Hello BIBA fans! This is part two of a series of posts supporting Black businesses. As stated in the last post, numerous factors have contributed to gross inequality in wealth distribution to BIPOC US citizens. From the 2017 Boston Globe Spotlight Series on race, the reality that “the median net worth for non-immigrant Black households in the Greater Boston region is $8” shocked all of its readers. Are you in Boston? A frequent traveler to or visitor of Boston? Wanting to check out some of Boston’s cultural offerings? Then check out some of the fantastic organizations doing incredible work in the Boston area, and support them with a donation, a share, social media engagement, attendance at one of their events, and in any other way you can. This week's post focuses on organizations working to enhance Black entrepreneurship, community, and more! The format of this blog will be slightly different from the previous two, as the quantity of such organizations is greater.
Entrepreneurship, Community, and more
Artists for Humanity: providing under-resourced teens opportunities to work with mentors for paid employment in art and design. Learn more on their website HERE and donate HERE!
NAAC Boston: Network for Art Administrators of Color enhances the visibility of POC professionals in the greater Boston arts and culture sector. Learn more on the website HERE and donate HERE!
Black Cotton Club: The Black Cotton Club is a space to collaborate, create, and be. Learn more from their facebook HERE, and their linktree HERE!
Black Market: BLACK MARKET is a flexible event space and launchpad focused on economic justice, arts and culture, and civic engagement in Nubian Square. Learn more on their facebook HERE!
Creatives of Color Boston: this organization's mission is to provide a space for artists of to connect and create together. Learn more on their website HERE and donate HERE!
Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative: DSNI empowers Dudley residents to create a vibrant, thriving neighborhood in collaboration with community partners. Learn more on their website HERE and donate HERE!
Dunamis: this is a consulting agency focused on growing and developing emerging artists of color and strengthening Boston's cultural diversity. Learn more on their website HERE and donate HERE!
Fairmont Innovation Lab: FIL promotes inclusive innovation, creative and social enterprise, and entrepreneurship in the Boston area by providing professional workspace. Learn more HERE!
FEMS: the Feminine Empowerment Movement Slam is grassroots non-profit creating the first and only poetry slam contest for the feminine. Follow their twitter HERE and learn more/donate HERE!
Frugal Bookstore: this Black-owned Roxbury community bookstore promotes literacy and unity one book at a time. They provide a variety of book-related services. Learn more HERE (and visit them)!
Ideal Mixer: looking for a creative flex studio that you can use for production events, private events, meetings, and workshops? Look no further! Check out their website HERE!
Powerful Pathways Boston: this consultancy and social practice organization operates in community development, policy, and the arts. Learn more HERE and follow their Facebook HERE! And don't forget to donate HERE!
Print Ain't Dead: this is a bookstore and a literary platform focused on BIPOC artists. Their activity has waned since 2018, but reach out to them on Twitter HERE!
Side Presents: Side Presents is an organization that creates community and cultural events related to Black wellness. Reach out to them through their Instagram HERE!
South End Tech Center: Their Learn2Teach Teach2Learn program boosts a STEAM education to BIPOC children and youth. Learn more HERE and be sure to donate HERE!
The Guild: this Black-centric community organization focuses on revitalizing neighborhoods through arts and culture, and self-transmutation. Where so many see deficiency, The Guild sees power and beauty. Learn more on their website HERE and donate HERE!
The Loop Lab: specializing in digital storytelling and workforce development, this organization decreases youth drug use and violence by increasing employment. Learn more about this fantastic organization HERE and don't forget to donate HERE!
Timothy Smith Network: the TSN provides technology-focused education to Roxbury residents, focusing on equipping them with the tools to navigate today's tech-driven society. Learn more about their work HERE and donate HERE!
Transformative Culture Project: TCP works with their clients to help them create social and economic power through their art. They want to eradicate the term "starving artist." Learn more about their work and services HERE and donate HERE!
Urban Farming Institute: this organization develops and promotes urban farming to engage individuals in growing food and building a healthy community. Learn more HERE and donate HERE!
The X-Academy: this youth development program focuses on mentorship, athletics, commerce, civic engagement, and creative arts, empowering moral and intellectual growth for their Boston communities. Learn more HERE and donate HERE!
Hello BIBA fans! This is part three of a series of posts supporting Black businesses. From the 2017 Boston Globe Spotlight Series on race, the reality that “the median net worth for non-immigrant Black households in the Greater Boston region is $8” shocked all of its readers. Are you in Boston? A frequent traveler to or visitor of Boston? Wanting to check out some of Boston’s cultural offerings? Then check out some of the fantastic organizations doing incredible work in the Boston area, and support them with a donation, a share, social media engagement, attendance at one of their events, and in any other way you can.
Company One Theater: this company has been active for over 20 years, creating provocative, social justice oriented performances, and collaborating with civically engaged artists. Their productions have temporarily stopped because of coronavirus, but they are still offering digital content. Learn more on their website, https://companyone.org , and support them financially here: https://companyone.ejoinme.org/MyPages/DonationPage
The Front Porch Arts Collective: this young theater company is “committed to advancing racial equity in Boston through theater.” Some of their past projects include reimagining Homer’s “The Odyssey” and Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers” with Black diasporic stories, and “Breath and Imagination” – a musical journey about the legendary tenor Roland Hayes. Learn more on their website, https://www.frontporcharts.org, and support them financially here: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/store/2462/alldonations/26804?_ga=2.216810133.2029968256.1543956047-9667501.1541186785
StageSource: not a company per se, StageSource is a networking platform that can be used to connect anyone involved in theater. Founded in 1985, its humble beginnings have developed into the major online resource that it is today, reaching over 50,000 patrons daily, and connecting artists in all of New England, New York, and beyond. Learn more about their services on their website, https://www.stagesource.org, and support them financially here: https://www.stagesource.org/donations/donate.asp?id=11697
The Theater Offensive: their strong mission is “to present liberating art by, for, and about queer and trans people of color that transcends artistic boundaries, celebrates cultural abundance, and dismantles oppression.” Their history, since their founding in 1989, includes working with celebrities (such as Alec Mapa and Billy Porter), and bringing queer stories into neighborhoods that are not known to be queer friendly. Learn more about their work on their website, https://thetheateroffensive.org, and support them financially here: https://thetheateroffensive.networkforgood.com
… and one more Dance company (for last week’s blog) …
Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts: founded by Andrea Herbert Major, she began the “Andrea’s School of Dance” in 1967. As the school grew, she changed the name to “Roxbury Center for the Performing Arts” in 1972, and has not stopped since! This dance organization serves children, youth, adults, and seniors, with programs for beginners as young as 3 years old, as well as “senior tap” programs, and more. Learn more about this fascinating company on their website, https://www.rcpaboston.org , and support them financially here: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?token=zsMy-b_X1YTfowQmUJ9W-A_N6uk4RVd55o67rCSoxGHHSTpJ4wOzq81FHenHmCTu4mUqpW&country.x=US&locale.x=
Hello BIBA fans! This is part two of a series of posts supporting Black businesses. As stated in the last post, numerous factors have contributed to gross inequality in wealth distribution to BIPOC US citizens. From the 2017 Boston Globe Spotlight Series on race, the reality that “the median net worth for non-immigrant Black households in the Greater Boston region is $8” shocked all of its readers. Are you in Boston? A frequent traveler to or visitor of Boston? Wanting to check out some of Boston’s cultural offerings? Then check out some of the fantastic organizations doing incredible work in the Boston area, and support them with a donation, a share, social media engagement, attendance at one of their events, and in any other way you can. This week's post focuses on DANCE!
Abilities Dance: According to their website, this company disrupts antiquated ableist beliefs and disseminates the value of inclusion through dance. Since their first show in February 2017, Abilities Dance Boston has boldly provided a platform for dancers with physical limitations to perform, thus challenging expectations of dancers, especially in the Boston area. Check out their incredible work and donate here: https://www.abilitiesdanceboston.org/donate ; social media: https://www.facebook.com/abilitiesdanceboston and https://www.instagram.com/abilitiesdanceboston/
Benkadi Drum & Dance: formed in 2008, this dance company specializing in African dance and musical forms was established and is lead by Sory Diabate, from Bamako, Mali. They have given performances throughout Boston and Massachusetts, including programs at various primary and secondary schools, Boston University, and MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. Learn more about them here: http://www.benkadidance.com and follow them on facebook here: http://www.benkadidance.com and Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/benkadidrumanddance/
Danza Orgánica: founded by afroindigenous borikua and award-winning choreographer Mar Parrilla, DO ( http://www.danzaorganica.org/ ) is FIERCELY dedicated to anti-racism, decolonization, and uplifting voices of queer and BIPOC artists. Their various projects include the “we create” festival and “dance for social justice”, among others. Donate to this powerful organization here: http://www.danzaorganica.org/DONATE.php ; and follow them on social media here: Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/danzaorganicadancetheater and Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/danzaorganica/
Midday Movement Series: this dance organization advances two main goals – 1) to offer affordable ($5 - $12!!) classes to advanced dancers, promoting class-taking culture and emphasizing a consistent practice, and 2) to provide a space for dance teachers to craft their movement style and hone their skills. To learn more about them, visit their website at http://www.middaymovement.org, and follow them on social media: facebook - https://www.facebook.com/MiddayMovementSeries/ and Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/MiddayMovementSeries/ ; and donate here: http://studioat550.org/midday-movement/
Mystique Illusions Dance Theatre: founded in 2016 by dancer, choreographer, and visual artist Ronnie Terrell, this organization is focused on teaching a unique style of dance called “Mystique-ology”. It is a patented dance methodology with no geographic boundaries, rooted in science and understanding of movement, using culture, energy, and evolution as its foundation. Learn more here - https://www.mystiqueillusionsdancetheatre.org ; and follow on social media: facebook - https://www.facebook.com/MystiqueIllusionsDanceTheatre/ , twitter - https://twitter.com/MI_DanceTheatre , Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/mystique_illusions/ ; and donate here: https://www.mystiqueillusionsdancetheatre.org/endorsements
OrigiNation: one of Boston’s most enduring, impactful organizations, OrigiNation ( https://www.originationinc.org ) was founded in 1994 by Shaumba-Yandje Dibinga, and reaches at least 1,650 children and youth every year. They offer quality dance, theater arts, and African history education, as well as teaching the importance of self-respect, health, nutrition, education, self-esteem, and the extent of African influences on various contemporary art forms. Follow them on social media: facebook - https://www.facebook.com/originationarts/ , twitter - https://twitter.com/OrigiNationArts, and Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/originationarts/ ; and donate here: https://www.originationinc.org/donate
Racines Black Dance Festival: every year, a series of workshops about traditional and contemporary African dance are given in celebration of the Black dance culture that has developed since the time of slavery. While no concrete information has been given about this year’s festival, you can follow them on Facebook to keep updated about any announcements: https://www.facebook.com/RacinesFestival/. Also check out their website: https://www.racinesfestival.org ; and donate here: https://www.racinesfestival.org/donate
Tony Williams Dance Center: this deeply established organization prides itself on its diverse identity, which yields a fuller cultural experience in all of its offerings. Not only does TWDC offer instruction in multiple styles for children and adults, it also produces the Urban Nutcracker annually, and is the parent organization of the City Ballet of Boston! Learn more about them from their website ( http://tonywilliamsdancecenter.com/ ) and social media ( Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/urbannutcracker ; Twitter: https://twitter.com/twdancecenter ), and donate here: https://bostondancealliance.z2systems.com/np/clients/bostondancealliance/donation.jsp?campaign=41&
VLA DANCE: this relatively new dance company strives to empower voices and communities of color through rigorous contemporary dance research and performance. Having presented projects at the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, Fountain Street Gallery, and #HellaBlack by the BCA, VLA DANCE is now in residence at Roxbury’s Hibernian Hall. Check out more of their work and mission on their website ( https://www.vladance.com/ ), social media ( Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/dancevla ; and Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/dancevla/ ), and donate here: https://bostondancealliance.z2systems.com/np/clients/bostondancealliance/donation.jsp?campaign=98&
I am sure that this list is NOT COMPLETE! So please feel free to add BIPOC Dance company/group recommendations in the comments! Additionally, there are plenty of INDIVIDUALS who are incredible dancers and multi-faceted artists in the Boston area, such as Ramiro Purpose, Jimena Bermejo, and Destiny Polk/Radical Black Girl (who is also an incredible poet and activist).
by Anthony R. Green
Today is the birthday of the late Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, an incredibly gifted composer whose music stretched across genres, and whose international career also included performing as a pianist and conducting. His music, along with the music of numerous other talented Black composers, is championed by Castle of our Skins in our effort to celebrate Black artistry through music. This celebration, though, would not be complete without supporting Black efforts in other sectors, such as skin care, culinary arts, visual arts, production, management, etc ... In the past, Castle of our Skins has had BIBA Blog posts and events that shared the work of other Black creatives and businesses. With the recent attention towards supporting the various BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people-of-color) communities in the US, the next BIBA Blog posts will focus on why and how YOU - our wonderful readers - can BUY BLACK!!!
photo source: connect the dots PR - Vanessa's Blog
During the 1960s, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, there were many calls for people, especially Black people, to support each other financially as well as idealistically. A well-known picture elucidates this idea rather succinctly: it is of a man holding a protest sign that reads "Do not buy where you will not be hired." While such overt racism may have dwindled since then, a quick look at "diversity" within organizations and stores can be a quick indicator of the covert racism that may be at play in hiring tactics across the country and the world. Furthermore, the covert racism is directly related to the systemic racism that is responsible for today's gross social, educational, health-related, judicial, and economic inequities. For all of you Instagram users, check out THIS infographic that quickly and creatively articulates systemic racism's effect on the Black community. When it comes to economics, "white families hold 90% of national wealth, while Black families hold 2.6% of it" (despite making up 20% of the population). Furthermore, "for every $100 earned by white families, Black families earn $57.30." And lastly, "since the 2008 recession, the wealth gap has increased." (Sources)
With that stated, the decision to start redistributing wealth towards Black and BIPOC businesses is a no-brainer, and there are many websites that can help you get started. A simple search for "buy Black" yields NUMEROUS links to articles, blogs, online stores, and websites with links to help anyone BUY BLACK! WeBuyBlack.com in particular has been increasing its number of vendors, products, and sales recently. Additionally, for our Boston (local) readers, Boston.com has been featuring articles about Black-owned businesses, particularly restaurants, that could use some support. HERE is an article, and HERE is another one.
NEXT WEEK'S BLOG WILL HIGHLIGHT SOME OF COOS's FAVORITE BOSTON ARTISTS AND CREATIVES! Be sure to check back here next Sunday, and keep up with COOS's digital season that includes the Black Composer Miniature Challenge, the Kid's Korner, and the Poetry Night Cap! ... and thank YOU for your support!
by Ashleigh Gordon
This has been a challenging week, few months, year, or 400+ years depending on your vantage point. As scores of organizations release solidarity statements, I can’t help but wonder:
If as a sector we can fundamentally shift our thinking and approach to creating, sharing, collaborating, managing, and engaging with art during a few months of a young health pandemic, why is it so difficult to do the same during a centuries-long racial one?
There was certainly no blueprint, no “How to Do Arts During a Pandemic” textbook. Yet the sector is rising to the challenge and doing so creatively and quickly. Dollars, maintaining relevance, and fighting for one’s survival undoubtedly have something to do with this phenomenon. On the ironic side, there have been, and continue to be centers, institutions, resources, facilitation guides, and countless case studies not only highlighting the inequities under our noses, but providing how-to solutions (read: doing the hard thinking for you) with little tangible results. Devaluing the need to invest dollars in equity work, upholding a narrow definition of what culture is relevant and for whom, and choosing to not fight for the survival of cultures, stories, histories, and voices that continue to be marginalized to the point of near erasure has something to do with this phenomenon.
In response to the outpouring of solidarity statements and uptick in Black Lives Matter hashtags, I’m reminded of a statement by Nikki Giovanni, whose Poem for Nina is the inspiration behind our organizational name and whose birthday is also today:
“Mistakes are a fact of life: It is the response to the error that counts.”
If you’re one of the countless organizations that have acknowledged your mistakes, great. There are and will be more mistakes, so keep looking. If you have not acknowledged your mistakes, dig deeper because they’re there. But beyond a well-penned “We see you Black community” statement, we need to actually do better and do differently. Otherwise, by definition, we are insane to think anything new will actually result.
Some thoughts on how to do better and do differently, now and always:
1. Remove colonial language in all aspects of your institution because language matters.
2. Remove a dominant white culture value system because perspective matters.
As we are all well aware of and feeling, this is undoubtedly a challenging situation. The mistakes are known, the errors documented with solutions named and yet to be realized. All that is missing?
Your motivation and action.
~ Ashleigh Gordon
Artistic and Executive Director
Castle of our Skins
by Anthony R. Green
Once again, the United States is embroiled in another moment where citizens are protesting (in various ways) against the extremely inhumane treatment of Black people, particularly by the police. The three names that have recently garnered national and international attention are Ahmaud Arbery (25 years old), Breonna Taylor (26 years old), and George Floyd (46 years old). The sadder reality is that during this same period, in Tallahassee alone, police officers also fatally shot Wilbon Woodard (69 years old), Mychael Johnson (31 years old), and Tony McDade (38 years old). Tony was murdered two days after Floyd, and - while his death has received some noteworthy attention - his demise has been eclipsed by the Floyd protests. In all truth though, while the particular unfolding of Floyd's murder resulted in a situation upon which the current protests could unfold (analogous to Michael Brown's murder), these protests are the result of an eruption of simmering feelings about Black death, institutional racism, and injustice, especially in the US. The simmering feelings have now turned into a full on boil, and that boil has burst a lid. The feelings are now flowing like lava, and this emotional lava is flowing strong ... as it should be.
History has constantly construed the narrative of Black people, not just in the United States, to skew towards negative or non-existent. Consider classical music's continued practice of ignoring Vicente Lusitano (an Afro-Portuguese renaissance composer), Ignatius Sancho (born into slavery, eventually becoming a composer and the first Black Briton to vote), Chevalier de Saint-Georges (born in Guadeloupe, Mozart stole a theme from him for one of his works), William Grant Still (the "dean of Black composers", ground-breaking musician), and so many others in their programming, their pedagogy, their analyses, and their lists of who is a "great" composer or an "old master". This ignorance and silencing directly corresponds to deplorable narrative that seems to overwhelm Black identity today. Everyone has a moral responsibility to change this narrative, because it is false, destructive, and fatal, as evinced by racially-motivated deaths, institutional racism, societal indifference, Black silencing, and so many other factors that have existed for far too long.
Nevertheless, Black people will still persist. We will still create, have a significant influence on society, history, technology, science, medicine, architecture, design, textiles, urban planning, childcare, visual art, literature, creative practices, empathy, and everything that exists in this world. What can we do now, though? We can rectify our mistaught history and change the Black narrative. We can work to correct the current injustice that permeates public and private spaces. But we mustn't let the world ever forget how it has mistreated its Black and brown people.
With that, please listen and grow from this powerful piece by Courtney Bryan: Yet Unheard.
by Liz Gre
Step 1. Cool your jets.
Actual title: How to make it through this period without burning out.
1: Explore new ways to make sound.
Remember when you didn’t write for deadlines and you just played with your instruments or tools? Wasn’t that great!? I find most inspiration for melodies, themes, and sounds from the natural, external environment. Being locked inside has been a detriment to my wells of inspiration until I realized the world that I had been ignoring in my home. Consider that being in your home has given you new eyes and new ears! What can you do with the sounds that you may have overlooked? Like the sound of raw honey riding a spoon on its escape from the jar or the sound of your nine-year-old’s markers hopefully not on the wall?
2. Challenge yourself with childhood joy
When was the last time you giggled? Or doubled over laughing? I believe that the creative’s Gift is one of JOY - that of a child. We are able to seize the purity of a moment. Remember the things that you did as a child that brought you joy.
3. Take it easy on yourself
You don’t have to tick off a to-do list every day. Shifting from one way of life to another is jarring! And placing an expectation of productivity on yourself is not necessary. Easier said than done, I do realize. The moment I rest, my mind buzzes up with anxiety over the things I “should” be doing. So it is a constant decision to release expectation from myself.
4. Reconnect with your “why”.
Now that we are slowing down, it’s a great time to take a moment to reflect on why really you’re pursuing your work. You were divinely engineered to do what you are doing. No one else can do it like you can. Others may try, but let’s be real - you’re one in a million, baby. Take a moment to ask yourself and be radically honest about why you wake up every day and chase after this dream.
5. Bonus: Check out COOS's online offerings
Not only does COOS post a weekly BIBA Blog here, but COOS has created virtual programming that includes 18 world premieres of miniatures by Black composers, Kids Korner storytime readings, and a Poetry Nightcap Series! Find out more at castleskins.org ... naturally!
Liz Gre is a composer and vocalist writing strange, experimental, ethnographic compositions with Black Women for Black Women. In 2017, she performed the title role in Mother King, an opera about Alberta Williams King (the mother of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). She was a 2019 Inside/Outisde Fellow at The Union for Contemporary Art (Omaha, NE). Currently located in London, UK, she is working towards her MPhil/PhD in Music at City University of London. Social Media : IG/Twitter - @lizgrelizgre
by Ashleigh Gordon
On this day in 2018, Boston Conservatory hosted New Music Gathering: a three-day meet-mingle, listen-and-be-heard convening of friends, both old and those you didn’t know you’d make. The fourth gathering of its kind, it was a platform to share honestly, connect, be inspired, and amplify a long overdue discussion: diversity in new music (be sure to catch Helga Davis’ opening keynote on the topic here if you missed it).
From left to right: Melanie Zeck (photo by Liz Boros Kazai), Ashleigh Gordon (photo by www.RobertTorresPhotography.com, and Lucy Caplan
It was at this gathering when I had the chance to challenge the fundamental concept of what “new music” is. With fellow provocateurs Melanie Zeck (Reference Librarian at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Conference, and former Research Fellow at the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago) and Lucy Caplan (Lecturer at Harvard University with particular interests in African American music, opera and cultural criticism), we argued that the music of Black composers is often new to our ears regardless of when it was written. It’s “new music” in the sense that it’s unheard and unknown by most audiences, long since left from main concert stages, and failed to cross people’s minds as even being a possible creation in the first place. Highlighting archival research, scholarship, and performance application, we challenged the notion of a fixed music canon, discussed the ramifications that structural racism bears on legacy and accessibility, and advocated for how we can use resources already in place to dismantle a cycle of neglect. We unpacked the ways our very words exacerbate the issue: how a composer like Florence Price could be “rediscovered” multiple times despite the fact that scholarship and performance of her work never ceased in some circles; or how others still could be “forgotten” or “lost” as though misplaced like a set of keys without regard to the intentional and calculated efforts that enabled their “disappearance.” New Music Gathering provided us with the opportunity to openly discuss such topics with a community willing and eager to listen.
While this is certainly a time when convening and gatherings of community in public spaces are prohibited, this is still the time to engage in dialogue around representation, accessibility, visibility, and diversity. In fact, this is arguably a perfect time to quite literally build a new and improved cultural landscape with equity at its center. With the ongoing ICE New Music Virtual Town Hall Meetings, New Music USA and American Composer Forum conversations, and the June 15-30th virtual New Music Gathering, there are ample opportunities with captive movers and shakers in the field to engage, probe, prod, challenge, and co-create such a future. When new music gathers with diversity and equity at its center, we all win.
by Anthony R. Green
Happy Mother's Day from Castle of our Skins! In 2015, COOS received a Travel to the Collections grant from the Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) in Chicago. While the center itself has dramatically changed, the time that COOS spent doing research there will always remain invaluable. One focus that we had at that time was researching music and contributions by Black women composers. The world of classical music has historically mistreated its women, and efforts to bring justice to female composers of the past and the present are quite often met with misogynistic or otherwise awkward responses, from both men and women. Many of these responses fail to acknowledge the many challenges that women have historically faced from male-dominated societies, who often define men as the only gender that can contribute to society in a grand, important way. Among these challenges include gender role stereotypes, expectations, and also motherhood. As rewarding as motherhood is, imagine how difficult it was for female composers to balance being a creative as well as being a mother, among other responsibilities?
Through COOS's CBMR research, we came across the wonderful music and life of Lettie Beckon Alston (1953 - 2014). Not only was Mrs. Alston a composer, a pianist, and the first Black composer (of any gender) to receive a doctorate degree from the University of Michigan in 1983, but she was also a mother to her son Darnell, and a mother figure to many students. As a student herself, she studied with powerhouse composers such as William Bolcom and Leslie Bassett, among others. Her composition practice also included working with digital and electronic processes, and she studied electronic composition with George Wilson and Eugene Kurzt. She used these lessons and her wealth of experience to become a beloved and respected pedagogue at Wayne State University, Oakland University, and Eastern Michigan University. Yet her quiet presence has left her as a respected composer within the circle of musicians and enthusiasts who are familiar with her work, but not so popular outside of this circle. This is proven by many online sources (including Wikipedia) that still do not have her death year registered.
Fortunately, there are current efforts to increase the number of performances of Mrs. Alston's music, including from the Hidden Voices: Piano Music by Black Women Composers project at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU Boulder). This project continues the work of the beloved pianist and scholar Helen Walker-Hill (mother to violinist and composer Gregory Walker, who is the son of the late Pulitzer prize winner George Walker). And for those who are keen to hear her music, simple YouTube and Google searches will yield plenty of links, where you can enter her unique musical world. With that, a wonderful place to start is with Karen Walwyn's fantastic interpretation of Alston's Well Marked, the first rhapsody from her Three Rhapsodies for Piano. Enjoy and Happy Mother's Day!!
by Sakari Dixon
Today's post is an interview with Kori Coleman, the founder and executive director of the Chicago organization D-Composed. Through unique and often cross-disciplinary chamber music experiences, D-Composed engages audiences with the works of Black composers and musicians in both popular and classical genres.
photo by Orel Chollette
BIBA : In your bio, you state that D-Composed was founded out of a desire to create more fine art and luxury experiences that are tailored to the Black community. Can you tell us a bit more about how D-Composed began? How did you and Danielle Taylor meet?
KC : Prior to D-Composed, I ran a luxury lifestyle website called The Chicagolite. It highlighted luxury events and activities throughout the Chicagoland area. I went to fashion shows, restaurant openings, art exhibit openings. I was very much like a part-time high society girl (LOL). My goal with the site was to show my audience that you don’t have to wait until you are wealthy to enjoy the finer things in life. Plus, by being very visible I wanted the Black community to know that the spaces I was entering (although very white) weren’t off limits, and we should make our presence known wherever we want to go. I had people tell me that they were inspired to even explore the North Side of the city by seeing me go to events.
However, as I attended more high-profile events, I noticed that not too many experiences catered to the Black experience in the way that I hoped to see it represented one day. Eventually I got tired just being an attendee, and I knew that eventually I wanted to create something that made a difference and reflected the change that I wanted to see.
D-Composed came about because one day I went to an event that highlighted Black composers, and it was like this light bulb went off. Throughout my entire life, the thought of Black composers never crossed my mind. I played the violin throughout much of my youth and not once was I introduced to a Black composer. It took me becoming an adult and exploring the arts scene for that world to open up to me.
Following the event, I started researching Black composer events and I couldn’t find any events outside of Black history month or MLK Day. Plus, finding Black ensembles was even harder. I had been planning events prior to D-Composed, so I felt like I had what it took to create the series. We just needed to find someone who could lead the music. That same night of the event, I decided that I wanted to pursue creating my own series, so I started researching Black musicians in Chicago. I came across our now Artistic Director Danielle Taylor, and I saw that she had already been researching Black composers ... and the rest is history! Danielle was instrumental in identifying our core quartet so the right people came together at the right time.
It was by fate that we both happened to share a similar vision to really redefine the classical music world and make our own rules and playbook along the way.
photo by Ally Almore
BIBA : What are some of the most unexpected ways in which your background in experiential marketing has influenced the way that you curate programs for D-Composed?
KC : Throughout each phase of my career I’ve been able to take so many key learnings from experiential marketing. Ultimately, when working in agencies, clients come to you because they want you to create the most compelling content or activations to promote their brand. We don’t approach creativity in a typical way with our clients, so I carry that same thought process with D-Composed.
When I first started my career as a strategist, I learned about creative concept development. That’s when I started to challenge my creativity to think of programs as concepts with their own unique narrative and story. As a strategist, it’s important to be well versed in all aspects of culture and society at large, so I always have my eye on trends and general inspiration.
And now that D-Composed is growing and developing as a business, I’m able to apply my strategic learnings in much more intentional ways, like having a pointed strategic vision for the company and just overall creating with more specificity and intention.
I like to think of myself as the person who makes sense out of creativity. Being a strategist allows me to think through every single detail of the business, and I truly believe we aren’t creating just for creativity's sake. Every action has a purpose and message that we wish to communicate.
BIBA : D-Compressed, your "music yoga experience", has become one of your most popular events. Can you tell us how that collaboration came about? What do you most look forward to in the next iteration of D-Compressed?
KC : I love blending genres and mediums together, so I thought why not combine yoga & chamber music? What’s interesting is when D-Composed first started, I mentioned to Danielle that the next phase would be yoga & chamber music, but let’s do a more traditional concert first.
The reason yoga & chamber music makes sense as it relates to our vision is because both classical music and the profession of yoga have a serious diversity issue, especially as it relates to Black people. By bringing these two forces together, we’re making and creating our own space in worlds that weren’t the most receptive to us. Plus, both classical and yoga have their own set of preconceived rules with how you are supposed to behave in those spaces, and we just wanted to dismantle all of that.
What I love so much about D-Compressed is how much fun we have with the music. The set-list is primarily contemporary pop culture songs, and Danielle consistently kills it with each of her arrangements. With D-Compressed, you can hear artists like Beyoncé, Janelle Monae, Tyler, The Creator, Juvenile, Sisqo. And all the songs are selected to compliment the actual flow of a yoga class. It’s meant to just be a fun experience where our attendees can be themselves. Also, twerking on the mats is a thing that happens and is encouraged. We’ve even had people stop what they are doing just because they are feeling the music, and that’s OK. We play whatever we want to play with D-Compressed. I’m just excited to see musically what’s in store. We might do some special themed set-lists in the future, but for now it’s a hodgepodge of just really dope music.
BIBA : Part of your vision includes reaching out to the youth through programs such as family concerts (which feature a lovely coloring book!) and your nonprofit D-Composed Gives. What is some of the most inspirational feedback that you have heard from youth attendees or their parents?
KC : There’s not a single show that happens where a parent isn’t asking for more or wondering when the next event is. I think that can be the challenge for us because D-Composed is small, but mighty; but there’s always this incredible desire for the work we’re doing. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with the demand. Usually parents express so much gratitude that D-Composed even exists. One parent told Danielle that he was considering having his son play an instrument even though they were only pushing him towards sports! By seeing that concert, that opened that parent’s eyes to a new world of possibilities that weren’t previously considered. That type of feedback is powerful, and it further exemplifies why we do what we do. This is why we make a point to feature all Black musicians so those kids can see themselves in anyone on that stage. Also, there has yet to be a concert where someone hasn’t walked up to us crying. It’s an overwhelming experience for a lot of people, so we acknowledge the huge responsibility we have to create a space with so much intention and thoughtfulness behind it.
BIBA : What advice would you give to up-and-coming organizations who share a similar mission as D-Composed?
KC : The biggest advice I can give is to stay true to your vision. You may get a bit of pushback, there may be some naysayers, but staying true to yourself is well worth the risk. With D-Composed, I’m proud to say that we create exactly what we want, and I’m incredibly proud of everything that’s been put out there. We will not compromise our vision, and if that means not getting all the support, that’s OK. Regardless of what you do, I would say stay true to your vision and make sure at the end of the day you are creating something that you are genuinely proud of.
To learn more about D-composed, please visit their website at: https://www.dcomposed.com . You can also follow them on Instagram @dcomposedchicago, and watch past and upcoming videos of their artistry on their YouTube channel! In the future, stay tuned to find out how you can support D-composed in their journey to play at the prestigious festival, South by Southwest (SxSW)!! Due to the coronavirus pandemic, SxSW was cancelled this year.
Writings, musings, photos, links, and videos about Black Artistry of ALL varieties! Feel free to drop a comment or suggestions for posts!