Singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, known for her ardent support of various social causes and widely regarded as a modern feminist icon, has been forced to cancel a planned songwriting and artistic retreat after furore erupted over the locale––once one of the largest slave plantations in the South.
DiFranco’s ‘Righteous Retreat’ was to be a songwriting and artistic creativity workshop attracting “progressive and engaged people” who sought to open up dialogue about the event’s location at Lousiana’s Nottoway Plantation & Resort, which now serves as a museum and function space.
An outpour of criticism emerged from fans upon hearing of the retreat’s location, with some saying the choice was ‘blatantly racist.’ Meanwhile, The Daily Dot reported that the Nottoway Plantation is in fact part of the Paul Ramsay Group, the company owned by Australian billionaire Paul Ramsay.
The revelation further enraged DiFranco fans and critics as Ramsay is not only a supporter of the Australian Liberal Party, but donated $615,000 (partially undisclosed) to the party during their most recent election bid, making Paul Ramsay Holdings the party’s biggest donor in Australia.
A Change.org petition organised with a view to cancelling the retreat quickly gathered 2,500 signatures, with DiFranco subsequently announcing the event’s cancellation and issuing a statement in which the artist said:
“When I found out it was to be held at a resort on a former plantation, I thought to myself, ‘whoa,’ but I did not imagine or understand that the setting of a plantation would trigger such collective outrage or result in so much high velocity bitterness.
“I imagined instead that the setting would become a participant in the event. This was doubtless to be a gathering of progressive and engaged people, so I imagined a dialogue would emerge organically over the four days about the issue of where we were.”
DiFranco added that she believed that “people must go to those places with awareness and with compassionate energy and meditate on what has happened and absorb some of the reverberating pain with their attention and their awareness” and appealed to a less bisected view of US history.
“Let us not forget that the history of slavery and exploitation is at the foundation of much of our infrastructure in this country, not just at old plantation sites. Let us not oversimplify to black and white a society that contains many many shades of grey,” she said.