She Who Runs Into

Remembering Ebony McKinney


We often use the phrase “The Arts Community” when speaking of all the doings and happenings and people involved in this work that we do. It is a kind of general reference to it all. But this last weekend, we lost a most remarkable woman in our community, a loss that makes this phrase into something achingly specific. Ebony was at the center of this web of relations, and her spirit and particular way of asking questions, and never ceasing to ask questions, I know has touched so many of us. I think her way kinda sneaks up on you, and into you, over time, because there was a quietness to it, and at the same time, a relentless push, to keep pushing the dialog forward as we endeavor to problem solve and reimagine what we are doing in the arts sector. At least this is what happened to me, I now realize as I reflect on over a decade of having known Ebony.

It hits me that a community comes down to very very specific individuals, with very specific and nuanced qualities, and these are the qualities which makes each of us irreplaceable. I can see so clearly Ebony’s way of moving her head as she spoke, I can hear the tone of her voice as she begins yet another question, “But don’t you think. . .”. And while our community loses a leader, a thinker, a doer, whose work will be irreplaceable, I know I will miss most that Ebony tone of voice, her way of speaking and being, her warm one-arm sideways hug that leans into you a bit, the human being that was unmistakably Ebony McKinney. And I will miss the running into her—that happenstance experience that is now so rare in our over-scheduled world of busy-ness—as she had a way of just turning up when I wouldn’t expect it. It hits me that that spontaneous delight will be no more, and I did not think so much of it until now.

I know that, just as we mourn the loss of Ebony, many of us are simultaneously feeling the sharp and poignant realization of how important it is for us to always reach out, and look out, for one another (I thank those of you that have reached out to me over these last days). That, with the importance of our work, there is the importance of people and our relationships to them of which we must strive to never, even by accident, take for granted. And isn’t that the point of our work afterall, to more fully humanize ourselves and the world that surrounds us? Time passes swiftly. There is so much around us to embrace.

Thank you Ebony McKinney, for all that you were and are, and all you have done for the arts community of Bay and beyond. On behalf of the Red Poppy Art House, I thank you for believing in our little room on the corner of Folsom and 23rd, for bearing witness to the unique experiment we’ve been charting all these years, and for being such an affirming advocate for us so that we might continue. Your spirit will always linger in that room. I’m sure I’ll see you at the next Supplicants show. 😉

Thank you KQED Arts, for running this piece on Ebony, so that others may catch a small glimpse of the tremendous work that Ebony has done.

Todd Thomas Brown
Red Poppy Art House

An image of a painting I did the morning after I heard the news.

It has a black E in cursive over a bold capital E in red. Funny, i didn’t think of it at the time, but it is rather quite like her – her soft, playful, gentle human quality, together with that of determination towards greater clarity, the need/desire for structure and results. 🙂

“E” is for Ebony
Mixed media on paper, 2017