Photographer Glenna Jennings

Headshot is by Shon Curtis

On the Season Two premiere of Rodney Veal’s Inspired By, our host sits down with his friend Glenna Jennings, a photographer who teaches as an Associate Professor of Photography and Social Practice at the University of Dayton, an Artist in Residency at the Hanley Sustainability Institute, and a co-founder of the Desert Kitchen Coalition.

Show Notes



[00:00:29] Rodney Veal: Well, hello everyone. And welcome to Rodney Veals inspired by I’m super excited today to talk to a friend, an artist, a community activist, a warrior for truth, justice, and other folks who need help with art, art, with their artistry, not only with their artistry, but with life in general, Glenna Jennings has been a friend for over 13 years and it is super excited to have her on the podcast.

[00:00:58] So welcome Glenna. [00:01:00]

[00:01:00] Glenna Jennings: Great to be here. Thanks Rodney.

[00:01:03] Rodney Veal: I love it. I’m so, so excited. So Glenna, for those who don’t know, like, you know, you’re, you’re, you’re not only a phenomenal photographer and an educator, but, and all these great things, but there’s an origin story, which I love. How did you get to Dayton, Ohio?

[00:01:22] Glenna Jennings: Oh my gosh. I arrived here, Mhmm. With a broken leg to interview at University of Dayton in 2011, I was coming out of graduate school in San Diego, California. I, at the time was running artist run space in downtown Los Angeles and things were starting to get real in downtown Los Angeles and things were about to get real for me and I had no health benefits so University of Dayton, which.

[00:01:51] that for me. I thought this is great. It’s a one year contract. I’ll go over to the Midwest for a couple of years. My mother is a Midwesterner [00:02:00] and thought that I would be in a better place. So once I got here, I absolutely within the first few months. Started meeting people like you and suddenly the, the sort of the access to people that were really involved in the community was so much simpler than in Los Angeles, for example, and people, there was a lack of the kind of pretentiousness that we contended with in Los Angeles when we were trying to get things done.

[00:02:32] Right. And so meeting Peter Beckendorf and you Rodney and working on with the blue sky artists who are coming back that first summer in 2012, the summer of 2012 was really like a creative renaissance in my life and work.

[00:02:50] Rodney Veal: It’s taking me back down memory lane.

[00:02:52] I was like this whole notion when we met and we were in the halls at at UD all hours of the night, you know, you’re [00:03:00] working. I was working Catherine was working. We were just, we, I think we got like punch drunk because we’re there so late, which was such intensity. I mean.

[00:03:10] Glenna Jennings: And now I use wallpaper in my practice all the time, but we were sure having a, having a time learning how to use photo texts, right?

[00:03:18] Rodney Veal: I remember that. I remember that. I love it. And so, so Jenna, like the whole notion that you, you touched upon something that’s really kind of important. You said there weren’t that the pretentiousness and the barriers. I mean, I think a lot of people don’t really understand that’s what makes kind of. Mid the Midwest and particularly Dayton, Ohio, like it’s special applesauce, you could pretty much walk up to anyone and kind of get something started in this town.

[00:03:44] And is that what kept you here? Or is it just amongst other things?

[00:03:49] Glenna Jennings: I honestly feel that that it is. It was probably a right time in my life. I was what I learned after coming here was a non traditional student in my life [00:04:00] quite often. I went to graduate school in my 30s. I was coming to Dayton entering my forties, and so I, I was more looking for community and collaboration than I was looking for a kind of fame, so to speak, right?

[00:04:17] And the, the kind of environment, I love my graduate program, still close with many people there, but the environment that I was in, in both my undergrad and my graduate art world. Is really about competition, you know, I really feel at the end of the day, they create an ethos that is about you making it past a barrier and surpassing your peers, even as you’re supposed to be supporting one another.

[00:04:49] I, you know, having come out of a background of also teaching English as a second or other language and been involved in a lot of international communities, I just had always felt. [00:05:00] It just, I wasn’t doing me any good to be in that kind of a world, and we’re entering this. This time now, or this shift that happened since I arrived here a decade, over a decade ago, that we’re caring more about mental health, wellness, and we’re also, I think, and believe that we’re learning to care more about one another.

[00:05:20] And so, the kind of environment that, that was offered to me here helped me make that switch from, What had been sort of like a competitive creative environment into a collaborative environment. And people use that term all the time now. But you know, obviously that wasn’t going to happen overnight.

[00:05:39] Suddenly it’s 13 years later. It’s taken time to build trust in the communities where I work and with the people with whom I work. You know, the, the, the blood, the sweat, the tears, all the stuff.

[00:05:53] Rodney Veal: Well, I, I think there was also a lot of laughter. I mean, I understand we had some really folks who understand that [00:06:00] like the blue sky project, I was an artist in residence with blue sky project, which is a project that was started by Peter Binkendorf and Makita Ahuja.

[00:06:08] And they had brought the program to university of Dayton and I was lucky to be an artist there. And then I was lucky to do it again. It’s sort of kind of like a supervisory. Capacity. And What I loved about it was that sense of we’re all in this together. Let’s just all be artists and just mash up against each other.

[00:06:27] Stay up till three o’clock in the morning for how to print a photographic wallpaper, how to throw glitter on people and turn them into Greek gods and goddesses, which thankfully, thankfully, Glenna, you did that for me, which is.

[00:06:42] Glenna Jennings: I found those photos the other day. I’m like, man, I don’t look like that anymore.

[00:06:48] Rodney Veal: None of us look like that anymore. I remember I took a self portrait. And so it was just, I remember that just that time. I thought Gleno picked the, like your timing was perfect for kind of jumping into [00:07:00] that. And so how do you, I mean, speaking of collaboration and, you know, because your work is all about community.

[00:07:07] I mean, I’ve always felt like it’s not about I’m Glenna. I’m the photographer is my through my lens. It’s more like. It’s what I see in the world of bringing people together and the dinner series. Do you remember when we did in the old collaboratory space where we had a sit down dinner and the walls were covered with your wallpaper and you took photographs?

[00:07:29] I was super cool.

[00:07:30] Glenna Jennings: That was our summer supper series. And, you know, in many ways, that was the genesis of what became now dinner in the desert kitchen when I formed the, the first, you know, Course on art and social practice for the university of Dayton. I worked with a sociologist, Dr. Ruth Miller Thompson, and you know, the, the university too, was just on the cusp of trying to do cross disciplinary stuff and be serious that they’re doing it, you know, like [00:08:00] that, that buzzword of.

[00:08:02] Cross disciplinary, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, all the words was being thrown around at the time, but the, the structural aspect of it, they weren’t really making the space for it to happen. We had to make that space for ourselves. Right. They were like, yeah, we’ll, we’ll like the institution will say, yeah, we’ll use those buzzwords and we’ll use your name attached to them, but we don’t really have money or space for this.

[00:08:28] But slowly, university of Dayton was so willing to let me like, Get out of my own silo and explore in these other departments and work with these other folks that the space started to be made. Right. So when when my, my friend Ruth and I, and my friend Issa Randall, who is also an artist who yes, fantastic for a very long time Randall’s son, we came together and thought, you know, how do we talk about inequity?

[00:08:55] How do we talk about racism? How do this is 2014 [00:09:00] when we started having this conversation? Yeah. And we arrived at food as a means to start that conversation with undergrads. Right. Now at the time I had already been doing this series about people eating and drinking together around, around the world.

[00:09:16] So they’re like tandem, but they’re definitely connected. And I’ve continued to make that work. The most recent piece, in fact, is with my gem city market community partners on a trip to Maldagon, Spain with co op Cincy and co op Dayton. I have now photos of, you know, like Mahasi and Cheryl Gardner and folks eating together around a table in Spain at the end.

[00:09:42] Rodney Veal: Oh, that’s journey. That’s, oh, so that, and because that was a recent trip. Yeah, that was all April. So, oh my God. You’ve got all, so this has been ongoing. I, it was kind of cool to be, what I loved about it, it is, It blended it, it kind of bled over in many ways to what was happening in the community [00:10:00] because it was kind of, I thought, wow, how prescient with the gym city market?

[00:10:04] And we’ll talk about that in a second. But then it was like, everybody’s having this conversation about food deserts. Mm-hmm. , you know, it was like you, it was like you were like, you were just communing with the universe and realizing that this is the subject that we need to cover.

[00:10:19] Glenna Jennings: I came from a real geographic desert to the Midwest. Self referred desert rat and when I, I first called somebody trying to get an apartment here back in like 2011 And it ended up, I believe the apartment I was calling about is somewhere right where I live now, which is Grafton Hill Towards the west side near Salem Avenue near Jim City Market and they said, you know, it’s a food desert over here Right and I was like food what?

[00:10:48] I had, I had no clue. So that was about a year off still before I would start the research into food deserts and the collaborative work in the [00:11:00] community. But that was a spark and now I actually do live in the food desert that this person warned me out of and at the time,

[00:11:08] Rodney Veal: you know, you are there.

[00:11:10] Glenna Jennings: Yes. And I mean, we, you know, this is a a lovely. Community near the Dayton Art Institute as a mixed income area, but I moved here very purposefully to kind of take part in this conversation because I well, I don’t have kids. I wasn’t thinking about the school system and some things that some of my other, either University of Dayton peers or others were doing.

[00:11:38] And so I chose to live here and it turned out that my friend, Isa Randall’s mother, Vernelia Randall, lived right next door. And that was just the moment I walked into this house, I knew that’s what I, I wanted to do. And yeah, I’m seeing the notes about food desert versus food apartheid. I, we, we use I mean, we still have been using the term food [00:12:00] desert because people.

[00:12:02] People recognize that term, right? And for some people who are having some contention about the term apartheid as well and its ties to sort of other political systems, that was making some folks feel uncomfortable with that term. But yeah, I definitely try to fall in line more with what Maha and, My colleagues are using the term apartheid because indeed it is not a natural phenomenon.

[00:12:25] It is It is a man made Situation and I think it’s a political.

[00:12:30] Rodney Veal: It’s a political construct. It is by design I mean, we have to understand when we use the term. I love where my political science at every now and yeah That’s why I think that’s why we got along We have these conversations that went everywhere because of that but but I think also to is a gear absolutely, right?

[00:12:48] It’s like The fact that when you said, I can’t, it’s really amazing that someone used the terminology to describe looking for a location to live. Do you, do you know you’re living in a food desert? I mean, so [00:13:00] people were aware, but at that time, I don’t think they understood the impact that was having on the growth of our city.

[00:13:07] Glenna Jennings: So the other thing, what my students discovered then, even, even where, you know, we kind of, kind of like. Swim in a, in a, a soup of, of, of words all the time, but we know what the condition is, right? Cause it was like hunger is a word that can make me feel uncomfortable at times. But when we first started researching this, it was Dr.

[00:13:29] Thompson Miller, myself, and only four collaboratory.

[00:13:38] And the students discovered that statistic that Dayton at the time, I can’t remember the exact year, and I have all of this, you know, like I have all the footnotes and things backing this, but we were the fourth hungriest city in the nation, and that’s how they worded it at the time, right? Right.

[00:13:58] And so from [00:14:00] there, you know, you push forward to the last most recent food summit and we’re somewhere way like beyond 40 now, which is good. And the work that we’re doing has moved from four students. Now, every time we do desert kitchen, there’s around 60 to 70 students involved across a minimum of four classes, and I’m collaborating with about five other professors and six community partners.

[00:14:23] Rodney Veal: I love it. I love how that I love how that’s expanded because I think because of the work that you were doing the probe because of the work that you were doing in conjunction with your crew with the crew at the gym city market, which we’ll talk about. I think it’s become. This kind of very rich, not only just conversations and dialogue, but rich, rich artistry, rich convenings, the richness of, of just bringing people together just to connect about these subjects and talk about them.

[00:14:56] And you know, yes, we, we can get lost in the word soup and the, [00:15:00] the word, the terminology, but ultimately they are, the feelings are the same, that there’s humanity suffering and we have to figure out a way to alleviate the suffering. So I know that I was like, so we’re going to jump back. We’re going to jump into the conversation about Jim city market in a second.

[00:15:16] We’re going to take a little bit of a break because that’s what we do in the podcast. And we’ll be right back.


[00:15:22] [00:16:00]

[00:16:08] Rodney Veal: We are back. From, from, from our break. And so Glenna, let’s talk a little bit about the Jim city market because Jim city market is, you know, a lot of many, a convening of a lot of folks, but your role in that. Because as an activist, artists, extraordinary person about community, who’s really become a Daytonian by you wrestled it to the ground and have become that talk about your experience.

[00:16:36] Like what, what brought you into such a massive project like Jim city market?

[00:16:41] Glenna Jennings: Well, I, you know, I believe we were having a teach in at the university of Dayton around the murder of Michael Brown and 2014 and a Maha. was there with some students from Sinclair. And that was the first time we met. And he’s like, we need to talk more.

[00:16:59] [00:17:00] We need to talk more. So, I mean, yeah. And so that, that initiated the, the conversation and we were just walking through the streets of Bilbao last April, 2023, right? Nine years later going. Can you believe it? We made it out of that classroom and we’re here now again, our, our trip there was the result of access and privilege that we had to be able to go on that.

[00:17:26] In between those 2 things, what I learned about engaging in a community, especially being hyper aware of my positionality as a white woman. is you, you show up and you listen and it’s pretty, it’s pretty simple, right? I think that I came out of a very loud and vociferous community of Southern Californians who likes to express their opinions a lot.

[00:17:53] So learning to, to listen over the past. 15 years of my life has, has been [00:18:00] a real it’s taken, it’s taken work, but when I found myself in a community that I knew they, they needed to, you know, I need to earn their trust. And the way to do that was just being in the conversation. So often that doesn’t look a lot like, like art.

[00:18:19] So when I started teaching socially, social, out of social practice, socially engaged art, you know, this is a genre that has. Again, another word soup floats around it, and we kind of, like, it’s that thing, we know it when we see it, when it’s social practice art. But I came out of a academic environment with the wonderful professors like Teddy Cruz, and the art historian Grant Kester, who writes really about the history of socially engaged art.

[00:18:48] That was academic, and a lot of the art that these social practitioners were doing was more using the public space to provoke reactions or working within communities, using [00:19:00] communities as material. So there was, there was some issues around the ethics of how things were rolling out. And we flash forward from what I saw social practice being in those earlier, like public performance type of provoking people and instigating.

[00:19:18] conversations. I now really see it more as truly collaborating in the community, right? So this is sort of like, you can do, you can do just a gesture, a symbolic sort of act in your art, or you can do a true intervention. Both are fine. Both are needed. Francis Elise’s When Faith Moves Mountains, I always show to my class as an example where he had in the Got about over a hundred people together to move a sand dune a centimeter, right?

[00:19:50] That’s symbolism.

[00:19:52] Rodney Veal: It’s certainly symbolic. It’s a symbolic gesture that speaks, but I mean, there’s a, but yes. [00:20:00] Right. So it’s not the same thing. It’s not, it’s, it’s, it’s valid. It’s absolutely valid. You’re absolutely right. It happens as similar discourse in postmodern dance. It’s like you can provoke a response or you can engage a dialogue.

[00:20:13] Right. But they’re both valid, but you have to, where’s that pathway?

[00:20:18] Glenna Jennings: Right. And again, engagement is longterm, man. I mean, you know, Francis Salis wasn’t going to stay out in the desert for the rest of his life where, you know, after I started showing up to the different projects I was doing. And again, not just gem city market.

[00:20:34] I also worked a lot with Latinos Unidos and, communities around East Dayton and other places, you know, you, you don’t, you don’t just pick up and leave. So that was kind of one of the problems with earlier models or even ongoing models of social engagement that were there for temporary or coming from the outside engaging in a community and then pulling out, you know, [00:21:00] so I don’t see that the, the, the one thing about the, the work that we’re doing here in Dayton.

[00:21:07] I couldn’t just like pick up and do that somewhere else.

[00:21:12] Rodney Veal: Yeah, because it’s, it feels like it’s, it’s very specific. I’m going to use the word site specific, but you’re going to, you understand what I’m saying? It’s like, it’s, it’s to us, it’s just to this community. It’s to the specifics of the history and the present and our version of vision of the future, all coming together, everything, everywhere, all at once.

[00:21:33] That decides the action that kind of guides. The decision making, especially for a creator or an educator or someone who is working with groups of people, this is, you know, that’s why we get along so well. Cause we’re like, Oh, these ideas percolate to the surface. And so it’s bigger than that. And I, and I, but that, what I love about the gypsy market is the fact that you guys are coming both several people.

[00:21:57] They were connected to a coming from an [00:22:00] academic background and taking on this cause of providing a social solution, which is not typical. It’s really, you know, they’re proud. Do you feel that there was some skepticism of the fact that you hear these artistic and academic? Individuals very engaged in this kind of social practices.

[00:22:21] Cause you know, all of you are right. Anyone on the team, you look at the team, you go, this is the crew. If you want to get things done, this is the group. I mean, what was the response from the community?

[00:22:31] Glenna Jennings: You know I mean, there’s still skepticism in the community for sure. And it’s true. Like a Maha doing community based participatory research, right.

[00:22:42] He’s very much in the realm of social practice. I’m coming out of a visual arts. Program and also doing social practice. How does that involve and apply to real life? And I’d say that you know, when gem city market opened and they had learned a lot about how to [00:23:00] open a grocery store, but as the many would say, not necessarily how to operate the grocery store.

[00:23:05] So that phase entered and now, you know, still there there at this point. Okay. Jim city market is being allowed to do its thing without interference from some of the folks who started it. But nonetheless, it’s still like, it’s where I shop. It’s the community that I go to. Yet Sunday Rodriguez, James Payton, myself were able to collaborate.

[00:23:27] Thanks to organizing by Shane and McConville in order to put the mural up that’s there. I mean, that was one of the greatest that was one of the greatest accomplishments. I really loved that, but. I think really, when I think about what was the most meaningful acts that we were doing with Gen City Market, it was really during the pandemic and we did a lot of phone calls, wellness checks on members and right before the pandemic Kenya Baker and I, now Kenya Akbar had been working with [00:24:00] others to knock on every single freaking door door.

[00:24:03] Around the trade area and we were focusing nearby where, where I lived, and we would go out on these little. These little jaunts talking, just talking to people, just asking, you know, it was called deep listening. It’s not about trying to gather data. It’s about having conversations. We ended up in this guy’s apartment that had a Motown museum.

[00:24:24] He called it and we would end up, you know, being invited in and talking about and just, just, just stand here while I cook this meal for church and ask me questions. It’s fine. And when the pandemic hit and we had to stop that, it was, it was really Kind of heartbreaking. And then nonetheless, the, the planning, the fact that we live in a capitalist society, the market didn’t stop.

[00:24:47] So they had to continue with plans to get that ground broken and build the structure. And we had learned that if you don’t have if you don’t sell beer and wine. At your [00:25:00] grocery store, you can the odds of survival are far less, right? You want to make it a one stop shop. So we had been in a dry, this was a dry zone had been voted that way decades ago, and to repeal that took petitions and signatures and Kenya and I went out masks, gloves, bags of pens.

[00:25:25] knocking on doors again to get signatures so that we could file that petition. And it’s a, that’s a whole long story. I’ll try to shut up now. Cause there’s no, no, it’s like, remember it started it in when it was cool. And then all of our signatures got rejected and we had to go do it again. And I just remember being out there in the heat of the summer of 2020, it must’ve been 2020.

[00:25:49] And just sweat dripping. I’m going, please don’t drip onto this signatures.

[00:25:55] Rodney Veal: The practical matters of like, it’s, it’s blistering hot and that was a hot [00:26:00] summer. Yeah. A lot going on that summer in 2020. I mean,

[00:26:03] Glenna Jennings: yeah, that, that summer too, we managed, you know, to organize with Dayton public schools. I was working with Simeon or yummy about on putting up some.

[00:26:14] Of the kids artwork on the fences around gem city market. So we were managing to do all these things. When I look back on it, though, it was kind of like we were really I really enjoy looking back on how we came together during that time.

[00:26:29] Rodney Veal: Right. Cause it was, cause the thing is, I mean, that’s the whole thing.

[00:26:31] I think we, we never talk about, I think we’re just, I think we’re just enough past the pandemic to kind of really look back and reflect like this summer. I was like. Oh, okay. This is, this is what happened. These are things that went down and where connectivity happened. And this is where things kind of diverged.

[00:26:52] This is where things came together. This is where things fell off the plate. I mean, that’s, that’s a very legit and real thing, but, but the focus, I would love that. What [00:27:00] I love the fact is that Gypsy figured out a way to focus in and bring art and community into. It’s being, and I love the mural because I think it’s just phenomenal.

[00:27:10] Glenna Jennings: I mean, obviously your 10 days designs are the basis of that whole, what’s the kids would say now vibe of, of the market. I mean, I get to drive down that street and see that, and it just, it’s vibrant. So she, she brought that aspect and then, you know, James Pate with the incredible skills of being able to draw and paint, which are skills I do not possess, actually.

[00:27:34] Rodney Veal: Oh, I’m, I’m in awe of James. Yeah, we’re all in awe of James Pate.

[00:27:38] Glenna Jennings: In in West Dayton, at his studio, we spent like a couple weekend workshops just bringing together our different materials out of boxes. Photos and we would just go through things. And so he ended up, you know, using the many of the images within that mural or based on photographs that were taken at community cookouts that we had [00:28:00] at the gem city market site before the building went up and at.

[00:28:06] Juneteenth celebration, the very first one at gem city market. And so there’s all these memories embedded in there and there’s still the potential to add a little bit more too.

[00:28:18] Rodney Veal: Oh, I, Oh, I, I, I know you’re always. It’s looking for those chances to embed art.

[00:28:23] Glenna Jennings: I never know when something’s finished. That’s one problem.

[00:28:25] I definitely, it’s a condition. It’s a situation.

[00:28:30] Rodney Veal: No, no, no. Well, I was going to ask you about, cause you know, you know, we’re, we’re both art makers. We, I think we, I, when you say that, I feel like, okay, you’re speaking, we’re, we’re twins that telepathic, like when is it done or like it’s never done. Do you find yourself because.

[00:28:48] Of what you do and the, the, the form that you are using to convey your thoughts and ideas, photography. Do you, did you ever want to go back and do it again?

[00:28:58] Glenna Jennings: I honestly want to go [00:29:00] back and do it again. And if I, it took me a long time in life, looking back at other artists to realize that that’s what most artists are actually doing.

[00:29:09] Anyways, we’re asking, you know, we ask questions that aren’t really intended to have a concrete answer. So revisiting them for the rest of your life, I guess if someone told you that when you’re, you know, in your twenties or early thirties, it might sound like a sentence.

[00:29:28] Rodney Veal: So it was like forever trapped.

[00:29:32] Glenna Jennings: Yes, I brought that up to my students. My capstone, you know, photography students. I’m like, you know, you really are going to be doing iterations of these questions for the rest of your life and they look terrifying. Oh, no, no, no.

[00:29:45] Rodney Veal: Don’t be, don’t be afraid. It’s all good. Jump in the water. It’s the water’s fine.

[00:29:49] Glenna Jennings: The thing is, I think that relates to actually having it not necessarily be finished. It’s about sustainability in a way because no one ever talked to me. As an artist, it [00:30:00] was like work hard, work hard, make work, hustle. It wasn’t like take time and reflect on why you do this in the first place so that you can build a sustainable career in the arts.

[00:30:11] Nobody brought that up to me. Even the mentors that I love and cherish to this day. They, I feel like it was all supposed to be this endless puddle of work, work, you know, very much the Frankfurt school coming back, you know, to the academic side of it. Like. This leftist Frankfurt school that I believed in.

[00:30:31] I’m like, give me my hat and my fatigues. And I’m going to work out there with the proletariat. But there’s got to be joy,

[00:30:38] Rodney Veal: there’s got to be joy this process too, it can’t be drudgery. I tell people that all the time, you know, I, I can akin this to like when I was dancing that when I was performer, the body ages, it gets to a point where you have worn it down.

[00:30:55] There’s no, no one told me like. Okay. Quit [00:31:00] dancing harder. Dance smarter. Take a moment to kind of, it was like, I’m like, are you kidding me? You’re telling, they’re telling me this in grad school, I’m like, Oh, I could have done the career could have gone a different way. You know? So it’s. Instead, they’re like, to your point, no one ever said when you’re making and you’re starting out, they’re just like, do the work, do the work, do the work, do the work.

[00:31:23] It’s like, no matter what, and you just say, wait a minute, can I just sit and have a cup of tea with my friend Glenna and just sit and chill or have a beer, hang out.

[00:31:33] Glenna Jennings: And I mean, we did those things in the past. It’s like, let’s sit and we’re okay. We’re going to sit and have a, go to the wine gallery and when it’s existence, have our meal and get all of our stuff out and then go back to work, go back to work, go back to work, you know?

[00:31:47] And I just. my body and my mind can’t really do that anymore. And my mother, who is a very hardworking person all her life, she was recently diagnosed with onset Alzheimer’s [00:32:00] and I’ve been managing that. I’m going to California and back and she’ll probably move here soon. But that sort of thing is also a great reminder of.

[00:32:12] The fragility of our human condition and how I mean, it sounds cliche, but how precious our time really is. And I think kind of harping on, I guess I’m harping on the art world, but to, to think of, of creativity as something transactional and just progressively working your way towards an unseen goal, just that can’t work.

[00:32:36] That’s not sustainable. So I had to find a way to make the passion last. One thing I love it before though, too, there is sort of what’s hard in academia to you going up for tenure, you’ve got to prove that you’ve done the publications and the exhibitions or whatnot. At the same time you, when you’re doing [00:33:00] social advocacy work, it’s not about you.

[00:33:04] Right. So there’s this fine line, like not wanting to do self promotion in the face of community advocacy. So you’re treading really a fine line, and I enjoyed having that conversation with Migi Wap at Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center. Yes, yeah. That like a couple summers ago, we were joined by some other artists who work in, with social justice, and it’s, it’s, There are compromises that have to take place, right?

[00:33:36] You, you, you can’t, especially coming to this as a white woman. I, I can’t censor myself in those projects.

[00:33:44] Rodney Veal: So without it seeming like it’s become the self serving project, I think people have to understand like young, young artists and art makers and thought makers, that it is a fine line. Like, is it, you know, and so I, [00:34:00] I, yeah, yeah.

[00:34:01] Glenna Jennings: Yeah, yeah, I guess. And there’s more I could say around that. But the idea of something being finished also, I remember with the At Table series in 2019, I had been awarded a Robert Rauschenberg residency through Photo Lucida for that. I had exhibitions coming up and offers to publish the work. And then suddenly it was 2020.

[00:34:27] 2020. And a lot of that fell through. And the one exhibition I had during the pandemic, Portland, Oregon was like closed to the public, but the, the things it was physically hanging there, but everything was just been online. And I was fortunate because I had a sabbatical then I drove to stay with in Portland, I went and I spent like a month.

[00:34:50] driving across this country during the pandemic and starting some new work that I spoke about at P. K. Last night, which is about backyards and belonging.

[00:34:57] Rodney Veal: And, oh, wow. I was gonna ask you about new [00:35:00] work.

[00:35:00] Glenna Jennings: figuring out how to create joy on our on stolen lands. Essentially, how do we, how do we do that? But the point is, if people had asked me, when is that table over?

[00:35:12] When are you done? Maybe, you know, move on to the next thing. And I’m like, well, if I had stopped that, I have that photo of, you know, Amaha and Lila and I in Spain sitting at the table a few months ago. Like it just doesn’t end it. There’s always the opportunity to resurrect a project maybe career rise or strategy wise or transaction wise.

[00:35:31] There’s, there’s, there’s decisions about that, that are work better than others, but on the level of like human wellness and compassion, you just keep sustaining the questions that you want to ask. And the projects you want to do.

[00:35:46] Rodney Veal: Right. And, and that I don’t think people really understand like, you know, like the, the, the pandemic that pausing because I stopped, I mean, I couldn’t be in contact with individuals.

[00:35:56] Same here. It’s like, you know, I create movement. And I, [00:36:00] I, so I ended up setting work on myself studying. I started going, Oh, what if I, and then I started moving back into the art making practice. And so. It sounds like you, you took the opportunity of isolation to go in a completely, let’s do something.

[00:36:18] Don’t just stop. So I, I guess there’s a question in there somewhere, Glenna, I promise you there’s a question there somewhere, but I think, I think that there’s something there about what we could tell. What would you tell people who maybe got stuck or stopped by the last couple of years? And it was, we’re talking a three year.

[00:36:38] Timeframe that really has stopped everything. What do you say to those creative people, especially those working in social justice, because social justice, the, the, the, the issues we deal with amplify and amplify, what do you say to those artists who want to go in this pathway now, or have maybe we’ve got stopped by [00:37:00] things.

[00:37:00] Glenna Jennings: You know, I was very curious. Oh man, how do I say this? Like in, in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, there was a A lot of, of white people and artists were gaining more interest in wanting to generate book lists and read the right things and watch the right things and do the right things and have the conversations that, you know, some of us had been having for, for many years and that, that’s wonderful.

[00:37:29] Let’s let, yes, indeed, let’s talk. But I was wondering, what are we going to. What is this going to look like in 2023? What is this going to look like in 2027? And I think that sometimes, and I’m speaking from my positionality, right? My identity that people wanted to take on everything. They wanted to get it right and move on and there is no getting it.

[00:37:51] Right. There is only moving on it. The, you know, I, I feel fortunate that before that [00:38:00] moment in our sort of collective history, I had already committed to remaining, a student of, of anti racism for the rest of my life, you know, I was, I knew there was no checking of a box around this kind of work. So I, I just think that I would love people to embrace, first of all, you can’t do everything, find the cause, like for food justice is, is both a reality and it also stands in as a, as a metaphor for other issues that are.

[00:38:36] The product of systemic injustices and so by focusing on food justice, it’s allowed me to, when I get overly exuberant and I wanted to be like helping this political campaign or attending this thing about housing rights, I know you can, you’re doing food justice. Like focus, [00:39:00]

[00:39:00] Rodney Veal: focus, focus. I mean, that’s, I think that’s important for people to know that.

[00:39:05] I mean, I, I took, you know, cause I was thinking, somebody asked me that question about that role as someone who, you know, as an African American who’s. Very clearly always feeling as if there’s a target on one’s back. I mean, no matter how successful you get become America world, you do will always have that sensation to be the leader to be.

[00:39:31] Let me just focus in on changing the institutions. That I can, let me focus on being at the table to help redirect policy, redirect thought behind the ideology of an organization. I took me, it took, it took 2020 for that to kick in for me. I go do that. So when people ask me, I’m like, Nope, Nope. I can’t do it.

[00:39:54] I can’t do it. I can’t do it. The other stuff I need to do this. And this is where the change [00:40:00] happens.

[00:40:00] Glenna Jennings: It kind of occurred to me that what we’re sort of fighting for is everybody’s. Right to just wellness, right? It might, the pressure on my friends and communities of color to be excellent and the best has been so strong.

[00:40:19] And that correlates back to this idea that I was coming out of this environment as an artist in grad school, where you have to be excellent and the best. And, you know, we all should just be allowed to be, there is no one. Example of excellence. There is no best, right? It’s kind of like there is no box to check.

[00:40:38] So if we can create a world where, you know, everybody has the same access to opportunities, regardless of. They’re however, they’re, they’re neurally informed or whatever it is, then, then that’s what we want. We want people to have the right to be actually [00:41:00] mediocre.

[00:41:00] Rodney Veal: I’m going to paraphrase Chris Rock who said, I just want the ability to suck and then come back and do it, do it, try something new again.

[00:41:10] You know, just the ability to suck.

[00:41:13] Glenna Jennings: Like that’s kind of what it is too about that whole, I never, why I never feel that anything is right. I’m incredibly hard on myself and I, people are always telling me that. I, I’m working on it. Okay. But ,

[00:41:26] Rodney Veal: it’s, I think you’re getting there. I think you’re getting there.

[00:41:29] You’re, you’re there. You’re getting there.

[00:41:30] Glenna Jennings: That’s why I love I, I need deadlines and, and things like that Brings me back to thinking of us in those rooms. The summer of 2012, just, you know in frenzies getting punched drunk with, with art making. It’s that kind of frenzy was very needed for me at those times in my life.

[00:41:49] And now I, I’ve just, I’ve learned a little, I don’t want to call it time management because that is just a word that fits back into the freaking system and the hustle system, [00:42:00] but just a way to say, Oh, wait, I can, I can, this can. I can suck right now and then I can, you know, they’ll can come back and I can do it again.

[00:42:12] Rodney Veal: It’s like, and it, and it, and there’s no harm and it’s not fatalistic. It’s not fatal. I think, I think there’s a fatalism that drives our heart, the, the punching, the constant work, work, work. It’s the fatalism of, if you don’t, you’re going to fail. And if you fail, you don’t exist. Ah, very, very angsty existential crisis, but that’s really what drives that.

[00:42:35] force. And we were at this point, not so much everyone.

[00:42:41] Glenna Jennings: It’s that whole thing that, you know, goes around and, and useful means and stuff. Now people, you have a tendency to fear scarcity, you know, and they think that, you know, if someone gets this part of the pie, then I don’t get any pie, you know, it, and there’s that, that [00:43:00] the difference I think comes down to sometimes fear versus curiosity.

[00:43:06] About other people, but see when there’s curiosity towards another community, then you can still have exploitation occurring, right? Fear results in oppression, but curiosity can indeed result in exploitation. So you have to have this like careful balance, but I feel that in general, as a world right now, people are afraid of things running out.

[00:43:31] So they’re, they’re doing the hustle. And I just would like everybody to have an opportunity to. Sit down at the table and eat with me and I’ll take your photo.

[00:43:46] Rodney Veal: That is that. And that’s such a joyous place. I, I think that’s the best place we could end this conversation. I love it. I mean, so Glenna, I mean, as always, every time we get together with you, I get excited.

[00:43:58] I get motivated. [00:44:00] I’m like, okay, and we’re going to hang out and whatever iteration of the wine gallery exists in this world. And we will, it will happen. It will occur. So Glenna, thank you for taking time. Out of your, out of your day and just being, which is great, we’re just being.

[00:44:15] Glenna Jennings: Just being, that was nice.

[00:44:16] Cause I think I was a bit esoteric and I didn’t even talk about the moral courage project, which I wanted to give a shout out to those folks.

[00:44:22] Rodney Veal: Oh, well, can we talk about it right now? We could, we don’t have to stop. Like, like talk about it, because it’s, that’s your newest project. That is,

[00:44:31] Glenna Jennings: it is. Well, I, and it’s random, right?

[00:44:34] Because I don’t really center myself in that work, but in 20 around 20. 16, I began working with Dr. Joel Pruess and Natalie Hudson and the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center on this project through our partner of Proof Media for Social Justice, Leora Kong, who’s based in New York. And this is a storytelling multimedia project that looks at upstanders in communities, [00:45:00] in marginalized communities, or in vulnerable situations.

[00:45:04] It tells the stories of people who have, you know, taken risks, or… Against great odds have helped others in their communities. And so because it’s it’s focused through the language of human rights we first looked at immigration on the border, and we went to El Paso and Juarez, Mexico in 20,

[00:45:25] Rodney Veal: you took a group of students,

[00:45:26] Glenna Jennings: took a group of students.

[00:45:27] We had like we have around 15 students every time somewhere around there, and there are undergrads from all different majors. So my role is really along with Leora, who used to be photo editor for Magnum and has a lot of experience in photography as well as human rights just mentoring the students so that they can go out and do this kind of editorial work.

[00:45:48] So it’s very different from, from the art world and even from social justice. Like, I have to then put on the hat of a photojournalist and the kind of ethics behind documentary photography. And so I, [00:46:00] myself. was working alongside my students. Our work would be shown next to one another without any hierarchy.

[00:46:07] And that was the coolest thing for me, like just working in the field with these students. You got a chance to go back a second time, just myself and the two, two of our image producers, Maura Parker. And spend a week in in El Paso and visit our artist friends in Juarez on the other side of the border.

[00:46:29] And it was just incredible being able to the shift that this had for students who hadn’t understood the border. Now, the border is a huge part of my life before I came here in the sense that, you know, I was born in San Diego. And kind of grew up around a border culture where there’s a, there’s a sort of, it’s a porous situation.

[00:46:52] I studied Spanish. I moved to South America and became as fluent as I could. And then when I moved here, one of the [00:47:00] things I miss most about home is, is essentially Mexico, but going to El Paso is a whole other world. And just flash forward. Sorry, this is too much, but we also look too much. We, during the pandemic, we got shut down.

[00:47:14] Obviously we were supposed to go to Appalachia. We had been down to Eastern Kentucky. The educators had taken a trip there in December, 2019 and met. Some water activists and other creatives in that area, we were just pumped to go back. I mean, there, it is just so beautiful and there’s so much to tell about the, the courage of folks fighting the system there in that region of Appalachia.

[00:47:43] And then as well, Flint, we were also in touch with folks in Flint. Eventually I did get to go to Flint and meet Gina Lester and take photos. But the students did not get to travel in 2020, but they still managed to go online, interview dozens of people and create a [00:48:00] podcast and make some of the best artwork like by Rio Gordon Parker made these wonderful animations to go with this project.

[00:48:10] So I was so proud of the work on water rights that they did. And this past 2022 in May, we went to Oakland. California and looked at the housing crisis there. And currently I’m working with Jayana Johnson, who is a photo student from Cleveland. And she’s in her third year now. And so far since coming to Dayton, we’ve been able to travel to Oakland together, work in the field together.

[00:48:35] She got a fellowship through the imagining community. Symposium, which is national. She was the youngest artist to receive one of their fellowships last year. So we got to travel to new Orleans together so she could be with the cohort of other artists there and continue working on projects. And her and I are about to travel in October to Providence, Rhode Island to present the work that we [00:49:00] did in Oakland around.

[00:49:01] housing rights, gentrification and unhoused populations. And there’ll be a book that will be available. Somehow we don’t know how about, but we have a beautiful book coming up.

[00:49:12] Rodney Veal: So there’s, like I said, there’s, the wheels are turning, constantly working, but it’s in a different way, which is so refreshing.

[00:49:20] I mean, so I think it’s a great project. I love the fact that you’re bringing students and young people into this mentorship, not just, not in a hierarchical sense. Cause I don’t think it’s a mentorship in that way. It’s like, it’s like. Let’s all, let’s be together and let’s figure these things out and share in that commonality of discovery, which is, which is the twin of curiosity, you know, discovery.

[00:49:46] And then that way it, it, it allows and affords for their work and their, what their vision of the world and, and their sort of voice, which is always, you know, that word’s [00:50:00] overused to, to manifest itself, which is exciting. Like that’s, that’s where the excitement is. Right.

[00:50:06] Glenna Jennings: And again, I’m really interested in the sustainability of, of, of passion and energy thing.

[00:50:12] So I reached this year for death dinner in a desert kitchen last year. We work with Unified Power and Kenya Akbar and her organization, we raised some funding for them through our art auction and that looked at the history of sugar production, which was a really heavy, it was actually quite difficult for the students.

[00:50:31] I mean, that that’s a heavy history to carry. So this year I decided instead of doing it with the undergrads, I was going to go back to the graduates and the alumni and say, how is food justice? entered your life or your creative world since you left? And are you in a creative world? And let’s be honest, like, do we have time for it?

[00:50:53] Did all of the art making you did in school as an undergrad, do you do it still? Do you miss it? Is it [00:51:00] a hobby? Is it a, vocation. So I’m working with five students and it’s really amazing because it’s from New Orleans, San Diego, New York, Cincinnati and Dayton. One of whom, two of whom, Jaleesa Robinson works at Jump City Market now was a student in the very first food justice cohort and Grace Poppy, who’s in New York and got her M.

[00:51:23] F. A. You know, was also in that cohort and the others were in the very first 2016 cohort. And they all have very different jobs and art is still in their lives and in very different ways, graphic design art education painters, photographers. So it’s going to be interesting. We’re still, we’re in that messy phase.

[00:51:43] Obviously we’re doing this online a lot. I’m meeting with them online, but there’ll be a, there’ll be an opening at. Index Gallery December 1st where you can see the work of these returning alumni.

[00:51:55] Rodney Veal: And the Index Gallery is at Front Street, correct?

[00:51:58] Glenna Jennings: The Index Gallery is [00:52:00] now at The Hub. The Hub! The Hub is where I teach most of the time now and we have a photo studio there where I kind of, I partner with our artist in residence, Sean Curtis, who’s the Who I adore.

[00:52:13] Yes. Absolutely. So that, that has been one of the highlights of the last two years. Emerging out of the pandemic Sean and I connected and yeah, haven’t really looked back. We’re, we’re working on some things together. He does his, his own, you know, business operating out of, out of there, but we’re, it was kind of like studio partners and it keeps that space really active at the hub.

[00:52:36] Rodney Veal: It does. And he’s producing some phenomenal things. I, I mean, that’s the thing that’s what I love about Glenna. It’s like, when we talk, it’s like, I think as soon as this podcast is over, I know I’m heading over to front street because I have got artwork showing at the dyad gallery. So it’s like,

[00:52:51] Glenna Jennings: Oh my God, it’s first Friday.

[00:52:53] Rodney Veal: It’s first Friday. Yeah, exactly. So there’s a lot going on. See, there’s more. It never stops. I know. It never [00:53:00] stops.

[00:53:00] Glenna Jennings: It’s also like all these other things and yet I’m still gonna have to just sit here and wait for Guided by Boys.

[00:53:08] Rodney Veal: Wait for the, wait for the concert. It’s all golden. It’s all golden.

[00:53:12] Glenna Jennings: We’re barbecuing for the boys.

[00:53:15] Rodney Veal: That’ll be awesome. I love it. All right, Glinda.

[00:53:19] Glenna Jennings: Okay. Thank you so much for having me. It really means a lot. I know we’ve talked about doing this forever. We talk about getting together. We’re both similar in that we’re like frenetically. involved in things that we even forget what we’re, all the things we’re doing, which is why I kept you longer here.

[00:53:37] I really, I love you. And I, I really thank everybody involved for, for having me here. Thank you. Ann, Michael, and everybody..

[00:53:48] Rodney Veal: It’s always a pleasure, Glenna. It’s always a good time hanging out with Glenna Jennings, and that’s what people should know. So it’s super cool. Thanks, Glenna.

[00:53:58] [00:54:00]