Harlem Arts Alliance had their first ever meeting almost ten years ago on September 10, 2001 (the day before 9/11). Twelve people were in attendance at that meeting. Now the HAA has more than 750 members but their aim hasn’t changed. HAA wants to support local artists and bridge the gap between grass roots artists and established organizations like the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Classical Theater of Harlem.
At January’s monthly meeting in Riverside Church, I met painters, textile artists, social media designers, hair artists, culinary artists, musicians and videographers. Asako Motojima from Japan sang “Give me Jesus.” Playwright, Antoinette Nwandu, performed an extract from her upcoming production, Black Boy and War. Members’ paintings were projected behind the stage and hung in the foyer. Every one of the attendees spoke, at least to say hello. One man raised a tiny sculpture in his hand and said, “Why not consider figurines?” A fashion designer and his friend entered bedecked in patchwork faux fur, offering to “dress every part of you according to your dreams… except your feet.”
Several members spoke of upcoming events to honor Martin Luther King’s birthday this month, and February’s Black History Month. The New York Metro MLK Center has an Interfaith Walk on January 16th taking in a synagogue, a mosque and a Christian church, culminating with a 200-voice choir. The Apollo Theater is offering free admission for their “Open House Weekend” on February 5th and 6th. As well as film screenings and performances, the Apollo will host free workshops for children. On Saturday, children can learn dance steps from the jitterbug to the moonwalk. On Sunday, participants can take a visual arts and painting workshop.
Harlem Arts Alliance has its 3rd Annual Membership Celebration and Awards Ceremony coming up on January 12th at the Dwyer Cultural Center. The event is free and open to the public.
“There will be music, refreshments and fun,” said HAA Executive Director, Michael Unthank. “We want to revive Harlem’s tradition as a center of creativity. We aim to be a unifying vehicle. We bring together the small, independent artist and the large organizations. Any artist who comes to our meetings can advertise their work on our table. And it’s a great place to meet other artists.”
“We also offer workshops to help artists promote their work,” said Kim George, HAA’s Associate Director. “Everything from grant writing to social media.”
Another place to meet local artists is Art Fusion happy hour on January 21st and every third Friday at Sylvia’s. This year Harlem Arts Alliance is hoping to boost its membership to 1000. “You can be part of a force in Harlem,” said Mr. Unthank. Individual membership costs $25 a year and includes access to their electronic media, the opportunity to advertise work at their meetings, and the potential to be a part of Harlem’s creative future.
“Everyone is welcome at our member celebration,” said Michael Unthank. “Come along. You’ll love it.”
Harlem Arts Alliance: http://www.harlemaa.org/ Tel: 347-735-4280
New York Metropolitan Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolence: http://nymlkcenterfornonviolence.org/ Tel: 718-589-7858, ext 8
Apollo Theater: http://www.apollotheater.org/ Tel: (212) 531-5300
Story (and photographs) by Yolande Brener