Organized around literal and metaphorical lunch tables, BLT takes the school lunchroom phenomenon as its starting point. In previous iterations (2006-2011), BLT took the forms of online intercollegiate meet-ups, artist salons, and informal roundtable discussions. It presently comprises a series of artist roundtables, community roundtables, an online oral history archive, and Wikimedia initiative . The format for our roundtables is modeled after a project iteration we staged in 2014 in Chicago at The Black Artists Retreat [B.A.R.], an annual symposium for Black artists. Participants are curated into conversations, provided with a set of prompts, and discussions are audio-recorded and transcribed for eventual public access on our online archive. Our 2014 event provided a unique situation wherein generations of historically significant Black artists were actively involved in defining the agendas of our amorphous community. In January 2015, we staged our first People’s Table (then called #blacklivesmatter table). That event responded to recent police involved shootings of unarmed Black people, and state-violence both locally and nationally. The #blacklivesmatter session followed the format established at [B.A.R.] 2014 in a two-part series of lunch table discussions engaging artists, activists, academics, students, politicians, and local community members from across the Research Triangle in North Carolina.
As we researched models for the BLT archive to house the recorded audio, we noted that many significant Black artists were omitted from art historical archives and the world’s most widely referenced encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Our Wikipedia initiative redresses these omissions by mobilizing a collective authoring of articles on the lives and works of Black artists. When we began our Wikipedia project in 2014, important figures such as Fred Moten, Meschac Gaba, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, and Valerie Cassel Oliver were all without pages. Five years later, each of these important figures has a page that began as a BLT target. Black Lunch Table is recognized as an official Wikimedia user group, Under COVID lockdown we hosted dozens of online events including, Wikipedia edit a thons, workshops, artist features, and skill shares. We also collaborated with other institutions to bring our Wikipedia project to their communities.
In 2019, BLT was granted 501c3 status, and has evolved exponentially with the support and dedication of its governance board, and the commitment of its funders. Thanks to the support of grants from the Mellon Foundation, the Warhol Foundation, the Logan Foundation, Ruth Foundation, Ford Foundation, Creative Capital, the Wikimedia Foundation, the Foundation for Contemporary Art, and the Institute for Arts and Humanities at UNC, BLT has matured from an independent collaboration between two artists into a nonprofit with administrative staff, production staff, and affiliate proxies in other cities.