The crux of the conversation is that there is no Black arts community present in Memphis. There are a number of organizations including theater repertories like Bluff City Tri-Art, dance companies like Bridging Souls Productions, and so on that are a disjointed presence in the city. I will be the first to admit that several of the organizations I was not familiar with and I'm a native of the city. Yet, that was part of my reason for attending. I want to be a better patron of the arts and this was a great way for to learn more about what's out there and how to be involved.
Now I'll share some take aways from the symposium...
- Bennie West, founding executive director of Memphis Black Arts Alliance, advocates an African American museum and cultural center and I strongly cosign this. It seemed the entire audience concurred considering there is a huge black population in this city...we are this city.
- Dr. Keith D. Lee noted two important things: (1) Those receiving funding for music arts and theater arts are not "talking to each other." Again pointing to the lack of community among the various black art forms. (2) Literary arts are pretty much ignored. So, this means our poets, spoken word artists, writers and such are marginalized when it comes to funding.
- Lawrence Blackwell, Asst. Professor of theater at University of Memphis and self-described "DuBoisian follower", believes that Black theater "must be political".
- During the last few hours, the question of whether or not artists need to know how to be both an artist and business person became an ongoing debate.
- I even picked up a bit of history from Chicano artist, Richard Lou. He shared how his father and other Chinese immigrants found themselves part of the Delta community. Labor brokers brought them to Mississippi and Louisiana to work the cotton and rice fields, respectively, in an attempt to drive down wages.
If you're in the Memphis metro area, be sure to check out these organizations:
The Memphis Black Arts Alliance
Collage Dance Collective
Cultural Arts For Everyone
Watoto De Afrika
Bridging Souls Productions
Bluff City Tri-Art Theatre