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Monday, February 13, 2012

BAM and the Black Brooklyn Renaissance

Chuck Davis Dance Company, DanceAfrica, ca. 1970s. Photo courtesy of Chuck Davis African American Dance Ensemble

BAM has drawn significantly from the borough’s deep well of cultural resources, particularly from the African-American community in Brooklyn and the surrounding metropolitan area. From historic performances and lectures by Harlem Renaissance heavy hitters such as Langston Hughes (1945), Marian Anderson (1938), and Duke Ellington (1968), to New York’s own Society of Black Composers (1969) and BAM’s long-running DanceAfrica Festival (which began in 1977), BAM has been key in bringing black arts and culture to the Brooklyn stage.

It’s no surprise then that the BAM Hamm Archives would be chosen as one of nine repositories for the Black Brooklyn Renaissance Digital Archive (BBR), a recent initiative to preserve the history of black arts and culture in Brooklyn. The rest are distributed at other research institutions around primarily Brooklyn and Manhattan and include the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

Black Brooklyn Renaissance Digital Archive from Brooklyn Arts Council on Vimeo.

The two-year-long project by the Brooklyn Arts Council, in partnership with the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, seeks to celebrate the “many ways black performing artists, primarily those working in music, dance, and spoken word, have contributed to the borough’s significance as a center of black culture in New York and the world” through field research, public performances, exhibitions, panels and other documentation. The project culminates in an archival collection of 73 DVDs organized by genres (dance, music, visual art, spoken word, etc…), separated into performance events and artist interviews.

Using the Harlem Renaissance as the project’s symbolic point of departure, it documents the mid-century counterpoint in Brooklyn and celebrates black Brooklyn’s renaissance of the 1960s through the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and continuing today. Beginning in 2010, the project held programming at various Brooklyn institutions to highlight the borough's cultural assets. During the yearlong program, BBR held events at BAM such as Black Brooklyn Renaissance: The New Generation (BAMcafĂ©, February 12, 2011); Word is Brooklyn, a celebration of traditional and contemporary spoken word (BAMcafe, November 19, 2010); and interviewed BAM regulars such as Chuck Davis, founder and artistic director of DanceAfrica.

Erin Matson, BAM Hamm Archives Intern

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