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PRESS ROOM: Steppenwolf Theatre Company welcomes new associate artistic director

CHICAGO CRUSADER — Steppenwolf Theatre Company is thrilled to welcome Leelai Demoz as its new Associate Artistic Director. Leelai Demoz has had a varied career in the arts, on stage, in front and behind the camera. He is a founding partner of Small Ax, a digital production company/agency based in Venice, CA.



By The Chicago Crusader

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is thrilled to welcome Leelai Demoz as its new Associate Artistic Director. Leelai Demoz has had a varied career in the arts, on stage, in front and behind the camera. He is a founding partner of Small Ax, a digital production company/agency based in Venice, CA. Demoz produced the award-winning film DIFRET (2014 Sundance World Cinema and 2014 Berlin Panorama Audience Awards). He was nominated for an Academy and Emmy Award for the documentary film On TipToe, which is a profile of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and was directed by ensemble member Eric Simonson. His other work has been seen on MTV, Discovery, Travel Channel and BET. He also directed a set of ‘get out the vote’ public service announcements for the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation, featuring LL Cool J and Alicia Keys.

As an actor, he has appeared at several Chicago area theaters as well as The Kennedy Center, The National Theater of Great Britain and Broadway. His first professional stage production was at Steppenwolf Theatre in The Grapes of Wrath.

Outside of the arts, Mr. Demoz has consulted with the United Institute of Peace and served on a working group for a project with The William Jefferson Clinton Foundation’s Rwanda Initiative. He is a board member of The Schoolhouse Foundation and of Action Civics California (Mikva Challenge).

“When I was a young actor growing up in the Chicago area, acting meant only one thing: Steppenwolf Theatre. The members of the ensemble epitomized the craft and art of acting. So to be cast in The Grapes of Wrath and playing the National Theatre in Great Britain as a 20-year-old was a life-changing experience,” shares Leelai Demoz. “Now, after a career as a film and television producer in NY and Los Angeles, I jumped at the chance to be considered for this job. I can’t think of a better place than Steppenwolf to be collaborating with so many artists who are asking fundamental questions about our community and our world. I look forward to bringing my experience, energy, passion, naivete, and unbridled enthusiasm to my new position. I thank the Board, the staff, David Schmitz, and Anna Shapiro for this incredible opportunity. When I was acting, I was always asking the question ‘Who am I?’ Now I am most interested in the question, ‘Who are we?’ To quote Anna, I’m ready to ‘get in here’.”

As Associate Artistic Director (ADD) Leelai Demoz will oversee and facilitate the day-to-day artistic operations of the theatre while assisting the Artistic Director in maintaining the highest possible administrative and production standards for the company. He will create and maintain communication channels within the organization and will work closely with both the artistic staff and all other departments to manage flow of information, allotment of resources and calendar management for the season. Demoz will also serve as a consistent public face of Steppenwolf Theatre both locally and internationally. Reporting to the Artistic Director, the ADD will serve as a member of Steppenwolf’s senior management team and work closely with the Executive Director, General Manager, Director of Production, Director of Marketing & Communications, Director of Development, Education Director, the Artistic Associates, the Ensemble and the Board of Trustees. Demoz will lead a sophisticated and talented group of artistic administrators, including Artistic Producers, a Casting Director and Director of New Play Development.

Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro comments, “I cannot stress to you all how happy David and I are to have been able to re-imagine this position and then to have been able to fill it with someone as accomplished as Leelai. A true associate AD is necessary for the health and productivity of any theatre that is as committed to excellence, continuity and growth. As Steppenwolf continues to chart its course for the next many years, we know that adding Leelai to our family helps guarantee a stable and exciting future.”

“Leelai Demoz is a talented producer, administrator, artist and filmmaker. With his variety of professional experiences, he will immediately add value to the range of projects happening at Steppenwolf at any given moment. As a department head and leader of the artistic office at Steppenwolf, he will be collaborating throughout our organization and our community, and I am thrilled that he is joining our talented staff,” adds Executive Director David Schmitz.

Year of Chicago Theatre Steppenwolf Theatre Company is proud to be part of the 2019 Year of Chicago Theatre, presented by the City of Chicago and the League of Chicago Theatres. To truly fall in love with Chicago, you must go to our theatres. This is where the city bares its fearless soul. Home to a community of creators, risk-takers, and big hearts, Chicago theatre is a hotbed for exciting new work and hundreds of world premieres every year. From Broadway musicals to storefront plays and improv, there’s always a seat waiting for you at one of our 200+ theatres. Book your next show today at

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is the nation’s premier ensemble theater. Formed by a collective of actors in 1976, the ensemble represents a remarkable cross-section of actors, directors and playwrights. Thrilling and powerful productions from Balm in Gilead to August: Osage County  and Pass Over—and accolades that include the National Medal of Arts and 12 Tony Awards—have made the theater legendary. Steppenwolf produces hundreds of performances and events annually in its three spaces: the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80-seat 1700 Theatre. Artistic programming includes a seven-play season; a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season; Visiting Company engagements; and LookOut, a multi-genre performances series. Education initiatives include the nationally recognized work of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, which engages 15,000 participants annually from Chicago’s diverse communities; the esteemed School at Steppenwolf; and Professional Leadership Programs for arts administration training. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally and internationally, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, Sydney, Galway and Dublin. Anna D. Shapiro is the Artistic Director and David Schmitz is the Executive Director. Eric Lefkofsky is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees.

For additional information, visit,, and

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Crusader

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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



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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Healing Through Art at West Oakland’s Alena Museum

The Alena Museum is a Black-led, 501(c) 3 non-profit that provides services in health and wellness through experience installations, Black sanctuary gardens, community space access, and an Art Residency (mentorship).



The Alena Museum/Photo Courtesy of Alena Museum Facebook

Development has come at the cost of Black health, land ownership and belonging.

The Alena Museum in Oakland gives African American residents a way to heal through the medium of art “by providing critical, safe spaces for the African diaspora the Black community can express and cultivate their cultural identity in the face of gentrification. 

The Alena Museum is a Black-led, 501(c) 3 non-profit that provides services in health and wellness through experience installations, Black sanctuary gardens, community space access, and an Art Residency (mentorship).

Through the group’s public art activism, they teach cultural preservation and cultivation with an Afrofuturism ownership model to promote cultural equity with the goal to reclaim urban landscape and gain creative control in real estate development. Through restorative justice art, the Alena Museum educates the community on urban planning; how it works and how to become involved. 

The Alena Museum’s most recent project, “Magnolia Street” began in March of 2020. According to the website, “Magnolia Street is an experiential installation following Alena Museum’s land libration journey. From holding space for African Diaspora creatives, to confronting gentrification in practice, the story of Magnolia Street channels the spirit of Oakland’s Black Resistance movement into the present through Alena Museum’s eyes. Our story roots Black Power into any land we activate, including this one.”

The Alena Museum was evicted from their 8th Street site in West Oakland and is now located at 2725 Magnolia St, Oakland, CA 94607. 

If you would like to reach out to the Alena Museum you can email them at To check out the latest, visit them on Instagram and Facebook. If you would like to support their vision, visit the support page.

Information in this article was sourced from the Alena Museum website. 

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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David Drake: A Potter Who Inscribed His Work With Poetry

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”



A pot created by David Drake. Wikipedia photo.

It was August 16, 1857. David Drake (c. 1800– c. 1870s), an enslaved African American, had just completed a 19-inch greenware pot. On it he inscribed: “I wonder where is all my relations / Friendship to all and every nation.”
According to some collectors and scholars, this message demonstrates “Drake questioning his heritage and personal history … signifies [his] positivity despite facing the many brutalities of slavery, including the loss of personal identity.” Further, by etching what is clearly a personal expression, Drake defied a South Carolina law forbidding Blacks to read and write.
South Carolina’s Negro Act of 1740, prohibited educating enslaved Africans, punishable by a fine of 100 pounds and six months in prison. Most Southern states in the early 1800s restricted Black literacy.
Drake’s date of birth is unclear. It is said that it was during the first half of 1800. The first legal record of him (June 13, 1818) describes “a boy about 17 years old country born … mortgaged to Eldrid Simkins by Harvey Drake.”
The (Harvey) Drake family owned a plantation in Edgefield, S.C. The term “country born” refers to enslaved Blacks born in the United States rather than Africa. David Drake lived and worked in Edgefield’s pottery factories for almost all his life.
David Drake was first enslaved by Harvey Drake, who alongside Abner Landrum, owned a large pottery business. Known to be a religious man, Landrum was the publisher of a local newspaper, The Edgefield Hive. Scholars speculate that he taught Drake to read the Bible, even if doing so was a punishable offense.
After Harvey Drake’s death, David Drake was enslaved by Landrum. In 1846, Landrum passed away. Drake was then purchased and enslaved by Landrum’s son Franklin, who was abusive. While owned by Franklin, Drake never inscribed his works. But Drake’s life, his works, blossomed in 1849, when he was sold to Lewis Miles.
Miles owned the pottery factory, Stony Bluff. There Drake created his best works once again inscribed with poetry. The number of pieces produced increased from one every few years to seven in 1859. Having produced alkaline-glazed stoneware jugs between the 1820s and the 1870s, Drake is recognized as the first enslaved potter to inscribe his work. He became a free man when the Civil War closed (1865).
According to Drake scholar Jill Beute Koverman, Drake created “more than 40,000 pieces over his lifetime.”
When Drake was alive, his pots sold for around 50 cents. Today they fetch as much as $50,000 and have auctioned for as much as $369,000. A butter churn with the inscription “This is a noble churn / fill it up it will never turn,” sold for $130,000.
Various collections including his work can be viewed at museums including the Smithsonian collection of the National Museum of American History in Wash., D.C.
It is thought that Drake died in the 1870s because according to scholars, “he is not found in the 1880 census.”

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