Torreah “Cookie” Washington and I sat down to lunch at Virginia’s on King in early August, 2016. I’d met her just a few weeks before, as she walked me through her Emanuel AME dedication show, The Holy City: Art of Love, Unity, and Resurrection, which was held at the pop-up gallery next door to the restaurant.

At this lunch Washington told me about a show she was planning — one that included artists of all creeds, paired up randomly, each creating artwork based on a single word or topic. Not only would these works be displayed in an exhibit — they would be discussed in sit down dinners, with a select number of tickets available to the public, who would come talk to the artists over a communal table. Washington told me that Virginia’s Chef Shane Whiddon had offered to cater the event.

Washington described her plans excitedly and I’ll have to admit, I thought the art show, albeit extraordinary, was ambitious. But, if you know Washington, you know that she’s nothing if not determined. So that show — the one where a bunch of artists pull random topics out of a hat and then create works, to be discussed at a common table — is actually happening. A Dialogue in Black and White Visual Arts Experience debuts at Piccolo Spoleto this May and it will honor Washington’s dear friend, slain chef Whiddon.

“It’s a follow up to the Mother Emanuel show,” says Washington of A Dialogue in Black and White. “That show had to be about unity and coming together. But now, in light of the fact that we have more and more gun violence — we’re so much further apart than we are together.”

The Mother Emanuel exhibit paid homage to the nine lives lost at Mother Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. Gun violence struck Charleston again last summer, when on Thurs. August 24, 2017, Whiddon was murdered inside Virginia’s restaurant by a disgruntled former employee.

Washington says that A Dialogue in Black and White is dedicated to his memory.

Sixty two artists from around the country will work independently on 31 themes that “reflect the issues of our time,” for A Dialogue in Black and White. Topics range from “body image” to “politics” to “black lives matter” to “immigration.” Washington wants to keep most of the artists and their topics a secret until the big reveal because part of the power of this show is seeing the art — and the artists — in person.

“We don’t often have deep conversations with people who don’t look like us,” says Washington. “If you and your white friends are talking about Black Lives Matter but you aren’t with any black people, then you’re just talking.”

Washington says that the location of the show has been locked down, but it can’t be announced quite yet. She’s also making moves as far as a caterer — and tells me that Merc & Mash’s Tim Morton plans on catering the dinners. Tom Schiller, the former GM at Virginia’s, will work “front of house” duties during the dinners, too.

“I’m trying to create change in a meaningful but gentle way,” says Washington. “One art show is not gonna make you not a racist if you’re a racist, but it might help you see my point.”

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