Artist of New Haven: Emily Larned

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Emily Larned is a socially engaged art publicist, co-founder of Impractical Labor in Service of the Speculative Arts, self-publisher of Alder & Frankia and is one of the featured artists of the Who Governs? exhibit. The following is the transcript of an interview conducted by Annissa Carter as a part of our Artists of New Haven program. 

To do an overview of the project, I learned about Who Governs over the summer during a call for projects, they were thinking about artists potentially working with the city. This was in June so at the time when any American thought of  “who governs?” we thought about the police in terms of who actually has power in cities over citizens, so that immediately came to mind. The project I’ve been working on for the past few years has grown out of a book I made with Bloodroot, which is a feminist veggitarian resteraunt and bookstore in Bridgeport, CT that’s been there since 1977. I made the book with them from their archive, and while doing that I learned a lot about the feminist movement in New Haven. I knew it was intersectional and it was politically engaged so I was wondering, since I didn’t know anything about the New Haven police, if there was any connection to the feminist movement in New Haven and the police. I started looking it up and  discovered there is in fact a connection! 

Kay Codish, who was the director of the New Haven Police Academy from 1990-2008, was a feminist theater director in New Haven in the 70s and this gallery is about her work! She started a feminist theater company called The Theater of Light and Shadow and from that she became organized in teaching women’s self defence and organized the first Take Back the Night in New Haven in 1979. 

Then she became the director for the Center for Women and Medicine at Yale, which was one of the first Title IX institutions at Yale, so she wrote Yale’s first sexual harassment policy. From there she became really involved in AIDS activism, so she left Yale and became an education and promotion person for AIDS back in the late 80s-early 90s. Then she started to become more aware that a lot of gay men were being targeted and harrassed by the police and how it was contributing to hate crimes across the city. 

She went to the Chief of Police at the time, Nick Pastor, and told him that their behavior wasn’t okay and the police shouldn’t be a part of the problem. He agreed and wanted to try and fix things, he said since she knows a lot about what was going on in New Haven, lived here for a while and was really active in the community why not have her chair a commission on hate crimes in New Haven. She did, and she wrote this report, along with a group of people, and Nick found the report so useful and helpful that he offered her a job as the Director of Training and Education for the New Haven Police Academy. 

This lady was not a cop, she wasn’t trained, and she wasn’t military, she was a civilian, a pacifist and was anti-war and was suddenly put in charge of training New Haven police.  

Nick Pastor then began to think what if the police came from the communities they were serving and what happens if they represented all the different groups in the city, so not only having African American, Hispanic, and Asian police but also gay and lesbian police. So back in the 90s you’ll see posters trying to recruit all these different communities and at the time that was exceedingly rare. There was no one who was publicly out yet in mainstream media, but the police ended up getting a lot of people to recruit, though none of them were really out in public they knew they were welcomed because of the recruitment material.

 The whole idea of this was to imagine what it would be like if we recruited people who were more community oriented and what would happen if we chose who represented us and what would change if they started working with the youth, not as a way to control them but to support them. 

Kay re-designed the police academy into what I’d call a feminist art school, though she’ll never call it that. She had police in training do all these different rounds through these community organizations and receive mental health trainings so they can learn more about the people they’re serving. Then they had to do a term group project that was a creative analysis of some of the things that they’ve learned. 

Over in the corner of the exhibition you’ll see the TV and the VHS tapes, those were training videos that were used as a part of the police academy and if you take a look you’ll notice a lot of them are feminist art movies! On the bottom row are the student police performances and exhibitions and the rest are training videos. I put up a sign that tells guests to ask for help but they can definitely come in to watch the movies. 

When I first learned about Kay’s work I did all this reading online and through the books and bibliographies that were quoting her I discovered that she wrote and self published this pamphlet. One of my main passions is self-publishing and I was thrilled to learn she did some herself, so I tried to contact her. Unfortunately when I did she was just being admitted to the hospital, but once she felt better she sent me this giant envelope with all these pamphlets and material inside and it was covered with all these amazing clippings and ephemera! 

So Kay was involved in the making of this exhibition?

If it weren’t for Kay’s help all I’d have is the article and Police Chief Magazine in the police chief journal. When she sent the envelope of the material was when I decided what the show was going to be about. I wanted to tell the story of the work she did at the police academy and I want people to take a copy of the pamphlet with them because it summarizes the work that she’s done and her hopes for the future. Obviously we haven’t fixed all the problems with police and there’s still a lot of work to be done but I want people to see this and think “well what can we learn from this?”. That’s what I feel like this show is about. 

I feel this show is also about what happens when cities pay activists. They’re the people on the grounds who know what the problems are so what happens when cities put them in positions of power and make that their job their activism. They likely have ideas and solutions they want to try so why not give them money and power to do that? The fact that that happened here in New Haven in the 90s is what I find really inspiring. 

Kay sounds amazing, but can you tell me more about you and how you personally got involved in Who Governs?

Publishing as a socially engaged art practice is my main goal and activity, I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager in the 90s. For me I think it was both about the writing and the craft process like cutting and pasting, folding things together, stapling. 

I have two main publishing projects, one is called Impractical Labor which is a membership organization where anyone is welcome to join, it creates an opportunity for us to reflect upon our creative practice. We publish a lot of tools and resources that we send out as call and response projects, which then leads to another exhibition and publication. 

The other project is Alder and Frankia. The alder is a birch tree that can grow in very adverse conditions because it has a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with this microorganism called frankia which lives in its roots. So the general idea of Alder and Frankia is collaboration. I’ve been publishing feminist collaborations and re-issues since around 2016. The collaboration I did with Bloodroot was the second Alder and Frankia book, from that book I realized that there’s a lot of feminist enphemora that’s still relevant today, so I started re-issuing it. 

How does it feel having this work installed in a place like ArtSpace?

I think it’s amazing having something that is so much about local history be displayed locally. I think people would be curious about this show anywhere because this show is fascinating, but no one will take as much from this as New Haven. Just thinking about it’s potential power for revisiting what was and wasn’t useful and how we can learn from it, and to have something like this happen here, I couldn’t be more excited! 

One last question, and I know this ones a little loaded. It seems like what a lot of activists today, which includes New Haven grassroot groups, are advocating for is defunding the police. How do you think that agenda can relate to or coexist with this exhibit about re-training and educating the police?

This is actually something I’ve been thinking about for months now. My understanding of what “defunding the police” means is to take money that would normally go towards a militarized police force and re-distributing that into the community in different ways like investing in after school programs, education, or mental health programs. In a way, I’m curious about what would happen if they could use some of that money to pay civilian activists to work with the police like Kay Codish did. If we gave civilians salaries to retrain the police then what would that look like? In a way that’s still defunding the police because the money is going to the civilians, and more specifically it’s also going towards making changes. The complicated thing I’ve learned from talking to Kay and Anthony Campbell, assistant chief at Yale, is that running the police academy that way took a lot of money, so it’s a really complicated topic. 

I’ve been dying to have this conversation, and I feel as a White person I have to be more self aware when it comes to how I do this project because it’s a very complicated and loaded subject. I won’t pretend to have all the answers, and I do sympathize with defunding the police. I’ll admit this kind of training costs a lot of money because it makes the police academy last longer since they still have to learn actual police skills on top of these community trainings. So much of the legacy of this country stems from slavery and maybe by defunding the police we can re-invest in the Black community. I also think that we have to re-imagine our idea of what policing is and I think Black community members should be included in that conversation in terms of what communities need to feel safe. 

Learn more about Emily Larned and her work by visiting her website.