Art Sanctuary collaborated with Rap Sessions to host “Rebirth of a Nation: Race and Gender Politics in Today’s Media,” in a town hall setting at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia recently.
Rap Sessions, founded in 2005 by Bakari Kitwana, is an organization that hosts national tours of town hall meetings with hip-hop activists and scholars engaging in dialogues involving the hip-hop generation.
Last Wednesday evening’s event brought community members in Philadelphia together to share their thoughts on the influence of hip-hop and politics.
Kitwana is a journalist, activist and author whose commentary has appeared on CNN, FOX News and other media outlets. He felt the community setting at the Church of the Advocate served as an appropriate place for an interactive discussion.
“The conversation was amazing yesterday and with the grant we were able to get we were able to do something we don’t always get to do— have this conversation inside of a community center,” Kitwana said. “To take the conversation in the community was special.”
The event entailed a panel discussion with panelists: media personality Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Mark Anthony Neal, professor of Black popular culture at Duke University, Joan Morgan, journalist and hip-hop feminist author and Elizabeth Mendez Berry, culture critic and journalist. Akiba Solomon, journalist and author, moderated the panel.
After the panel discussion, the guests disbursed into smaller breakout group sessions in which panelists and local activists led the conversations into deeper discussions.
The panel and breakout sessions ranged in conversation covering gender and media, the correlation of the election of President Obama with the evolution of media images surrounding gender and race—and social media and its impact in activism.
Throughout the conversation, participants had opportunities to share their input with the panel and breakout groups. The Trayvon Martin case and a recent Burger King commercial with artist Mary J. Blige were also topics of discussion.
Following their visit to Philadelphia, Rap Sessions made a stop in New Orleans and will continue their 2012 tour “Hip-Hop Activism in the Obama/Tea Party Era”—the title of Kitwana’s latest book.
One of the key points Kitwana expressed at the event was his belief that there’s been a racial backlash that has heightened the conversation around race since the election of President Obama.
With an interactive crowd, the town hall-like meeting was successful in providing an outlet for the community to share their views. Kitwana plans to take Rap Sessions back to Philadelphia at the Art Sanctuary this upcoming fall. He believes Conversations like these are educational for both the panel and the participants.
“I think so often there are few key places in our society where people can get to have a regular conversation with people outside of their home—the folks really got into it,” he said.
Exploring the history of soul food, understanding the complexity of Black identity and watching an established musician flee a record label to become an independent artist are some of the topics tackled at the BlackStar Film Festival, Aug. 2–5 at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Art Sanctuary and International House.
During this four-day festival, 40 films, including narratives, documentaries, music videos and experimental films will screen. In addition, the directors, writers and producers of color represent several countries, including Canada, Haiti, Germany, Jamaica, South Africa, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States and United Kingdom.
“I feel there is a strong tradition of art produced by Black people in Philadelphia,” said Maori Karmael Holmes, festival founder and artistic director. “And I felt like there needed to be a film festival that connected to what I think we’re recognized for — music and dance and similar art forms.”
Undergoing a 10-month planning process, the festival team searched for films that would bring social conversation to the Philadelphia community and a renaissance to the entertainment industry.
“[We’re] just purely sharing the work of people,” Holmes said. “I think we’re all trying to make work and that’s how we’re contributing. We’re taking advantage of the lower costs to make work and hopefully make stuff that people are interested in.”
During the festival, filmmaker Ava DuVernay — the first African-American woman to win the award for Best Directing at Sundance — will discuss her latest work and strategies for the continued effort to give African-American filmmakers a voice in the movie industry. Her recent film, “Middle of Nowhere,” scheduled for an October 2012 release, will screen an exclusive excerpt at the festival.
International filmmaker, Oliver Hardt (Germany) will premiere his film, “The United States of Hoodoo,” for the first time in the United States. This film follows a writer who returns to America to reveal the myths and legends of Voodoo.
Representing the United Kingdom, Canada and Haiti is filmmaker, Sonia Godding Togobo. Her film, “Adopted ID,” follows the journey of a woman who returns to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to locate her birth parents. This will also be the film’s premiere showing in the United States.
In Steven Zegans’ film, “The Res Documentary,” Res—a soul rock singer whose single, “They Say Vision” was a Top 40 hit, shows her life as a musician. Having singles like “Golden Boys” and “Ice King,” which all received radio time, Res makes a decision to leave her label when a project is delayed and ultimately dropped. Moving back to Philadelphia and creating music, Res finds a renewing outlook on her career. There will be a question and answer panel with Zegans and Res after the film.
Another element to the festival will be the screenplay readings. There will be two readings, one screenplay and one television pilot. Holmes said that readings don’t often happen at film festivals.
“We’re excited to allow people into the process of making a film by letting them see a screenplay from where it begins,” Holmes said.
Throughout the festival, there will also be free workshops, parties and receptions.
“My goal is to share [the films] on the big screen which is how I feel most filmmakers intend for their films to be seen,” Holmes said. “And that’s not often how they get a chance to be viewed. Here’s your opportunity to see them on the large screen.”
Art Sanctuary formally held a “Passing the Baton: Launching Beyond Legacy” transition event on Friday Nov. 30 honoring the legacy of founder Lorene Cary, and looking toward the organization’s future under the leadership of new Executive Director Valerie V. Gay. The free-will offering fundraiser and community celebration brought together over 300 at The Pavilion at the Community College of Philadelphia.
Art Sanctuary is in its 14th year serving as one of the nation’s leading African-American arts and letters organizations devoted to presenting outstanding regional and national talent in the literary, visual and performing arts.
“It is exciting, and I am more excited for what our audience will receive,” said Gay. “We are looking to really deepen and widen the impact that Art Sanctuary already has. Every year, Art Sanctuary touches about 15,000 lives in this city, and we intend to do more of that. The work that we do is powerful; is life-impacting; is life-altering — which sounds dramatic in terms of art — but it really is. And the work that we do, we’re going to take it and scale it to larger levels for more people to be impacted, and to be touched.”
The theme of “Passing the Baton” was “honoring the past and looking to the future,” and Gay announced her first initiative will be the “Read With Me: The MLK Project.”
“We will take a piece of literature — Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter From A Birmingham Jail’ — arguably one of the most important documents from the Civil Rights era, but it’s one of the least read. So, we’re going to say to people, ‘Read it,’ but not just read it, find three young people and read it with them and discuss it. And then we want them to do something, to write their own letter to power and have some call of action: write a song, a poem or a blog or make a piece of art, and then tell us about it by linking to our website and being a part of the larger community.”
The evening featured performances by some of Art Sanctuary’s artistic family who have shared their talents with the organization over the years. The baton was represented in the form of two five-foot tall wood cane-like African percussive instruments that both Cary and Gay have utilized for the last couple of months during meetings.
Cary said, “I’ve cut the cord. One should step aside and get out of the way. So I don’t have a role. My role is to be the founder. You should know when to lead and you should know when to serve, so I’m at her service if she wants me, but I am not necessary.”
For more information about “Read With Me: The MLK Project,” visit artsanctuary.org/read-with-me/.
As part of Art Sanctuary’s 28th Annual Celebration of Black Writing, the organization hosted the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony at The Historic Church of the Advocate.
With the yearlong theme of “Growing from Good to Great,” the organization honored JET and Ebony magazines, with JET’s Editor-in-Chief Mitzi Miller accepting on behalf of both, and Marita Golden of the Hurston/Wright Foundation — all institutions that have taken writers from around the globe from good to great.
“Ebony and JET are just part of our cultural conversation,” Miller said. “They are a part of our lives. Since their inception, their sole purpose has been making sure that our opinions and our voices are heard; making sure that our news is shared and that what we have to say matters.”
For almost three decades, the “Celebration of Black Writing” has sought to deepen Philadelphia's literary life and polish its tourist shine with a rich infusion of African-American writers and artists in all genres.
A one-of- a-kind literary feast, the “Celebration” provides writers and artists an opportunity to discuss their work with up to 1,500–2,000 students, and another 2,000–3,000 people participate in panels, workshops, teachers' symposium, Family Pavilion, main stage, and other events.
The Celebration features up to 75 professional and aspiring writers, editors, publishers, scholars, spoken-word artists, performance artists, playwrights, and filmmakers.
Some of the country’s most innovative culture leaders and thinkers have been lauded over the years including renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist and educator Nikki Giovanni, poet Sonia Sanchez and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Charles Fuller. Supermodel Beverly Johnson, who is also star of the new reality show, ‘Beverly’s Full House’ on OWN, served as event emcee on Friday evening.
“Writers write—they don’t talk about writing,” said author Bernice McFadden as she introduced Golden. “But then I read 'Migrations of the Heart ' and something in me began to shift. I felt a sense of hope return. Here was a woman, a Black woman, writing her own story, doing exactly what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it. She had not allowed anyone, or anything, to stand in the way...why couldn't I do the same? With each book I read, I became inspired as a woman and as an inspiring writer.”
Golden said writing is a calling and a mission: “Each life contains the seeds of other lives—and 22 years of working in the Hurston/Wright Foundation to create this organization has taught me that this work that the Arts Sanctuary does, that Lorene Cary has done, that I've done, is not just cultural work; it's not just political work; it is deeply, deeply spiritual work because it has such a profound impact on the minds, the hearts and the souls of people.”
The Art Sanctuary’s 28th Annual Celebration of Black Writing is the nation’s only literary festival of its kind, offering 13 days of literary discussions and workshops, music showcases and film screenings. Writers and artists will discuss their work with up to 2,000 students, and another 3,000 people will participate in panels, workshops and other events. The celebration features 75 professional and aspiring writers, editors, publishers, scholars, spoken-word artists, performance artists, playwrights and filmmakers. This year, selected panels and workshops will be streamed live for the first time online, and will also be archived so that new and enthusiastic readers and writers can access them anytime.
The Celebration of Black Writing brings acclaimed authors, scholars and performance artists from across the U.S. to meet, teach and interact with festival attendees through lectures, readings, workshops, panel discussions, family activities and performances. It connects established authors, emerging talent, novice writers and performance artists, with avid readers and local audiences spanning race, gender and background. The festival offers family-friendly events as well. Independence Blue Cross (IBC) and the AmeriHealth Mercy Family of Companies are the presenting sponsors for the program which runs from May 21 to June 2.
“We take great pride in our support of the Celebration of Black Writing festival, and in partnering with Art Sanctuary,” said Daniel Hilferty, president and CEO of IBC. “This exceptional and innovative organization educates and nurtures so many aspiring writers and other artists, and it improves the lives of thousands through promoting the arts.”
One of the major highlights of the festival is the Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony to be held Friday, June 1. With Art Sanctuary’s year-long theme of “Growing from Good to Great,” the organization will honor JET and Ebony magazines, with JET’s editor-in-chief Mitzi Miller accepting on behalf of both, and Marita Golden of the Hurston/Wright Foundation.
“We’ve got to hold (Black writers) in the light,” noted Lorene Carey, executive director, Art Sanctuary. “There is great value in holding the critical mass of African-American creative talent in the light — to use that Quaker phrase ‘to hold it in the light’ — there is great value in that. It’s valued for our own community. These are our griots. These people are telling a narrative about the Black experience — and the white experience, by the way — and they are narratives that are nourishing, necessary and sometimes very challenging for the growth of the African-American community. They are telling narratives that are necessary and nourishing to our larger community. ... They are some of the strongest explorers of questions that America needs to learn and to pose and challenge it and argue about. These people are doing it, and we have them here year after year. To keep it going year after year means that we relieve the pressure that’s on African-American artists, or the Black creative, to represent our amazing diversity in one shot.”
The Art Sanctuary’s 28th Annual Celebration of Black Writing takes place at several locations around the city, including Art Sanctuary, the Historic Church of the Advocate, the Kimmel Center and Temple University. The all-day festival taking place at Temple University on June 2 is free. Some events taking place during the 13-day festival, May 21 to June 2, are offered at a low ticket price. For more information and to get a full listing of the festival’s line-up, visit www.artsanctuary.org or call (215) 232-4485.
The Art Sanctuary, 628 S. 16th St., held a fundraising event on Wednesday honoring the photography of Emmy Award-winning journalist Arthur Fennell. Fennell captured scenes of a culture during a 10-day stay in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The fruit of his labor, “The People of Massai Mara,” is currently on display at the Art Sanctuary.
“You couldn’t help but be inspired — there was beauty everywhere I looked,” Fennell said. “For me, as a photographer, you see pictures, and everywhere I turned in every direction there was a picture I wanted to take and a moment I wanted to capture — I couldn’t get them all.”
The band Napoleon Dolomite and the Signifyin’ Monks played as guests mingled, admired Fennell’s work and purchased raffle tickets for the chance to take home one of his photographs.
Fennell spoke at the event, sharing his experiences in the Massai Mara and described what it was like capturing moments on camera.
“As most of you know, I’ve made my career in front of the camera, not behind it, but I’ve always been fascinated by pictures,” he said.
Fennell, executive producer and anchor of “Art Fennell Reports” on the Comcast network, is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience in the media. He has tapped into his photography skills and he expressed his excitement at having his work exhibited and his joy in contributing to support the effort of the Art Sanctuary.
As the night continued, he mingled with guests, discussing his artwork and experiences in Kenya.
The staff honored four volunteers who have devoted time toward the efforts of the Art Sanctuary. Of those volunteers, Leontine Frierson, said she appreciated the recognition and enjoys volunteering with the Art Sanctuary.
“It was a surprise, we didn’t know we were going to be honored,” Frierson said.
The volunteers were rewarded with flowers and were recognized for raising $3,000 collectively for their volunteer hours.
Melissa Rowe, a member of the Art Sanctuary, was pleased with the turnout and believes it will help raise awareness of the organization. Rowe was impressed by Fennell’s work and felt a special connection to one of his photos that he named “Air.”
“It was like he was levitating,” Rowe said, referring to the photo. “I was really captivated, the colors, the motion — everything.”
Lorene Cary, founder and executive director of the Art Sanctuary, was pleased with the night and the success of the organization’s first exhibit-like event.
“We haven’t done this kind of fundraising before,” she explained. “This is our first one, and I am amazed.”
The staff at the Art Sanctuary connected with Fennell through a mutual friend, L. Harrison Jay, who serves as Temple University’s liaison with community nonprofit organizations. The staff was thrilled by Fennell’s participation and looks forward to possibly incorporating future exhibit events along with its fundraising events and community engagement initiatives.
Guests purchased some of Fennell’s photographs. The Art Sanctuary will display his artwork for a week so others can it. A group from the Independence Charter School has already scheduled a visit this week.
Fennell believes his photography is another way to tell a story.
“An image may be fleeting and only available for an instant, but a picture can capture it forever,” he said.
As a way to kick off the “Meet the Author Book Club” series, the folks at Art Sanctuary held their first meeting, highlighting author J. California Cooper.
A group gathered at Art Sanctuary located at 628 South16th St. in South Philadelphia, to watch a video of a full-length interview of Cooper. Former ABC news reporter conducted the interview with Cooper and the group at Art Sanctuary glued their eyes to the big screen to hear one of their most respected authors speak.
Cooper was the recipient of the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award during Art Sanctuary’s Celebration of Black Writing this past May.
Her interview was honest, humorous and full of personality, as she discussed her life and what it’s like to be a Black author. She talked about love and how we all need to learn to love one another.
“The one thing you need for love — every woman, every man — you need to be respected,” Cooper said.
As the video came to a close, the lights flicked on and the group shared their thoughts on the interview.
Veteran broadcaster Denise James joined the group to discuss what it was like interviewing Cooper.
Other members of Art Sanctuary, Tarana Burke and Debra Wright shared their cherished personal experiences with the author.
Among those present was Robin Muldor, who came with her favorite J. California Cooper book in her hand, “Family.” Muldor is a writer herself and the book, “Family” resonated with her the most because family is very important to her. She is now currently reading the book for the second time.
“It is a beautiful treat that I was able to read ‘Family’ by J. California Cooper, “ she said. “She made the characters in the book so intelligent and I will forever have this book.”
The crowd was mixed with both men and women and with devoted Cooper followers and those who have yet to read one of her books.
The few attendees who have not yet read a book by Cooper, expressed feeling enthused to start reading.
Jermaine White attended the event to learn more about the author and what Art Sanctuary has in store. He felt this event motivated him to engage in her books and to attend more events at Art Sanctuary.
“I’m all about Black unity and knowledge,” he said. “I loved being apart of this event and I will definitely tell all of my friends.”
Kevin Williams, who lives just blocks away from Art Sanctuary, always sees interesting events at the venue and decided to stop by last week, to take part in the book club meeting.
“I’ve been moved, I think J. California Cooper is awesome,” he said. “I know everything happens for a reason and being here tonight is what I really needed to propel to the next level in my personal, spiritual and mental life.”
Monnette Sudler, founder of Philadelphia Guitar Summit, partnered with Art Sanctuary to present “Strings and Roots Folklore,” featuring Kala Jojo, folklorist, educator and musician.
A crowd joined at the 16th and Bainbridge location, to see the performance and learn about the history of guitar-like instruments from west and east coastal Africa. The event was interactive and musically engaging as Jojo and his band played songs with a variety of African instruments, while sharing traditional folktales.
Joined by a guitarist and his son on percussion, Jojo explained the origins of the different instruments.
As a way to interact with the crowd, he did songs with calls and responses in which the audience participated.
In one activity, Jojo instructed the crowd to sing along to a song while they went around as everyone sung their name.
He laughed with the crowd as he said, “The key is this — don’t mess up the rhythm!” The group clapped their hands and tapped their feet as they sang along with Jojo.
“This was wonderful, I loved the energy in the room today — it was spectacular,” Jojo said.
As Jojo and his band played music, one gentleman in the room Gerald Roberts, pulled out a cowbell and tambourine and joined in with the melody. Roberts is a musician and felt connected with the music from Jojo and his band.
“Well the music is very authentic and warm — that’s why I interacted the way I did,” Roberts said. “We just united the rhythms and got the flowing.”
As the band continued to play another gentlemen in the audience felt inspired to sing along. He jumped up, sat with the band and did an improvisation of a song that blended with the music.
Adults, families and all other guests cheered and clapped as they enjoyed the spontaneity of the performance.
As Jojo sang to the crowd he shared how his father would always sing his random thoughts out loud, but never completed the song or story.
Along with sharing his family stories, he played songs that a story to tell on their own.
“I would love to do this every weekend, it’s like being at someone’s house,” Jojo said. “I really let the songs tell the stories today.”
Monnette Sudler’s Philadelphia Guitar Summit, founded in 2009, will partner with Art Sanctuary again to host “Women Behind the Guitar” event on March 16, discussing the history of women pioneers in jazz and blues.
The intricate work of African-American fiber artists was showcased at the opening reception of the “Speak. Conjure. Invoke: An Exploration of Ancestral and African Legacy through Fiber” exhibition at Art Sanctuary in South Philadelphia on Thursday, March 8.
People gathered at the gallery to admire the work of the fiber artists. Fiber art involves the use of fabrics, quilting, yarn and various materials. In this exhibition, the artists’ work reflects a connection to the African diaspora and their African roots.
Co-curators Toni Kersey and Richard J. Watson are in partnership with Art Sanctuary, to display the exhibition at their location, March 9 through March 30.
Watson, artist and exhibitions curator at the African American Museum, helped plan this as an independent project with Art Sanctuary.
He believes this event turned out to be more of a reunion since notable artists in Philadelphia came to enjoy the art and reconnect with one another.
“I’m seeing a lot of people in this audience who are artists and musicians and there’s just wonderful warm spirits,” Watson said. “I think we’re almost like in a cocoon surrounded by this kind of work and you can see the energy as people are walking up and meeting and greeting and having a great time — this work is giving off quite a lot of energy.”
The art of the exhibition artists, Martina Johnson-Allen, Adriene Cruz, Christina Johnson, Toni Kersey, Betty Leacraft and Cynthia Lockhart, were displayed around the room as guests carefully admired each stich and design of their work.
Kersey, co-curator and featured artist, had two of her pieces displayed. One of her artworks, “Riffing on the Blues,” was created with commercial and hand-dyed fabrics, beading, buttons, embroidery and machine quilting and piecing.
A lot of her work is also musically inspired.
“I work improvisationally, I never draw and then work from drawings, I cut and fit together as I cut — but I come from a musical family,” Kersey said. “In my work I do abstract representations of music and rhythm of movement — mostly polyrhythms.”
Kersey described “Riffing on the Blues” as a blues lullaby because of its curves and hints of yellow that softens it.
Conversation on the art and variety of materials, quilts and design stirred throughout the night. Maya Davis, volunteer at Art Sanctuary, attended the reception to absorb the variety of art.
“The artwork is very unique, I’ve seen quilts before but normally they’re more traditional, square patterns,” Davis said. “I like that the pieces have a lot of texture, color and mixed media to them — they really seemed to have fun.”
One of the artworks that especially struck Davis was a piece called “I Believe I Can Fly,” by Cynthia Lockhart.
“I just love how your eye moves across it,” she said.
Preschool-age children participate in storytelling each month at Art Sanctuary in South Philadelphia.
Storyteller Theresa Randall, known as “Nana Feather” engages children with stories, music and dance.
Tots and toddlers gather around Feather for stories, get to their feet to dance and open their mouths to sing along. Moms and dads join, as the Art Sanctuary space is filled with energy.
Feather, a North Philadelphia native, started storytelling as a hobby. She always had a special connection with children and is a real-life “nana” herself with four grandchildren.
“Storytelling wakes their little spirits up, everyone remembers storytellers,” she said. “I loved stories when I was little, it made me see people having a soul, mind and a voice—and I wanted to do it—storytelling makes us pop like popcorn.”
Along with stories, Feather sings songs with the children.
In one activity she instructed the group to sing, “I like myself—I’m glad to be me—there’s no one else—I’d rather be.”
During one performance, in the midst of song and dance, Feather discovered it was one little girl’s birthday.
Filled with enthusiasm, she pulled the birthday girl to the center of the room and led the group to sing Stevie Wonder’s version of “Happy Birthday.”
Feather is always received as children sporadically embrace her as she reads and sings to the group.
Nicole Owens works at Apple Blossom Day Care, located at 1601 Lombard St., where a lot of the children come from each month.
Last Friday was their third time participating in the storytelling activity. Owens believes the kids get “a breath of fresh air.”
“The school helps sponsor the event and the kids have an awesome time—they love to sing and dance,” she said.
Owens has a three-year-old son, Aydan, who she brought along to participate in storytelling.
“Music is a big part of my life and I definitely do a lot of reading with my son,” she said. “I think this opportunity is great,” she said.
Outside storytelling, Feather owns an arts management business called “Feather on the Wind Achievement Counseling and Consultant,” where she helps artists find direction in their careers.
She enjoys relating to people and feels the children connected with her at Art Sanctuary.
“I’m glad the children had the chance to relate and just dance,” she said. “We need to keep having events like this,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re not alone and you can release your spirit.”