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AFRO Exclusive: Area Artist Highlights Black Georgetown, Receives Award from Arena Stage

THE AFRO — An area artist, Lindsey Brittain Collins, has dedicated much of her career to examining topics of economic and social issues through art and is now being honored as an “Emerging Leader,” by Arena Stage at their annual gala.

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By Micha Green

An area artist, Lindsey Brittain Collins, has dedicated much of her career to examining topics of economic and social issues through art and is now being honored as an “Emerging Leader,” by Arena Stage at their annual gala on May 21.

Brittain Collins will receive the “Emerging Leader Award” at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth Street, S.W.

Brittain Collins will be awarded alongside National Public Radio’s Nina Totenberg, who will be presented the “Beth Newburger Schwartz Award,” and legendary actress Katherine Turner will headline the event and host an intimate reception the evening before.

“I’m glad I’m being recognized for the work that I’m doing and I’m super excited that the focus is on the arts.  I think at a time where more and more arts are being pulled from schools and programs are losing funding, it’s important to encourage community engagement and encourage exposure to the arts,” Brittain Collins told the AFRO in an exclusive interview.  “Arena Stage does a fantastic job doing that, and it’s exciting that all the proceeds from the gala will go back to their community engagement program.”

Brittain Collins looks to the community for inspiration for her work.

I’m a visual artist, primarily a painter, but I also work in sculpture, installation and collage, but generally categorize my work as paintings.  And my work is really the intersection – economics and race – are the topics I focus on the most,” she said. “So my background actually academically is in business and in economics, and sociology, so I leverage my academic background in that, to examine economic and social issues through painting. And a big focus in my work since moving back to the D.C. area has been gentrification.”

The D.M.V. native was shocked about the major gentrification in the area.

“I’m originally from this area and then left when I was younger, came back, and just seeing how much things have changed since I was here many years ago to now really sparked an interest and a focus on telling the narratives on the people and the communities that have been displaced as the city has evolved and become more gentrified,” she told the AFRO.

One of the areas Brittain Collins chose to examine was Georgetown, now known as a traditionally, White affluent neighborhood.

“My latest series, it’s called “No Name in the Street,” inspired by James Baldwin’s work, unearthed the lost Black history of Georgetown.  Georgetown used to be a predominantly Black neighborhood and nobody knows that. Georgetown does nothing to feature the Black history that was there,” she said. “They’ve done a pretty good job in isolating themselves from the city. They wouldn’t let the metro come there because they wanted to keep certain populations out, and Georgetown has a certain reputation about the type of crowd that is there, and that does not include Blacks and Black history.”

It took some exploring in Georgetown for Brittain Collins to learn more about Georgetown’s Black history.

“I was kind of walking around Georgetown, and I discovered behind some new condo buildings, a slave graveyard and the graveyard is broken into two parts.  So there’s like a beautiful part of the graveyard, it’s well kept, that’s where all the White folks are buried, and a part that’s rundown, that the people that live in the condo kind of use as a dog park- but that’s where slaves were buried.  And turns out, that area was actually a stop on the Underground Railroad, which is fantastic, but nobody knows about it.”

Unearthing such stories is why Brittain Collins’ work has been so well received and is now being recognized by Arena Stage.

“You’re going into Dean and Deluca or you’re going into this bank, not realizing the rich history that was there.  So through my work I try to tell those stories and share that history. And I think people who are excited to learn new things and understand more about the history of the city that they live in- or the capital of our country,” Brittain Collins told the AFRO.

“That’s why this work is important and that’s why I’m so passionate about it.  The arts are important because they have the capacity to reach a broader audience.”

The artist, who also serves on the Art & Architectural Review Board for the state of Virginia, said she would continue to be stimulated by the area.

“Being in the space is really inspiring and fuels the research, so while I’m here, I’m going to continue to push that work forward,” she said.

Yet once the artist and scholar moves to New York City to begin her MFA program at Columbia University this fall, she hopes to be inspired by factors in her new community and continue creating.

“I have to make work… It’s something I have to do, and it’s the only way I know how to communicate and express myself.”

For more information on the gala visit arenastage.org/gala. To purchase an individual ticket or table, contact Maria Corso at 202-600-4025 or email RSVP@arenastage.org or for corporate sponsorship packages contact Char Manlove-Laws at 202-600-4030 or email cmanlove-laws@arenastage.org.

This article originally appeared in The Afro

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IN MEMORIAM: Robert Farris Thompson, Renowned Professor of African American Studies

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993).

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Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.
Robert Farris Thompson. Yale University photo.

TRIBUTE

By John Santos

We’ve lost a Rosetta Stone.

Prolific Professor Robert Farris Thompson passed in his sleep Monday morning due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease and having been weakened by a bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of the year. He would’ve completed his 89th year on December 30.

Born on Dec. 30, 1932, Thompson was a White Texan who spectacularly disproved the fallacy of White supremacy through his pioneering and tireless elevation and clarification of African art, philosophy and culture. He removed the blinders and changed the way that generations of international students see African art.

A U.S. Army veteran, he went to Yale on a football scholarship and earned a B.A. in 1955. He joined the faculty in 1964 and earned his Ph.D. in 1965. He remained on the faculty until 2015.

‘Master T,’ as his students and friends often referred to him, was the Col. John Trumbull professor of the History of Art and professor of African American Studies at Yale University.

Thompson was also an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

He curated game-changing national exhibitions such as “African Art in Motion,” “The Four Moments of the Sun: Kongo Art in Two Worlds,” and “Faces of the Gods: Art and Altars of Africa and the African Americas.” The latter had a run at U.C. Berkeley in 1995 when local practitioners of African spirituality and musicians — including myself – demonstrated the powerful knowledge of tradition.

Thompson truly embodied the term ‘Maestro de Maestros.’ He was an absolute giant in the field of Afro-Atlantic history and art, respected by his peers for his groundbreaking work and multiple major articles and publications, particularly the seminal “Flash of the Spirit” (1984) and “Faces of the Gods” (1993). If he did not coin, he certainly standardized the term ‘Black Atlantic.’ He was a brilliant presenter, writer and teacher. But unlike many if not most academicians, he was also loved, revered and respected by the musicians, artists and communities about whom he wrote.

Initiated in Africa to Erinle, the deity of deep, still water, Thompson was hip, quirky and totally immersed in African and African-based music, dance, language, art and history. His lifetime of research, immersion and visionary work formed a bridge between Black America and her African roots.

Countless trips to Africa, the Southern U.S., the Caribbean and Central and South America informed his passionate work. He wrote about sculpture, painting, architecture, dance, music, language, poetry, food, the trans-Atlantic slave trade, African history, stolen antiquities, African spirituality, African retention, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Black Argentina, New York, México, mambo, tango, jazz, spirit possession and so much more. He recorded African drumming. He befriended giants of African diaspora music such as Julito Collazo, Babatunde Olatunji and Mongo Santamaría.

I first saw his writing around 1970 on the back of the classic red vinyl 1961 Mongo Santamaria LP, Arriba! La Pachanga (Fantasy 3324). They are inarguably among the deepest liner notes ever written.

He told me that he used our 1984 recording, Bárbara Milagrosa, by the Orquesta Batachanga, to demonstrate danzón-mambo to his students. I nearly burst into tears when he invited me and Omar Sosa to address and perform for his students at Yale, his alma mater, where he was a rock star. It was an unforgettable occasion for me.

He wrote wonderful liner notes on our 2002 Grammy-nominated production SF Bay, by the Machete Ensemble. He went out of his way to support and encourage countless students and followers like me. I was highly honored to count him as a friend as well as mentor.

He will be missed.

John Santos is a seven-time Grammy-nominated percussionist and former director of Orquesta Batachanga and Machete Ensemble and current director of the John Santos Sextet.

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Art

Poet Laureates Provides Poetry That Heals the Soul

The City of Richmond’s 2021– 2023 Poet Laureate, David Flores was joined by fellow poet laureates including Eevelyn Mitchell of El Cerrito, Jeremy Snyder of Vallejo, Ayodele Nzinga of Oakland and Tongo Eisen-Martin of San Francisco to celebrate Flores’ installation. Each poet shared some of their work with the audience. A laureate is a person who has been honored for achieving distinction in a particular field.

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The poet laureates are not connected as a group but are part of a community that supports each other with our craft.
The poet laureates are not connected as a group but are part of a community that supports each other with our craft.

By Clifford L. Williams

Poetry is a universal language…it’s the song of the heart that feeds the soul.

That was the message shared by five poet laureates from the Bay Area last week at a gathering to introduce the City of Richmond’s 2021– 2023 Poet Laureate, David Flores, during an Open Mic event at CoBiz Richmond, in collaboration with Richmond’s Arts and Cultural Commission.

Flores was joined by fellow poet laureates including Eevelyn Mitchell of El Cerrito, Jeremy Snyder of Vallejo, Ayodele Nzinga of Oakland and Tongo Eisen-Martin of San Francisco to celebrate Flores’ installation. Each poet shared some of their work with the audience. A laureate is a person who has been honored for achieving distinction in a particular field.

Flores, an 11-year former schoolteacher for the Richmond Unified School District, submitted a few poems and some of his writings to a panel of commissioners last May, who reviewed his work and eventually selected him as the city’s newest poet laureate.

“To me, this is an opportunity to really highlight poetry as an art form accessible to everyone in our city,” said Flores. “I will use this appointment to actively engage young people and adults to allow them the opportunity to not only hear art but to also inspire them to share their work.”

Flores said that since COVID 19, people have been disconnected and now need community bonding to express themselves through art and poetry. “As a poet laureate, I want to grow as an artist and share my work,” said Flores. “It’s fulfilling as a shared humanity to connect and inspire people and a way to spark communication with one another. Once you have that experience, you feel confidence and there’s no going back.”

The poet laureates are not connected as a group but are part of a community that supports each other with our craft. Laureates help to bring awareness of poetry and literacy through the arts to their respective communities during their two-year appointments. Each laureate goes through a process involving several steps, outlined by a panel of commissioners, who make the final selections.

“One of the main things we do as poet laureates is to encourage unity within our community through the arts,” said Mitchell. “Our specific responsibilities are to highlight poetry as an outlet to allow people to express themselves.

“As poet laureate, we put on events to encourage our community to become more involved and aware, and to be more unified in bringing awareness, unity, respect and love within the community. Because of the pandemic, we are all trying to figure out our new norm.

“With everything that has been going on for the past two years, I firmly believe it’s important that we as a community, and I as a poet laureate, need to bring harmony back into our lives,” she said. “It is my quest and priority to promote that. We are neighbors, we are friends, we are a community, and we need each other to survive.”

The general public can learn more about their city’s poet laureate events and activities by contacting their Arts and Cultural Commission.

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Art

Mayor London Breed Announces Over $12 Million In Funding for Arts Organizations

Grants for the Arts funding priorities the City’s commitment to economic recovery and community activation by supporting local parades and festivals

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Female Artist Works on Abstract Oil Painting, Moving Paint Brush Energetically She Creates Modern Masterpiece. Dark Creative Studio where Large Canvas Stands on Easel Illuminated. Low Angle Close-up

Mayor London N. Breed and City Administrator Carmen Chu announced on Monday over $12 million in general operating support grants to fund arts and cultural organizations. This year’s Grants for the Arts (GFTA) funding is primarily dedicated to the general operating support for arts organizations and also aims to support community parades and festivals to help restore the City’s cultural vibrancy and drive its economic recovery.

“We know that the pandemic has been hard on all of us, but it has been especially difficult for our city’s artists and cultural organizations,” said Breed. “The arts are part of what makes San Francisco so special and create an inclusive atmosphere for all who live in and visit our city. During this critical time in our economic recovery, we need to do everything we can to bring back our community festivals that are loved by so many, and support those who contribute to our city’s vibrant culture.”

As president of the Board of Supervisors, Breed spearheaded Proposition E, which was passed by voters in 2018 and allocated 1.5% of hotel tax revenue to the arts. Due to the loss of hotel tax revenues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Breed allocated funding from the General Fund to backfill losses during this year’s budget cycle. Breed’s budget for Fiscal Year 2021-2022 also includes $12 million for GFTA to support arts organizations, as well as parades and festivals.

“Cultural festivals and arts have always been an essential part of San Francisco’s vibrant community. They draw people to San Francisco, bring communities together, and in many ways, define our experiences here,” said City Administrator Carmen Chu. “Supporting our arts organizations during these challenging times is key to our City’s recovery.”

The City Administrator manages GFTA, a program that has provided a stable and dependable source for general operating costs to support the City’s arts and cultural organizations since 1961. Since its inception, GFTA has distributed over $400 million to hundreds of arts non-profits and cultural organizations. GFTA funds over 250 arts organizations each fiscal year, including those organizing and supporting parades and festivals throughout the City.

Committed to serving San Francisco’s diverse communities, this is the first year GFTA implemented a funding process that used a strong equity lens to focus on art organizations deeply rooted in and serving diverse populations.

“Having art and cultural events around every corner in the City is why people live here and it’s why people from all over the world visit San Francisco. Art and culture is the soul of San Francisco,” said Vallie Brown, director of Grants for the Arts. “As San Francisco slowly comes out of our long COVID nap, it’s vital that we support our arts organizations and our community’s parades and festivals.”

“Cultural live music and dance has been missing from our community throughout the pandemic,” says Roberto Hernandez, CEO of Carnaval San Francisco. “We appreciate Mayor Breed and Grants for the Arts for providing funding for all communities as we begin to recover and heal.”

In addition to parades and festivals, GFTA funds other essential arts activities, specifically those that capture and reflect the experiences of the City’s diverse communities, including BIPOC and LGBTQ communities and cross-cultural collaborations.

“We are blessed to live in one of the best cities in the world that cares about BIPOC stories, artists, and arts organizations by putting actionable effort into funding them,” says Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., artistic director of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company (SFBATCO). SFBATCO is a Black, Latin, Asian-led non-profit organization producing compelling theater that builds community, fosters cross-cultural dialogue, and promotes social justice.

A complete list of GFTA’s Fiscal Year 2022 grants can be found here.

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