What's The New News? Challenges Media's Third Ward Assumptions

Nathaniel Donnett has created his own newspaper.

That's right: Donnett has taken on the media. He has created a free, faux periodical, joined with seven separately decorated newspaper racks placed strategically throughout the Third Ward area, that combine for a street art/art installation/print media/social commentary fusion entitled "What's The New News?"

Fed up with what he says are negatively slanted news stories printed about his Third Ward community, the visual artist has made it his mission to rewrite, reprint and ultimately refocus on the Third Ward as a community full of culture and life.

"I wanted to fulfill a need or concern in the way that I knew how to address it," said Donnett. "Not all media is one-dimensional."

The newspapers and their corresponding racks are located in seven locations in Third Ward: the Almeda Street Mail Office, The Breakfast Klub, The Reggae Hut, the Black Heritage Art Gallery, the Texas Southern University Art Department, the El Dorado Room, the Community Artists Collective and the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center.

Each newspaper rack is designed to match its surroundings.

At the Reggae Hut, a local Jamaican food eatery, the newspaper rack is covered in pictures of music legends, while at the Almeda Street Mail Office, a nondescript white rack stands frozen next to other newspaper holders. At the Black Heritage Art Gallery, a rack has been transformed into a black-and-white feed box.

"They're like public art pieces," he said. "They work as if they're part of that area."

At the Community Artists Collective, rain has worn away the multicolored rocks that covered its newspaper rack, creating confetti that spills out onto the sidewalk.

"Over time, the community sort of engulfs the racks," Donnett said. And, he adds, he likes it like that.

Open the racks, and inside lies a newspaper filled with community stories, only this time, the content of said stories are poems and rap songs instead of features and editorials. "Program Proves Valuable in Redirecting Inner-City Youth," originally written in the Houston Post on May 17, 1993, turns into "Untitled," a written monologue by Kenya "Mumbles Medina" Evans. "For Houston, College Claims Exceed Reality," posted in The New York Times on August 28, 2003, turns into "Prison Poem" by Philip Pyle II.

"What's The New News?" was born about a year ago, when, knowing he couldn't do it alone, the lifelong Third Ward -- or Tre, as the neighborhood is affectionately called -- resident, Jack Yates High School graduate and Texas Southern University alum enlisted the help of fellow community writers and artists, Ayanna McCloud, Egie Ighile, Michael K. Taylor, Phillip Pyle II, Tyres Bryant, Robert A. Pruitt, Kenya "Mumblz Medina" Evans, Ann "Sole Sister" Johnson, Lovie Olivia, Regina Agu, Gregory M. Carter, William Cordova, Robert A. Pruitt, Rabe'a Ballin and Robert Hodge, all Third Ward residents, to help transliterate the news stories and decorate the newspaper racks, which were funded by grants from the Houston Arts Alliance and the Idea Fund.

The debut of "What's The New News?" occurred at the Collective in June, where all of the newspapers and newspaper racks were admired before being sent to their respective locations in the community, where they now stand. Donnett's next step for the project will be to release a documentary short about its development early next year.

For more information about the project, visit whatsnewnews.org or nathanialdonnett.com.

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