant in the event. this was doubtless to be a gathering of progressive and engaged people, so i imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were. i have heard the feedback that it is not my place to go to former plantations and initiate such a dialogue.
DiFranco quite eloquently goes on to discuss slavery and the history of the south along with allegations that the plantation's owner had political leanings far from DiFranco's and her fans. The full text can be seen here.

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