Staring at the Dark

94 3Arts supporters
$8,873 raised of $6,000 goal
3 Days 00:16:59 LEFT
This project will only be funded if $6,000 is contributed to 3Arts by April 15, 2024, 11:59PM
    • 148% contributed

STRETCH GOAL! Thanks to the caring and generous support of the community, we have secured our first milestone goal! With a new stretch goal of $20,000 we will be able to continue film production in June. All contributions to reach this new goal will make this our final fundraising push in 2024! Staring at the Dark is a socially engaged documentary film and community project about Black ancestral and contemporary landscapes in the age of environmental catastrophe. Incorporating oral histories, digital projections, and sculptural installations of rebuilt sites now lost, this project reveals the unseen as a way of practicing sustained care and illuminating the spirit of revival in Black communities.

About This Project

This project was inspired by my experience during the pandemic spending stay-at-home orders with family in my hometown of Panama City, Florida. While working on multiple community focused projects in Chicago, I was also becoming reacquainted with my hometown, a place in Florida’s coastal panhandle where just over a year had passed since Hurricane Michael damaged or destroyed entire neighborhoods across the city. When the national media coverage vanished after a few days, record numbers of people were still navigating the crisis for months; and many still do today. 

As a socially engaged artist, I started collecting stories from community members about the experiences, memories, and absences they were feeling across the hurricane-ripped landscape. I focused particularly on Black residents and their descendants, beginning with a historically segregated community called Bay Harbor on the east side of town near the papermill. Five years after the hurricane, the Bay Harbor community continues to mourn the loss of people and places that once were reminders of everything they built together when rural land workers migrated to urban centers to work the timber and chemical refining industries. This community grew to provide care for every aspect of Black life from spiritual gatherings and civic organizing to entertainment and domestic life.

I decided to develop Staring at the Dark as a community archiving project and a landscape documentary film as a way to tell the story of African American migration in Florida and post-disaster community resilience. The film will use video, digital projection, sculpture, and installation to construct the narratives of six local sites in Bay Harbor. I will recreate buildings from each of these sites in the form of miniature sculptures made of sugarcane paper, a process which is meant to reveal the complexities of rebuilding places and community archives after long standing historical inequities: from housing displacement, to school closures, and environmental racism. We will invite residents to participate in workshops on communal storytelling, family photo and home movie collections, and post-disaster resilience building.

I am working with Imani Nikyah (she/they), an award-winning filmmaker born in Louisville, Kentucky, who shares an interest in histories of Black culture in the South and the African diaspora. My dad, John Gipson, is also an important collaborator. His relationships with his siblings, cousins, church family, neighbors, and childhood friends ground the work in community building after Hurricane Michael. He is also knowledgeable about growing food, and he planted the sugarcane for the project. We are working to build local partnerships with the county library, higher education institutions, organizations, and local artists, educators, and public officials about integrating this project into larger efforts in the area to preserve African American history and culture.

Many elements of this project are already underway, and the overall budget will exceed $100,000. Thankfully, we were recently selected as a Creative Capital grantee which will provide significant seed funding and development support. However, we need to secure additional funds and community-member investment to make this project as successful as possible. Our hope is to galvanize support from our southern and Chicago networks. Our timeline is to film in Summer 2024 with the goal of completion by Winter 2024. Once the film is fully edited, my dream is to bring it to Chicago audiences along with meaningful conversations around the Great Migration, racial justice, and environmental justice topics that are important for us all. 

Thank yous

Contribute any amount or choose from the levels below.

  • $25
    A personal thank you on social media ($25.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $50
    Above, plus donor listing on our project website and a “Staring at the Dark” thank you card by mail ($50.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $100
    Above, plus a small handmade sugarcane print ($50.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $250
    Original, signed and printed photograph from behind the scenes of “Staring at the Dark” ($150.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $500
    Above, plus donor listing in the film credits for “Staring at the Dark” ($350.00 is tax deductible.)
  • $1000
    Above, plus exclusive access to a pre-screening event and intimate conversation with artists on the making of the film ($850.00 is tax deductible.)

Leah Ra'chel Gipson

Make a Wave Artist

Leah Ra’chel Gipson is a multidisciplinary artist born in Florida and based in Chicago. Her work facilitates hyperlocal community projects that draw on Black culture and imagine critical “call and response” environments. Her work explores issues of race and gender …

View Leah Ra'chel Gipson's profile
  • Update 1: Stretch Goal
    Posted on March 18, 2024


    Dear community,

    Thanks to you, we reached a critical milestone and secured our 3Arts match funding! We also met the requirement to reach our initial goal by the end of the campaign! Thank you for making all of this possible in only 30 days! Our new goal is to reach $20,000 in the next month, which will ensure that we remain on track to do a 5 day shoot during our summer film schedule this June. Please continue to ask your friends and colleagues to help us make this campaign our last big fundraising push for this year! 


    Leah Ra'chel, Terence Sims, Eliyannah Yisrael

    • Thank you to the following for contributing to 3Arts with the recommendation that we support this project.

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make it work


3AP Presenting Partner:

  Joyce Logo

 Additional support provided by: 

Department of Cultural Affairs logo  Illinois Arts Council