The Culture LP x Flipboard Presents “Futura Noir: Black Art in 2019 & Beyond”

Mia Quagliarello / February 6, 2019

Please meet “Futura Noir: Black Art in 2019 & Beyond,” the debut Flipboard collection from Mike Tonge. The New York native is the Senior Marketing Manager, Brooklyn Museum, and Co-founder of The Culture LP, an arts consultancy dedicated to empowering creatives of color and beautifying spaces. A cultural curator in the truest sense of the word, Tonge is intimately plugged into next-level culture and has built his career around making the arts, especially Black art, more accessible to all Americans. Get to know him and his Flipboard Magazine:

Let’s start with the art! Tell us what you picked for “Futura Noir” and why.

The reviews and articles I selected for this magazine go a bit deeper than a simple “must-see” artist list. My concept for “Futura Noir” was originally started as a way to celebrate Black art in a way that was a bit more future-focused. Many corporations have tried to jump on the Black History Month bandwagon, as well as other affinity months and days as a way to show allyship. But often times they fall flat because they are simply looking at a specific time in history through a really one-dimensional lens. Basically social feeds get flooded with quotes from the top 10 famous Black activists for 28 days. “Futura Noir” has manifested as a gallery show cultural program for Black employee resource groups, dinner parties, etc.

The themes are always roots, resistance, and revelation. Roots—considering where we came from and acknowledging the motherland that is the African continent. Thinking about resistance and the folks who did and are doing the work to “get us free.” And revelation—the idea that we as Black people can create in an unrestricted abstract way without painting faces or having to take a political stance. Which in itself is a political statement. So the artists, curators, and exhibitions in this lineup embody that for me. They are the ones doing the self-exploration, platform building, and aesthetic practices that I think will continue to usher us into the next era of visual art.

Why is it important to specify “Black art” vs. just “art”?

Because for years we have been innovating aesthetic, visual, musical, and performance arts without getting the proper credit. So I think it’s important we acknowledge where these works are coming from. I also think it’s necessary to show that there is a huge spectrum of “Black art” and recognize the wide range of styles and intentions, the same way Black people are non-monolithic, the work is more than portraits of people with Afros, even though those are just as necessary.

You’ve talked about authenticity as a necessity when you provide access to the arts. How do you keep it real in an age when so much feels staged?

It’s about finding the artists that are truly consumed with their craft. There’s a larger story that they’re trying to tell or pull from within themselves. For example, Patrick Eugene’s last solo show was a result of the emotions and insights that arose as he observed the gentrification of East New York, Brooklyn. When it comes to providing access to these exhibitions, I think content is extremely important. So we made sure to shoot a video interview that explained the concept and showed Pat walking around the neighborhood to really provide that context making what inspires his work much less abstract and theoretical.

From a marketing angle, myself and the team at the Brooklyn Museum always try to leverage culture and meet the audience where they are to ensure they feel welcomed to experience art at the institution. This has manifested as pop-up artmaking station with Brooklyn Hi-Art Machine and Blk Mkt Vintage at AFROPUNK, or taking over a subway station and Metrocard with Spotify.

How would you explain The Culture LP to someone who’s never heard of it?

The Culture LP has evolved quite a bit. We’ve focused the first few years on building community by way of events throughout NYC; originally our motto was to unite creators online and offline using the themes of culture, lifestyle, and progress as our guideposts.

Now we’re focusing on providing management and production services to help take a few artists that we believe in to the next level while also hosting workshops and sharing resources with the community we’ve established. We do still know some of the coolest events and shows in NYC. (If anyone would like to subscribe, they can do so here.)

Yeah, in fact, what makes for a memorable event from your perspective?

For me, a memorable event truly considers the five senses, which ensures that attendees have the opportunity to see content or something that is visually stimulating and also to be able to touch or make something tangible with their hands. In an ideal situation, there is also the chance to enjoy the taste of a well-prepared food or drink, which itself often has a smell, but I also love when places or events have a specific fragrance or scent. Particularly in the art world, I feel like the sonic experience, if it isn’t specifically apart of the art, is an afterthought. The exhibitions and events that I’ve enjoyed attending or producing myself always have a dope musical component.

We have to ask: what are the must-attends on your calendar every year?

Everyone is pretty much over or getting hip to Art Basel Miami at this point, but I’m really interested in attending the iii Points music festival out there. I also still have love for Afropunk in Brooklyn and even attended their Paris fest a few years back. DanceAfrica at BAM and MoCADA Soul of BK are also staple festivals in Brooklyn.

You have a 9-5 at the Brooklyn Museum and a 5-9 at The Culture LP. How do you do it all?

Since childhood, I was always one of those kids who was really involved. Whether it was sports, clubs or social events, I was always juggling multiple things.

As I got older, it just evolved naturally. Having great teammates on both fronts, as well as a support system that believes in me, is extremely helpful. Also, [my partners] Ronald Draper, Patrick Eugene, and Imani Shanklin Roberts are all extremely easy to work with. They have a vision, and I admire them all as people as well as artists. I couldn’t imagine partnering with anyone who was a “diva” or the stereotypical “artist” that is email averse or unreachable for months on end.

Technology like Slack, Trello, and Google’s products make it a lot easier to accomplish things on the go. Additionally, I’ve been working on mindfulness practice which makes it a lot easier to focus my attention on the task at hand and also compartmentalize things and make appropriate time to recharge. Even though most people just think I never sleep.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received from a mentor, and in turn what advice do you most often give to young people?

My father, God rest his soul, used to always say, “Stay out of crazy people’s heads.” Quite often, I catch myself thinking this when I start to get wrapped up in what I think someone else might be thinking or trying to preempt how they might handle a situation. Also, I’ll always remember the advice I received from Pat David who was leading diversity for J.P. Morgan when I was in their analyst program. She told me that in school everything you needed to know existed in a book, but in the workforce, everything you need to know can be learned from a person. That advice catalyzed me to pursue informational interviews with new focus. With that in mind, I encourage young folks to build organically with their colleagues, and try to let go of the expectation that something transactional, whether it be a job opportunity or collaboration, has to happen right away. It’ll pay off in the long run.

Where do you go, what do you do to get inspired?

Since I’ve started working at a museum, it takes much more effort to get out and hit art shows. But I always get inspired by gallery and museum visits. I’m also a big fan of people watching, so long train rides or nights out in NYC are perfect for that. As much as I like hanging out with friends and loved ones, I went to the Charles White show at the MoMA alone, kept my headphones in with some Miles Davis playing and just zoned out. That sort of alone time is priceless, and I usually end up having a flood of ideas or insights afterward. Lastly, the Rockaway Summer House and HealHaus are two places that always leave me feeling inspired.  

Look for a new collection from Tonge once a month on his Flipboard channel as well as inside The Culturist, our own destination for culture aficionados.

—Mia is reading “Futura Noir