If You Belong: A conversation with the duo behind nomadic event platform WDLY

Back in 2017, visual arts duo Wickerham & Lomax launched DUOX4Odell’s: You’ll Know if You Belong. The two described the project, which ran for about a month, as an ode to legendary Baltimore nightclub Odell’s. It was housed in the former Everyman Theater in Station North just around corner from the location of the original Odell’s and paid tribute to the place where mostly black folks gathered weekly to dance until they were sweaty from 1976-1992. The space they created distilled the experience of visiting Odells into something you’d see at the Museum of Modern Art, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and at the club all at once. It was a way of marking the importance of this space now gone and the joy it facilitated.

It was also a way of mourning the way black spaces are less valued and therefore not afforded the same care and preservation as other venues, a sentiment that continues today as Baltimore becomes further developed, gentrified, and many of its arts spaces squeezed-out, closed, or even shut down by the city. So nearly two years later, one half of the group, Malcolm Lomax, is creating WDLY, another kind of joyful, high-concept space for marginalized folks.

WDLY is “a nomadic platform,” cofounded with event curator Teri Henderson that will primarily focus on art and music events but intends to be bigger than that as well: “We envision parties, events, artist talks, dinners, conversations—building bridges across race, class, gender, socioeconomic backgrounds,” Henderson said.

“Malcolm and I are both queer black Baltimore transplants who love the arts,” Henderson added.

Henderson, who serves as co-director, says the meaning behind WDLY is a secret for now, but she can talk about why she wanted to do something like this. Henderson and Lomax wanted to create space in the city where people of color and queer people can revel in the arts because they have seen the limitations that come with focusing on a specific brick-and-mortar location and instead want to focus on creating safe, fun experiences that can happen anywhere—especially in Baltimore’s LGBTQ+ spaces which too are steadily going away. We sent some questions over to Henderson and Lomax about WDLY.

Baltimore Beat: Why did you decide to do this?

Teri Henderson: I care a lot about creating and curating events for black and brown and queer and marginalized people to have time and space to have fun and turn up and forget the stress of existing in a black and brown and queer and marginalized body in a world full of white supremacy. It is so easy to forget to have fun, and although WDLY has been a lot of work and stress, I find a lot of joy in working with Malcolm and designing our vision for a collaborative creative future.

Malcolm Lomax: For me, I wanted to actively participate in changing the world around me—to expand my options and to hopefully be sensitive to details, to make things intriguing as experiences. We decided to do this because we realized that venues were closing around the city, and it felt like certain social groups were being displaced. We both were programming events and wanted a deeper working relationship with each other and share in highlighting the type experiences that we each would like to have. We demanded of ourselves diversity in programming (i.e. music shows, panel discussions, dinners, and just sweaty debauchery).  It became apparent to us that WDLY could be a resource (consultation, preserving histories, graphic design, etc.)

BB:  How did WDLY come about?

TH: When Malcolm and Dan began working at Diskobar I got to know them very well. The first party I threw on my own was #LIBRAWEEN at Diskobar for my birthday and that turned into Malcolm asking me to host a bimonthly series there, so I also curated #GETFESTIVE, and #LOVERSROCK. Malcolm was in charge of events at Diskobar and we have always had a great synergistic relationship. He recognized my ability to curate events and put a lot of trust in me and gave me a lot of creative control which helped me grow confidence that I never had in my work before working with him. I got asked to work at The Elephant and curated a short series “Upstairs @ The Elephant” before they announced they were closing. Around that time, Malcolm and [Daniel Wickerham] decided to leave their tenure at Diskobar to primarily focus on their art practice, and at that point I think Malcolm and I had a conversation about feeling a sense of urgency to create something that would last.

BB: Event venues are closing all over the city—can you discuss that?

ML: Well in 2015, Wickerham and I created a video work called Take Karaoke, a project that was centered around the Drinkery around the time the neighborhood was petitioning to close its doors. This was an early space for me of active creation—I would go in at a certain hour to sketch/write amongst frenzy and social ambiance. But if we chart the closure of queer spaces in the time that I’ve lived in the city they include The Hippo, The Paradox, Club Bunns, The Phoenix, (at a point) The Baltimore Eagle, and now Grand Central. What I’ve seen happen when venues close is the loss of cross-generational exchange which is a profound aspect of these spaces.

BB: Can you discuss the shifts in arts spaces over the past few years specifically as it pertains to black arts spaces and black art organizers/bookers?  

TH: Again I just got here three years ago but I have noticed a definite shift. I see spaces closing, I have seen parties that were supposed to occur getting cancelled because the venue unexpectedly shut down. I see a lack of respect for black art organizers, black bookers, black curators. They need to be paid more. Their time and energy needs to be compensated because black and brown people make these spaces a lot of money. These spaces would not be as popular as they are without the energy of black art organizers running them through the curation of their events.

ML: I’ve seen a lot of venues close or dissolve and are no longer in operation. The closure of the Hippo was an early iteration in the loss of safe spaces, potentially leading towards creative spaces. They featured a Hip Hop Night as well as Deep in the Game curated by Adam Schwarz and Mark Brown. Those two events were as a social scene, ones of importance. It’s saddening to lose the Paradox and Club Bunns. It reminds me of the legacy of Odell’s. All are spaces that made such impacts on the creatives of Baltimore City.

Tonight’s WDLY event featuring Mr. 14th, Pangelica, and Omnibud plus door prizes, happens at lesbian-owned Mt. Vernon bar Flavor (15 E. Centre St.) from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. Tickets are $7-10.

Wickerham & Lomax’s work is also currently showing as part of A Gentle Excavation, an exhibition at Resort (235 Park Ave.) through May 4.

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