February has come and gone, but powerful works are produced all year round.
by John Sloan, III
Each winter, arts organizations around the country rush to put together their Black History Month programming. Most of these institutions aren’t in the regular practice of presenting Black Art; and, for that matter, don’t even know how it is defined. So, they present the typical and uninspired -- a redux of pieces and themes so archetypal, they have no danger of offending.
Theatrical presentations of Othello, Porgy & Bess, Fences, and A Raisin in the Sun.
Readings of And Still I Rise and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Concerts featuring Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” or Duke Ellington’s “A Train”.
These pieces are groundbreaking in their own rights, but they’ve been produced and reproduced so many times that it can be easy to look past their social relevance. Plus, not all of these pieces were created by Black people.
So, let’s pause for a moment and ask an important question:
What is Black Art?
Is it art created by members of the African diaspora, or pieces that discuss Black cultural issues? Does it have to represent us? Does it even have to be good, and by whose standard is that measured?
Should Boo, a Madea Halloween be considered viable Black Art, or just Kehinde Wiley?
Respectability politics aside, the definition that rings the most true is a simple one:
Black Art is a piece or work created by a member of the African diaspora and directly critiquing, analyzing, and/or commenting on Black culture.
Black Art is our art.
It exists wherever we are, because we create it. So, if you’re not in the mood to go to a museum or concert hall; take a trip to a gallery or sit through a performance, that’s alright. You don’t have to go far to find it.
You can create it yourself.
Detroit, MI (83% Black Population)
The Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History one of the largest museums of Black history and culture in the U.S., The Wright regularly features amazing artwork from multiple genres. The Wright connects visitors of all backgrounds with the stories of resilience, ingenuity, and courage that define the African-American experience. www.thewright.org
The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art is a nonprofit dedicated to enlightenment through the arts. Created by George N’Namdi, this state of the art facility includes four exhibition spaces, including indoor and outdoor performance areas. George N’Namdi is a leading art dealer, with 30+ years experience as a gallery owner. The Center continues N’Namdi’s work in the preservation of master artists and providing local artists a home for their art, including performance art and experiential theater. www.nnamdicenter.org
Plowshares Theatre Company brings to life passionate stories, plays and programs told through the prism of African American life celebrating enduring themes that affirm, exhibit and inspire our shared human experience. For 30 years, Plowshares has been the alternative voice in metro Detroit’s performing arts community. A theatre that offers a true off-Broadway experience, with the kind of entertaining, and diverse productions that has made it a favorite among discerning patrons. www.plowsharestheatre.org/
Baltimore, MD (64% Black Population)
The Ronald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture The Lewis Museum, the largest African American museum in Maryland, has been the authentic voice of Maryland African American history and culture since it opened in 2005. We tell our story through our permanent collection, special exhibitions, educational programs and public events. www.lewismuseum.org
The Arena Players Baltimore’s Arena Players is the oldest continuously operating African-American community theater in the United States. From its humble beginnings in 1953, by a small aspiring group of ambitious fledgling actors, Arena Players has a proud history of community service and outstanding dramatic achievements. www.arenaplayersinc.com/
Baltimore International Black Film Festival The Baltimore International Black Film Festival (BIBFF) promotes and celebrates culturally significant films directed, produced, and staring African American and members of the African Diaspora. We also prominently feature and celebrate films with content of interest to the Same Gender Loving – Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (SGL-LGBT) community. Our mission is to couple the film festival with education, health and exhibition programs that enrich the life of Baltimore City and the greater Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia communities. www.bibff.com
New Orleans, LA (60% Black Population)
The New Orleans African American Museum is dedicated to the preservation, presentation, and interpretation of the culture of the African Diaspora. NOAAM is located in the Tremé section of New Orleans, a neighborhood that was home to the nation’s largest, most prosperous and politically progressive community of black people by the mid-1850s. www.noaam.org/
The Stella Jones Gallery The inception of Stella Jones Gallery in July, 1996, was the realization of a dream. Long time friend and art historian, Dr. Samella Lewis was an inspiration and serves as consultant and curator. The gallery provides a venue for artists of the African diaspora to exhibit superior works of art. www.stellajonesgallery.com/
Junebug Productions Junebug Productions emerged from the Free Southern Theater in 1980 with a mission to create and support artistic works that question and confront inequitable conditions that have historically impacted the African American community. www.junebugproductions.org
Philadelphia, PA (43% Black Population)
The Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO) is a nonprofit organization that presents the highest quality of professional dance performance and improves the skills of emerging and professional dancers and choreographers in a nurturing environment, while increasing the appreciation of dance among its many communities. Across the nation and around the world, PHILADANCO is celebrated for its innovation, creativity and preservation of predominantly African-American traditions in dance. www.philadanco.org
Freedom Theatre Rooted in the African American tradition, New Freedom Theatre is an institution dedicated to achieving artistic excellence in professional theatre and performing arts training for the enrichment of the community. www.freedomtheatre.org
Art Sanctuary Art Sanctuary is dedicated to bringing Philadelphians together through the unique community-building power of black art. We celebrate diversity passionately, understanding the unparalleled strength we gain by embracing our cultural differences. www.artsanctuary.org