By Claude Jay
On October 4, The Harlem Arts Alliance (HAA) kicked off the 4th Annual Harlem Arts Advocacy Week at The Riverside Theatre. This was held as part of the HAA monthly meeting, Voza Rivers, Chair and Michael Unthink, Executive Director. The Harlem Arts Advocacy Week offered panel discussions community forms, guest speakers and special events in various events. The goal as outlined in the schedule of events, states Harlem Arts Advocacy Week raises the visibility of the contributions of the arts and cultural community; provides a forum for discussion of important issues and helps to strengthen the critical link between the arts and the business sectors.
I attended several of the sessions and the following are highlights, comments, questions and concerns. On Monday, October 4, during the Harlem Arts Alliance monthly meeting, which is a information, promotional and networking meeting for organizations and individual artist. At the kick off meeting remarks were given by NYC Council Member Robert Jackson, NYC Council Member, Inez Dickens was acknowledge for her support of the arts. A Special Recognition Award was given to Howard Dodson, Chief Historian, of the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture. There were two performances: Tony Award Winner, Andre De Shields, an excerpt from his solo performance as, Frederick Douglass, from “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: From Douglass to Deliverance” and Broadway Performers, Brenda Braxton and Doug Braxton in an excerpt form “Trav’lin” The Musical; and the introduction of cast members of, “Freedom Man of Color” the new comedy by John Guare at Lincoln Center. The week was dedicated to James Stovall, a 27 year Broadway veteran performer, known for his work with the African Burial Ground; a minister, he served as Executive Director of Ministry of the Arts & Culture at the United Palace Theatre in Harlem.
As part of the meeting, there were two panels from presenters from the major art and cultural institutions: the first panel, “Strengthening Our Community Arts Needs”, Moderated by Linda Walton, Jazzmobile, Inc., panelist, Kim Jack Riley, Arts Horizon, LeRoy Neiman Art Center, Grace Aneriz Ali, Dwyer Cultural Center, Loren Schoenberg, The National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Virginia Johnson, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Jewel kinch-Thomas Riverside Theatre. The second panel, ‘Supporting The Arts in Communities of Color”, was Moderated by Ty Jones, Actor and Presenting Director, The Classical Theatre of Harlem, Inc., the panelist, Andrea Louie, Asian American Arts Alliance, Jessica Thorpe, African American Cultural Collective, Buffalo, NY, Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, Deirdre Scott, Bronx Council on the Arts and Linwood Olgesby, Newark Arts Council. To conclude the session, there were remarks from Kathleen Hughes, Assistant Commissioner for NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. One of her major points and observations and questions: are we preparing young people to continue the work of arts and cultural institutions. She asked, who will take the place of Voza Rivers, Michael Unthink, Dr. Marta Vega and others, where are these young people? Are we preparing them for the future?
Clearly, this was a power packed morning which provided the scope of art and culture institutions. The Harlem Arts Alliance is to be congratulated for bringing together these art and cultural organizations. With both panels each spoke about their organizations and something about their programming; however, because of the time restrain neither panel was able to go in-depth.
Other highlights, on Tuesday, October 5, I attended the sessions on, “Building Arts and Business Partnership in Harlem” and “Leveraging the Talent of Our Business Community” . An important outcome from this session, that Harlem should establish a tourist board in order to tap into the tourist industry. The tour buses come to Harlem, but the tourists do not get off the buses to take in the culture, art, and businesses. Therefore, business, art institutions and artist do not benefit to the extent that they could from this multi-million dollar tourist industry. An observation; the position taken by the representative from Columbia University, that Columbia has the web site of all the Harlem arts organization so it was not necessary for City College to build one. I spoke out, I suggested that City College go forward with their website and pointed my own online business website, www.HarlemMyLove.com and many others including www.HarlemOneStop.com, www.HarlemDiscover.com, www.Harlemaa.org and www.harlemworldmag.com. All are different sites on Harlem with a different focus where visitors can go to shop, find out more about Harlem, what is going on and where to go. I added in my comments, that it is the links that are important for Harlem. These links are important internet and partnerships for businesses, arts, culture organization, performing and visual artist to finding ways to work together.
Particpants in these two panels held at the Harlem Stage include: Paticaia Crux, Harlem Stage, Jonelle Procope, Apollo Theater Foundation, Carol Brown, Harlem Opera Theater, Regina L. Smith, Harlem Business Alliance, Fran Smyth, Arts & Business Council New York, Marcia Sells, Columbia University, Karen Witherspoon, City College of New, Rasul Miller, Black Equity Alliance and Joseph Wemple, Maysles Institute. To conclude the session there were remarks by Kim L Jasmin, Vice President, Northeast Region Community Relations Manger, JP Morgan Chase. A comment in her remarks included the importance of the arts to assist with revitalization of communities. I asked Ms. Jasmin, her thoughts on funding for the arts; essentially she said funding for the arts had changed and would not return as it was we knew it in recent years.
These two days of the Harlem Art Advocacy Week show that there are many concerns, questions and possibilities for Harlem.
What are your thoughts on the state of Arts & Culture in Harlem?