BDBB: The Black Dance and Broadway Blog

Covering black professionals and professional productions in the dance and theater worlds, plus general arts news

Arts News: Leaders Discuss 21st Century Challenges at National Black Arts and Culture Summit

When the National Black Arts Festival put together its 25th anniversary festival this summer, its curator and producer, Leatrice Ellzy thought it would also be a good idea to bring people from the black arts and culture community together to talk about different issues affecting black artists and arts organizations.

 On Sept. 13-14, the festival convened a summit meeting in Atlanta. Called “A Question of Relevance? A National Dialogue on the Relevance of Black Culture in the 21st Century,” the meeting only drew about 50 participants. But Ellzy, CEO and founder of the cultural curation firm Beatrix Moss, said many arts leaders had contacted her about the issues discussed at the summit meeting and being a part of future plans. The festival plans to post reports from the meeting this fall, she added.

 In the meantime, Ellzy, who is the former artistic director of the festival, talked to BDBB about the summit meeting.

 

BDBB: What was the impetus behind the summit meeting?

Leatrice Ellzy: For a number of years, I have been talking to colleagues across the country and all of us have been saying the same things, things like the funding is just not there to do the work anymore. We needed to pull people together to really have this conversation and talk about what that means for the future of black arts and culture.

The festival also finds itself at this crossroads: Where do we go next? We’ve already done this work; where do we go next and who are we in this next incarnation for this organization? A lot of the organizations find themselves in the same situation. The model has changed and we have to figure out what the new model is.

We also wanted to take a very close look at what black arts and culture look like in the 21st century when government funding has dried up and when colored folks don’t really support arts and culture. What are the new models when you have those obstacles?

BDBB: What were the outcomes from the summit?

Ellzy: I feel like we have to distill what the outcomes are. One of the recurring themes was we have to talk about diversity … in the sense that what black art and culture is has to expand. We talked about labels. When you talk about diasporic art, we talk about African American culture when we don’t even account that in the Americas you have African American culture in South America.  So this whole idea that African Americans in this country are the only ones engaging at a certain level is just false. A number of presenters talked about how to expand the audience.  We talked about possible connections and collaborations across sectors. The conversations ended up being very solutions-based.

The idea is not to convene every to just talk about problems in black arts and culture. The idea is to figure out what are the takeaways and then to put together small work groups around the takeaways.

BDBB: So what’s next?

Ellzy:  The first thing I want to do is get the information out from these sessions so we can start getting more input from people who weren’t sitting in the room that day. After that I’m hoping there will be a small work group. We might do something in New York or Atlanta. I want to have support from the field so there may be some sort of follow up meeting in New York, possibly during APAP.

–        Karyn D. Collins

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