The Role of the Arts in the Service of History

Posted by Gerard Atkinson On August - 11 - 2014
Gerard Atkinson

Gerard Atkinson

An unexpected part of the internship job description—being called upon to be a documentary judge. In addition to my work in the Research Services team at Americans for the Arts, I was asked to be a judge at this year’s National History Day, in the senior group documentary section. It turns out the arts and history have a lot to do with each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Barriers and Embracing Change: A History of the Apollo Theater

Posted by Aryana Anderson On October - 9 - 2013
Aryana Anderson

Aryana Anderson

Before the Apollo Theater opened for its inaugural performance on January 26 1934, Harlem’s 125th street was a shopping center for residents in the mostly white upper-middle class neighborhoods surrounding Columbia, Barnard, and the City College. The theater that became the Apollo was erected in 1914, designed by a prominent architect whose projects included the Belasco and later the Selwyn (now known as the American Airlines) Theaters. From 1914 to 1934, the theater served as a venue for burlesque and vaudeville performances. In the early 1900’s developers had invested substantially in the Harlem community in anticipation of the 1904 opening of an elevated subway line connecting uptown with downtown. By the early 30’s 125th street had become a substantial commercial and entertainment center. At the time that the Theater was re-christened as the Apollo, the real estate bubble brought on by the prospect of growth in upper-Manhattan had burst. White New Yorkers did not move to Central Harlem in the numbers anticipated by developers leaving many newly constructed residences empty. Rather than lose out on their investments owners then rented their properties to African-Americans who had been living in the area of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Lincoln Square and Hell Kitchen neighborhoods, and who were arriving in New York from the South and Caribbean. This took place over the period of time known as the Great Migration.

Looking back on this period of history, it is apparent that waves of change we face today echo the challenges of generations past. Whether the changes are social, technological, or physical, the only thing leaders are guaranteed to face over time is change. Read the rest of this entry »

From the Big Lick to Big Ideas: Capitalizing on Culture in Roanoke

Posted by Kate Preston Keeney On April - 17 - 2013
Kate Preston Keeney

Kate Preston Keeney

Like many of my high school classmates, I never had plans to stay in my hometown of Roanoke, located in southwestern Virginia.

Among other reasons, it seemed to lack that something special in terms of arts and culture. The local theater had reduced its performance season; a much-anticipated visual art museum was struggling to stay open; and the independent bookstore closed to become just another bar.

And so, as is common, I left my hometown in pursuit of graduate school and a job in a metropolitan area. I was perfectly situated within walking distance to public transit, yoga studios, cafes, and world-class performance centers.

But now, I’m starting to look back.

Roanoke and its surrounding areas have begun to capitalize on its rich cultural history. Let me be specific, this culture is not new, yet it has just been unearthed with contemporary knowledge of cultural vitality, opportunities for partnerships and economic development, and community leadership and buy-in.

Roanoke has taken steps to put itself on the list of desirable places to live and has done so by elevating its distinct heritage.  Read the rest of this entry »

500 Artists, Gardens Celebrate Florida’s 500th Birthday

Posted by Xavier Cortada On December - 17 - 2012

On Easter Sunday 1513, Ponce de Leon landed his three ships on the eastern shore of the peninsula where I live.

Claiming the land for Spain, he named the place La Florida, (for the Spanish word “flor” or flower) because of the lush landscape and because of the day the explorers arrived, Pascua florida, Easter.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of this encounter, I am working through the Florida International University College of Architecture + The Arts to develop FLOR500, a participatory art, nature, and history project that encourages participants to explore Florida’s natural wonder:

Indeed, I wanted to create an art project that allowed our inhabitants to understand the multicultural origins of our state, its fragile biodiversity, and its threatened coastlines. So I took the father of the Fountain of Youth mythology and his historic milestone as a point of departure to explore ways of rejuvenating “the Sunshine State.” Read the rest of this entry »

Great Art Comes Only from Those Willing to be Vulnerable

Posted by Victoria Ford On June - 29 - 2012

Victoria Ford

“Great art comes from great pain.”

A fully loaded and explosive statement if ever there was one, this is the primary proposition in Christopher Zara’s recent book Tortured Artists, a collection of forty-eight profiles on some of the most celebrated artists of the millennium—from Mozart to Woolf, Garland to Disney.

What exactly, though, is Mr. Zara suggesting?

According to the managing editor of Show Business himself, “I never claimed that art cannot be produced without suffering, only that art produced without suffering is not likely to be very good.”

Zara is not the first to remark on behalf of this haunting stock character. In fact, the tortured artist mythology is one that has sustained a life of its own for centuries, overflowing with the same torment associated with the artists in Zara’s collection—full of devout self-hatred, extreme cases of introverted or extroverted tendencies, sexual frustrations, personality disorders, tremendous amounts of substance abuse, and high rates of suicide.

And still beyond any shadow of a doubt, in these ashes were some of the greatest artistic achievements born.

By looking at the profiles and history alone, one might be quick to say art is more formulaic than we ever perceived. True art can be reduced to a mere mathematical equation where anguish stands idly left of the equality sign and magnificence resides on the other (do what you will with the variables).

Of course, my aim is not to present art as a formula. It is also not my desire to debunk the tortured-artist concept entirely. It’s a fascinating one and I want to investigate it more critically. Read the rest of this entry »

Cultural Historians: Paying Homage to the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

Posted by Molly O'Connor On April - 6 - 2012

Molly O'Connor

Working part time at a bookstore to pay for college, it was in 2001 when I first learned about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. I was shelving books when I came across a copy of Up from the Ashes by Hannibal B. Johnson.

I recall flipping through the pages, stunned that such massive atrocity that had taken place in my home state. And how was I just learning about this? The riot was certainly not included in Oklahoma History class.

Since that day, I’ve discovered I’m not the only Oklahoman who has been oblivious to the Tulsa Race Riot, the most horrifying act of racial violence in American history.

While this incident made national news, local history books and classes were devoid of information about this violent attack on the community of Greenwood. Even today, researching the event often leads to more questions.

There are discrepancies in the numbers of fatalities, and, as always, history has been written and controlled by those who have committed genocide. The mysteries of what really happened on May 31, 1921 are perhaps lost in the ashes.

For Oklahomans, how do we collectively reconcile this deep scar in our history and take steps to heal the wounds that still hurt and divide us? How do we ensure that we learn from the Tulsa Race Riot so that history does not repeat itself? Read the rest of this entry »

A “New Kind of Future” for the Bronx

Posted by Nancy Biberman On April - 3 - 2012

Nancy Biberman

Last month, The New York Times documented an incredible group of local artists coming together to turn a rundown (but not forgotten) Bronx building into a work of art.

The canvas was the Andrew Freedman Home, which originally opened in 1924 as a home for New York’s high society elders who had fallen on tough times in their senior years.

Decades later, when the building itself was in economic turmoil, it was saved by a community group and used for services, but “much of the rest of the vast building has been kept sealed off like a tomb, a time capsule monument to the Bronx’s grand past, awaiting a new kind of future.”

Much of the Bronx is on the threshold of this “new kind of future.”

In spite of being dealt a nearly impossible hand when the city systematically disinvested in the borough in the 1970s, the Bronx survived, and in many ways, flourished.

A haven for new immigrant populations since the early 1900s, the Bronx became a melting pot where music and culture were shared. Its diverse neighborhoods fostered both the passing on of traditions and musical mash-ups. Read the rest of this entry »

Back to the Future (Part 2)

Posted by Erik Takeshita On December - 2 - 2011

Erik Takeshita

The deeper the roots, the stronger we are. 

I have a print in my office made by a teen from The Point Community Development Corporation with this on it. I couldn’t agree more. We need to know where we came from to get where we wanted to go. This is true for individuals, organizations, and communities.

On November 16, Minneapolis-based Bedlam Theatre had 24 hours of live, web-streamed programming for “Give to the Max Day” including a panel discussion on “Placemaking? Arts Bubble or Dawning of a New Age?”

While I enjoyed participating in the conversation with Bedlam, Anne Gadwa from Metris Arts Consulting, and my colleagues from the Irrigate project (an artist-led creative placemaking initiative in St. Paul that received one of the initial ArtPlace grant awards in September), I am not sure we are asking the right question.

What I mean is I think placemaking is neither an “arts bubble” nor the “dawning of a new age,” but rather something that human beings have always done. We are always striving to make the places we inhabit more livable, attractive, and vibrant. Read the rest of this entry »

Blending Fine Art, Commercialism, & Technology (Part 1)

Posted by Donald Brinkman On November - 15 - 2011

Donald Brinkman

I am pleased to have the opportunity to blog about art and its relationship to the corporate world — it is a topic of significant interest to me.

I make no claims at being an expert on some of the subjects I touch on in this short essay. I am sharing opinions gleaned from my personal experience. I welcome your comments and look forward to continuing the conversation.

Art and commercial products are often considered separately and are often even considered mutually exclusive. ‘Fine art’ is upheld as the antithesis of ‘crass commercialism’. I propose that this assumption fails under inspection.

Humans are aesthetic creatures and we rarely separate the aesthetic choices from our commercial choices. The forms of some of our most basic agricultural products and domesticated animals are quite literally shaped by generations of aesthetic decisions – farmers breed animal and vegetable species for attractive characteristics, pruning the genetic tree and imposing human aesthetic onto Darwinian processes. Read the rest of this entry »

The Act of Discovery for a Community

Posted by Bill Mackey On November - 10 - 2011
Bill Mackey

Bill Mackey

Many of the comments inspired further thoughts on my desire to create community based art projects that embrace satire or humor without an apparent or direct tie to any institution (be it commercial or public).

It sounds like everyone here wants artists to be the new generation of urban planners. I have been involved with a few urban planning projects of the past and I just do not know if it is possible for the variety of creative processes described to enter that field.

However, I do believe the current processes used by urban planners should change and Bill Roper’s call to action inspires me to look further.

I appreciate the comments from the folklorist Brendan Greaves, in particular, addressing the need to complete cultural inventories, archival research, and interviews. The process brings historical concepts and multi-generational people into the fold of a project. Today, society knows too little about our general history, our built environment, and our elders; and what it does know is understandably simplified. Read the rest of this entry »

Reclaiming Art

Posted by Xavier Cortada On November - 9 - 2011

Xavier Cortada

In using arts and culture to build community, we often forget that the greatest resource isn’t necessarily the program we design, or the object we create, or the idea we generate. It is the people themselves. We somehow forget that art is theirs; that for a very long time now people have intuitively used it to better connect with one another.

Sixty-thousand years ago, our deep ancestors in Africa began a slow-motion journey that populated that continent and the rest of our planet. Responding to nature, they hunted and gathered as they made their way. Along their migration through the land, some took to growing their own food and settled. Others continued on their path until they found a place to call home.

At each stop, they worked communally to build their society. They developed language and customs. They passed these on through rituals and stories. We see this in the artifacts archeology reveals to us today. They developed their culture in the context of their land. Grounded by nature, they built community.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost that sense of place, that connection to each other and the natural world. I use my art to try to help find our way.

In 2006, I developed the Reclamation Project — an eco-art intervention that invited my fellow South Floridians to engage in protecting their coastal ecosystem. Read the rest of this entry »

Cultural Sustainability in the New (Oakland)

Posted by Randolph Belle On April - 28 - 2011

Randolph Belle & Family

This post originally appeared during the Emerging Arts Professionals/San Francisco Bay Area’s blog salon entitled “Cultural Policy 101″ earlier this month. You can view all of the postings from that salon on their website.

The (Oakland) in the title of this submission can probably be swapped out for many cities across the country, but the concept of cultural sustainability has been an increasingly pressing issue for me of late.

I look at my role in the arts community, my existence as an African American and what distinction should be made for me as an African American cultural worker.   Read the rest of this entry »