What Is It Like to Curate the Public Newsroom?

Find out what advice Rayshauna Gray and Daniel Kay Hertz have for future curators.

This November we featured our first guest curators for the Public Newsroom. Local authors Rayshauna Gray and Daniel Kay Hertz addressed the theme, “How Do We Memorialize Chicago?” through a workshop series that unpacked the city we’ve inherited, the one we inhabit and the city we impart upon the future.

Guests included Young Lord’s founder José Cha-Cha Jiménez, Black Owned Chicago founder Tanikia Carpenter, Mikva Challenge students Ava Johnson and James Arteaga as well as Cause the Effects’ Kanyinsola Anifowoshe.

Interested in guest curating? Keep an eye out for an application from the City Bureau team in 2019. In the meantime check out some advice from Gray and Hertz below.

What did you get out of being a curator? What do you think you learned?

Rayshauna Gray: Ever since our first brainstorming session, I thought of and discussed this series as an opportunity for me to be a better steward of the city I inherited, once inhabited and will play an active role in imparting. This Public Newsroom series further cemented a sense of humility in me. The Chicago I was born into in the mid-1980s is tethered to but the clone of our present moment. In short, I learned that it is my fervent love of the place that raised me and kept me, that will enable me to help heal it. That healing will require humility, care and conviction.

Daniel Kay Hertz: A big thing I learned, especially from getting to help curate three different PNs, is to think of “public conversations” happening in very specific, pre-existing communities, rather than a sort of amorphous “public.” I will definitely think more about those networks as the base of these sorts of public events and conversations, rather than individuals who happen to be interested in a given subject.

Does the PN remind you of any other event? If so, what?

DKH: That’s an interesting question! I guess it reminds me of a lot of things — local talk shows, class presentations, a dinner party, at different times and different events.

RG: I can honestly say that I’ve never encountered anything like it. My first experience with City Bureau was at Daniel’s book shindig. I brought my mother and we broke up into a mighty trio to sift through an excerpt from his recent book The Battle of Lincoln Park. As I looked around the room at my fellow attendees hunched over and collaborating, it felt like my heart had grown a few sizes. I love to learn and share in community. This little coffee shop in Woodlawn felt intimate, familiar and conspiratorial.

How do you hope folks will engage with this theme and works presented in November beyond the Public Newsroom?

RG: I hope that their family dinners are never the same. I hope that they fall deeply in love with a city that is so often associated with death. I hope that they gather with others and swap stories and skills.

DKH: I had hoped people would make connections across the different people we invited in, but I think we had a limited amount of cross-event participation, which was part of the learning experience for me! But I was able to see people connect with, for example, Cha Cha Jiménez, who came in for the first of our curated PNs. They could connect his experiences in Chicago’s Puerto Rican community and anti-gentrification organizing in the 1960s and 70s with things they had experienced and were experiencing, which was great.

What words of advice do you have for folks interested in curating the Public Newsroom?

DKH: Mostly — do it! It’s a really challenging and rewarding experience. Be very intentional about exactly what you want people to take away from the event or series, and who you think those people will be.

RG: Operate from a place of wonder, love and radical imagination. Ponder the systemic and interpersonal issues that keep you up at night. Ruminate the specific language that comes out of your academic discipline or professional industry. Share from a place of abundance. How are you uniquely equipped (with all your sensitives) to help us rebend the arc of the moral universe? Bend…and encourage others as they bend.

Check out more of Rayshauna Gray’s work and Daniel Kay Hertz’s work. Pitch a Public Newsroom workshop: email andrea@citybureau.org.

Support City Bureau’s free and public programming like the Public Newsroom by becoming a City Bureau Press Club member today. From now until Dec. 31, your donation will be doubled through the NewsMatch program.