By VITTORIA BENZINE, October 2020
Black Lives Still Matter. They always have, and they always will. Systemic racism is the culmination of intertwined systems built on discrimination-fueled greed - we have work to do.
Brands are throwing their hats in the ring by utilizing their platforms. A recent press release from Pepsi-owned LIFEWTR announced the launch of their latest effort, TheBlackArtRising.com, “a digital exhibition documenting the diverse responses to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020,” which holds digital space to showcase “protest art from eight creators at the forefront of racial justice.”
The artists showcased by Black Art Rising’s first iteration include hip hop artist Tobe Nwigwe; multidisciplinary artist Temi Coker; visual artist, author, and educator Reyna Noriega; all-around creative Thomas Evans (a.k.a. Detour); “She Is This” founder Shae Anthony, interdisciplinary artist Dr. Fahamu Pecou; fine artist and muralist Max Sansing; and digital artist Lauren (Lo) Harris.
To compliment the initiative, LIFEWTR is also overseeing a “newly formed $50k Black Art Rising Fund to help increase number of diverse voices by offsetting art supply costs for undiscovered Black artists.”
For artists interested in entering for consideration, the press release explains that entrants “share their creations using #BlackArtRisingContest and tag @LIFEWTR… Those selected will receive a $500 stipend from the $50k Black Art Rising Fund to finance art supplies for their next great creation, and to be recognized on TheBlackArtRising.com."
The boilerplate notes that “PepsiCo generated more than $67 billion in net revenue in 2019, driven by a complementary food and beverage portfolio that includes Frito-Lay, Gatorade, Pepsi-Cola, Quaker and Tropicana.” In August 2020, the company announced “a more than $400 million set of initiatives over five years to support Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo." These initiatives comprise a holistic effort for PepsiCo to walk the talk of a leading corporation that helps address the need for systemic change.
This is not a corporation’s job. This is the government’s job. The language of this press release surrounding LIFEWTR can feel empty — “ LIFEWTR, a premium water brand with a history of amplifying social progress through art” was founded three years ago as the joint effort of Brad Jakeman, president of PepsiCo’s global beverage group, and Olga Osminkina-Jones, Pepsi’s ‘VP of hydration.’ “LIFEWTR is a premium bottled water brand that serves as creativity’s champion,” begs the question, ‘materially, how?’
While it’s not Pepsi’s job to reorder our society’s value system, it is nice that they are offering an authentic response. Art is not equivalent to material change, but it’s a powerful tool in shaping what values and voices dominate our society moving forward. As Tone Nwigwe states in the press release, “People get easily distracted. It’s necessary we keep the conversations going and people focused on what really matters. Art is influence.” WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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