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Black Arts Initiative Conference Pays Tribute to Chicago Artists

“Black Arts Chicago: Moves and Movements” May 30-June 1 free and open to the public

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A comprehensive look at black arts in Chicago -- from the past to the present -- will be explored from May 30 through June 1 during the inaugural conference of the Black Arts Initiative (BAI) that opens on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus and continues at several Chicago area locations.

“It is the first time that the black arts in Chicago have been featured in an academic conference on all the genres, including music, literature, theater, dance and the visual arts,” said conference organizer and Northwestern’s Carlos Montezuma Professor E. Patrick Johnson.

“We will be looking at the history that Chicagoans and the city of Chicago have played in their cultivation. What makes it exciting is that a lot of people in the arts from around the 1930s and 1940s will be featured.”

Free and open to the public, the three-day “Black Arts Chicago: Moves & Movements” conference includes panel and roundtable discussions featuring Northwestern University faculty members and guest artists and visiting scholars, a film screening, a student performance of literature by black Chicago authors, a tribute to gospel music composer Thomas Dorsey by the Northwestern Community Ensemble and much more.

• Among the legendary Chicagoans participating in the conference:

Poet and author Haki Madhubuti, founder, publisher and chairman of the board of Third World Press, the largest independent black-owned press in the United States.

Chicago actress, producer, cultural activist and internationally known theatre personality Val Gray Ward, co-founder Kuumba Theatre and eta Theater on Chicago’s south side.

Barbara Jones Hogu, an influential artist associated with the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s and painter, sculptor and printmaker Wadsworth Jarrell, founding members of the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCOBRA).

• Conference opening event; 4 p.m. Thursday, May 30. Welcoming remarks by Johnson and Northwestern University Provost Dan Linzer at Northwestern’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston campus.

• “The Black Chicago Renaissance”; 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 30. An opening plenary at the Block Museum will be moderated by Ivy Wilson, associate professor of English and director of American studies at Northwestern University.

• “We Real Cool: The Chicago Black Literary Tradition”; 9:30 a.m. Friday, May 31. A discussion at Northwestern’s McCormick Tribune Center Auditorium, 1870 Campus Drive, will include panelist Haki Madhubuti, poet and founder of Third World Press. Dwight McBride, dean of The Graduate School and associate provost and Daniel Hale Williams Professor of African-American Studies, English and performance studies at Northwestern, will moderate.

• “Black Dance/Chicago Dance”; 1 p.m. Friday, May 31. A panel discussion at McCormick Tribune Center will be moderated by Northwestern graduate student Queen Meccasia Zabriskie. Panelists include curator and choreographer Baraka de Soleil; Kevin leqa Jeff, artistic director of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater; Joel Hall, artistic director, Joel Hall Dancers-Chicago; hip-hop dancer, educator and organizer Brave Monk; and Amaniyea Payne, artistic director, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago.

• “Rhapsody: The Music of Black Chicago”; 3 p.m. Friday, May 31. Disc jockey and record producer Frankie Knuckles, who founded “house music” -- originally underground dance music that is now known world-wide, particularly in African-American gay clubs -- will be among the participants in a panel discussion at McCormick Tribune Center Auditorium. Later, at 4:30 p.m., the Northwestern Community Ensemble will perform a tribute to gospel music composer Thomas Dorsey.

• “Filming While Black in Chicago”; Saturday, June 1. A 9 a.m. film screening of ”Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat By The Door” in Chicago at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts at 915 East 60th Street will be followed by a 10 a.m. panel discussion on “Filming While Black in Chicago,” moderated by Jacqueline Stewart, associate professor of radio, television and film at Northwestern. At 1 p.m.

• “This Stage We Call Life: A Black Chicago Theater/Performance”; Saturday, June 1. This 1 p.m. roundtable discussion will take place in Chicago at the Logan Center for the Arts. Actress, producer and cultural activist Val Gray Ward will be one of the panelists.

• “Visualizing Black Chicago: AfriCOBRA Now”; 3:15 p.m. Saturday, June 1. A panel discussion at the South Side Community Art Center, 3831 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, will include artists Barbara Jones Hogu and Wadsworth Jarrell.

• Concluding event; 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 1. Seating is limited for a Jazz Supper Club event at Norman’s Bistro, 1001 E. 43rd St., featuring jazz musician Phil Cohran and his band and Makaya McCraven’s quartet Roots of Route, featuring Chicago vocalist Dee Alexander and requires advance registration. Cohran, started the experimental jazz movement in Chicago in the late 1950s.

Johnson said the Black Arts Initiative which he is running is an opportunity for the scholars on campus to research and create art practices by coming together to generate scholarship in a collaborative fashion and honor the history of black art in Chicago and around the world.

“It was very important to include students in the conference and discuss how we can provide the history of the black arts to our students in our classes,” Johnson said. “This will be the first of three conferences that will be held every other year. The focus of the second conference in 2015 will be black arts in the United States and the third conference in 2017 will be black arts internationally.”

Northwestern’s BAI initiative cultivates an interdisciplinary approach to black arts. Launched in 2012, BAI seeks to engage myriad perspectives, strengthen Northwestern’s involvement in black arts, and connect with a broader community of scholars, practitioners and community members through research, pedagogy, practice, and civic and community engagement.

For more information on the “Black Arts Chicago: Moves and Movements” conference events and speakers, visit

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