Iconic film director, Spike Lee may be a man of few words in interviews but perhaps that’s because he lets his films do all the talking. And for those powerful films, Lee was honored at The Museum of Modern Art’s 2012 Jazz Interlude, where Harlemite Sherry B. Bronfman served as event chair. The black tie affair also honored philanthropists Mera and Donald Rubell. The evening featured a benefit gala dinner and live performance by jazz musician Terence Blanchard, whose work has been featured in several of Lee’s films.
While Lee was the center of attention he was even more grateful to see the evening promote support for African American visual artists. “It was great to see so many people supporting African American artists. Hopefully they get more sponsors for Black artists. I’m an artist so all of the arts inspire me,” he says.
It was about promoting more than just African American visual artists at the Strivers Gardens Gallery opening night reception for, Caribbean Diasporas: Harlem Migration and Identity. Curated by Anderson M. Pilgrim the exhibition seeks to explore the influence of Caribbean artists on contemporary art and the interconnection between their Caribbean heritage and Harlem identity and experience. Some of the noted exhibiting artists include Diogenes Ballester, Nicolle Blackwood and Ademola Olugebefola. For Pilgrim this exhibition highlights the role Harlem plays as a crossroads for the Diaspora.
“I wanted to focus on the connection with Harlem and migration of immigrants,” he notes. “Harlem is a Mecca for Black people around the world. Especially today we see the cross section of humanity here in this place and Caribbean immigrants have made contributions to this community.”
Perhaps few things have done more to support the community of spoken word artists than the groundbreaking television show, Def Poetry Jam. Co-founded by Bruce George, Deborah Pointer and Danny Simmons, the series is celebrating its 10th anniversary. For the special occasion some of the stars from the original series reunited at MIST Harlem for an evening of poetry, politics and humor. Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets led a powerful call-and-response spoken word performance with For the Millions. Additional performers included Steve Coleman, Black Ice, Carl Hancock Rux and more. Backstage, Jessica Care Moore expressed her thoughts on how Def Poetry Jam successfully balanced art and commerce. “It’s a TV show and it’s still about casting and demographics but after all that they pulled off something very authentic. It was my first time seeing a major cable network with live theater and it was the first time many of the poets had national exposure.” Moore is committed to ensuring that exposure is not wasted as she is in the studio working on her first album, which she describes as a jazz record that will feature Ursula Rucker.
Moore isn’t the only one with new projects on the horizon. This past week saw the launch of the Maria Torres Dance Theater Company and the Maria Torres Emerging Artist Foundation (MTEAF) with a special gala event at the Poet’s Den Gallery & Theater. The dance theater company, founded by dancer/choreographer, Maria Torres and husband producer John O’Connor, aims to produce projects that fuse Broadway, contemporary, ballet, African-Caribbean, jazz, and Torres’ signature Latin dance style. “This launch gives us an opportunity to give the public just a little taste of the energy and creativity diversity we will be bringing in the future,” says Torres.
In creating the foundation, Torres had some help from award-winning actress, Vanessa Williams. The two met on the set of the film Dance With Me, and ever since then have been working hard to realize their dream of a collaborative learning and mentorship environment of the performing arts for pre-teens and young adults. Williams noted the importance of such mentorship projects. “You realize early on that in order to excel you are taught and in order to grow you are mentored,” she advises. “What we want to do is give direction and cheers of support to emerging talent.”
You can support talent of all levels with this week’s highlighted events including the Alvin Ailey season ticket specials here; the American Museum of Natural History’s annual Kwanzaa event here; and the Alumni of the Boys & Girl Choir of Harlem 2nd Annual Christmas in Harlem concert here. Finally Harlem Arts Alliance associate director, Kim George has curated the exhibition Harlem Resonance at Bar Thalia in Symphony Space, which will be up until Jan. 27, 2013. We have a feeling Lee would be proud of the latter.
The Harlem Arts Alliance is a not for profit arts service organization celebrating 10 years of service to a prestigious list of members such as the Apollo Theater, the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Columbia University, Harlem Stage (Aaron Davis Hall) and over 850 more cultural/arts institutions and individuals. The weekly column, Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture and entertainment scene in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of event/media content production company, Souleo Enterprises, LLC.