Harlem Week to Foster Arts, Culture

The economic recession has hit the African-American community hard, but supporters of Harlem Arts Alliance Advocacy Week are striving to keep art alive in spite of the tightening purse strings.

At the launch of the week’s events at Riverside Theatre on Monday, Broadway performers Doug Eskew and Brenda Braxton performed a song by Harlem artist J.C. Johnson that flourished during the difficult times of the Great Depression.

J.C. Johnson was a pianist and songwriter, who worked with jazz and blues greats like Ethel Waters, Lonnie Johnson, and Fats Waller. His album “Trav’lin” has been made into a musical and brings to life the Harlem of the 1930s. With a cast of Broadway professionals, the show is being offered for only $20 a ticket at the New York Musical Theatre Festival from Oct. 11 to 17.

Artists like Johnson thrived in spite of adverse conditions, as the Harlem Arts Alliance (HAA) hopes budding artists today will burgeon through a maintained link to their culture and their community.

“Frankly, the white folk have a recession, we have a depression,” said Howard Dodson, chief historian at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, as HAA presented him with an Arts Cultural Leadership award.

“Harlem has been established as a place where African and African Diaspora people live, create, and celebrate our centuries-long—our millennium-long—history and heritage everyday despite the economic and other struggles that confront all of us,” said Howard.

The HAA Advocacy week brings together groups to network and form a community of organizations that may then share resources and work together as a stronger force in obtaining grants.

Grants have been awarded to Harlem arts organizations by both private entities such as Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, and through government initiatives. Kathleen Hughes, assistant commissioner of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, was hopeful about the funding to be obtained for the community from her department.

“From 2007 to today, there has been a 37 percent increase in grants awarded to Harlem-based African organizations,” said Hughes.

“We’ve come a long way baby,” Hughes quoted an old Phillip Morris commercial, “but we still have a long way to go.”

“Amen!” came a voice from the back of the room.

Harlem Arts Alliance Advocacy Week includes seminars, exhibitions, concerts, and other events.

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