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Thursday, April 5, 2018

Behind the Scenes—Coco Killingsworth

Photo: Jesse Winter
By Sandy Sawotka

In February 2017, BAM welcomed Coco Killingsworth as its new Vice President of Education and Community Engagement. A longtime Brooklyn resident, educator, parent, and dancer, she is ideally qualified to oversee two newly-merged BAM departments, education and community programs—areas of growth for the institution.

Killingsworth previously served as the deputy director/director of programs for Global Kids, Inc., managing school-based and after-school global education programs in 35 New York City public schools. She also developed a Brooklyn public high school—in concert with the Department of Education, Global Kids, teachers, and parents—featuring interactive curricula in global issues and after-school programs in arts and leadership. Coco was a principal dancer in Brooklyn-based ASE Dance Theater Collective and also a Charles H. Revson Fellow at Columbia University (2010—11). She earned a BA in history and African studies from UCLA and a master’s in education from Harvard University. Originally from Oakland, CA, she has made Brooklyn her home for 18 years.

“BAM is a special and beloved place in a fantastic borough,” Killingsworth said. “As always, but especially now, it’s important for young people, families, and community members to have opportunities to engage with and participate in the arts. I’d like to create more ways for BAM to be a welcoming institution for all.”

KNOCK! Photo: Mark Wessels
Education and Community events slated for this season reflect that commitment. From April 12—18, Word. Sound. Power, hosted by MC Baba Israel, provides a stage for some of the best hip-hop poets and MCs from Brooklyn and beyond. This year’s showcase celebrates hip-hop from a woman’s point of view, with all women performers. It is presented in all-ages evening performances and offered to school groups on weekdays. An inaugural Beatbox Workshop and panel discussion on the realities women face in the hip-hop industry are also slated for April 14, and a family-friendly concert entitled Get Up, Stand Up! rounds out the day, featuring The Mighty Third Rail and MC Mikal Amin. “In my lifetime, and for generations of young people after me, there has not been a more important and potent cultural phenomenon than hip-hop. Forty-five years later, young people are still finding their voice and identities as artists within hip-hop culture. Word. Sound. Power celebrates both the foundation and the future.”

From April 28—May 6, an interactive theater production called KNOCK! (from South Africa’s acclaimed Magnet Theatre) offers both traditional and special “relaxed” performances for the comfort of neural-atypical audiences. These performances maintain moderate house lighting, lower overall volume, and the opportunity to come and go as needed. As with most family programs, the production is offered both to the public and to school groups. “Making arts experiences accessible and reflective of the diversity of our communities is a high value for us,” says Killingsworth. “KNOCK! will be an wonderful first-time theater experience for our youngest audience members, ages 2—5, where they get to explore the joys of rhythm and sound by South African artists.”

DanceAfrica (May 25—28), BAM’s longest-running public program (now in its 41st year), is also its largest school-time event, with thousands of public, private, and special needs students taking part in the joyous celebration in the Opera House, this year focusing on South Africa. The DanceAfrica festival also features a popular outdoor bazaar with crafts and food from Africa and its diaspora. On May 19, a Community Day partnership with RestorationART, Weeksville Heritage Center, and the DanceAfrica Council of Elders (at Restoration Plaza, 1368 Fulton St) highlights the resonant work of those organizations and features free performances by students in the Youth Arts Academy from RestorationART.

One of the many remarkable after-school sessions BAM offers is a new program for young women of color. Its first participants this spring are students from the Young Women’s Leadership School of Brooklyn. Killingsworth designed programs, and was on the board of directors, for Sadie Nash Leadership Project—an award-winning young women’s leadership organization. She sees this program as an important opportunity for girls’ empowerment, and contributed to the creation of its curriculum.

This spring also features the ongoing BAMkids Movie Matinee series, offering Sunday screenings of family films including The Secret Garden and The Breadwinner—an animated film about a young girl living under Taliban rule.

And what’s planned for the future? Killingsworth and her team are looking to partner with a number of community-based organizations next year on new programming, which will include events in various Brooklyn neighborhood locales. “We’re going to provide experiences for adults and young people alike, exposing them to worldwide artists, including the artistry of Brooklyn,” she says. “We’re building a home for adventurous artists throughout the borough.”

A year into her new role, we asked Coco what had initially surprised her about BAM. “I was thrilled to discover the pride, loyalty, and trust people had in the organization,” she said. “I want to deepen that faith for some, expand it to others, and continue to earn it every day.”

Sandy Sawotka is BAM’s communications director.

© 2018 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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