On June 7, 2022, Black Arts Legacies, a digital archive exploring the history, diversity, and impact of Seattle Black artists, debuts. The inaugural Legacies archive includes written profiles, photographs, and videos exploring the creative lives and art of 26 Black artists from many disciplines and their contributions to the cultural landscape of Seattle. The archive is hosted online by Crosscut, a Pacific Northwest nonprofit news site known for its local arts coverage; funding is provided by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. The idea for a digital archive celebrating Black artists was proposed by Vivian Phillips, founder of Arte Noir, and Quinton Morris, director of chamber and instrumental music at Seattle University, who were motivated to act in the face of two historic events of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests.
The Idea Behind the Archives
Black Arts Legacies was the culmination of several pivotal events that overlapped in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was a brutal blow to artists and cultural organizations nationwide that were forced to shutter their venues in spring 2020. The Black Lives Matter movement and protests, which erupted in the summer of 2020 in response to George Floyd and other Black men killed by police, caused many individuals and organizations to examine how they approach the issue of race.
Arts advocates Vivian Phillips, founder of Arte Noir, and Quinton Morris, director of chamber and instrumental music at Seattle University, came up with the idea of a digital archive that would highlight local Black artists. For Morris, it was a personal undertaking: "I wanted to turn my anger into action by healing our community through telling the stories of our local Black artists and organizations, who combat racism and social justice through art and cultural activities daily" (Jingco).
Their idea was to create an educational tool that would celebrate and illuminate the history and accomplishments of local Black artists. Visitors to the site can access video profiles of select artists, written accounts, podcasts, and photographs. When Phillips and Morris took their proposal to Crosscut, a nonprofit news site known for its extensive coverage of the local arts community, Crosscut not only agreed to host the archives, but also to produce a Legacies newsletter, podcast, and social media posts.
Selection of Artists
A total of 26 artists were included in the Black Arts Legacies launch. They represented a broad range of disciplines — from music, dance, and visual art to poetry, performance arts, and architecture. Four short video documentaries were part of the launch, highlighting contemporary dance, Black theater in Seattle, artists Al Doggett and Barry Johnson, and the contemporary rock band The Black Tones. During the month of June 2022, the videos were aired weekly on KCTS-TV.
Kemi Adeyem, University of Washington assistant professor, was asked to assist in the selection of the initial group of artists. Adeyem explained the process: "This is not a comprehensive project — the goal was not to, for example, catalog all of the Black artists who live and work in Seattle. We wanted to highlight a group of artists of diverse ages and working in diverse mediums that would tell the complex story of Black life and art in Seattle ... In this first iteration of Black Arts Legacies, we selected artists whose aesthetic practices and history in the city could help map the diverse contributions of Black people — and, certainly, artists — to Seattle" (Gerdes).
The inaugural list of 26 artists were:
- Al Doggett, painter and graphic designer
- Anastacia-Reneé, poet and installation artist
- Barbara Earl Thomas, visual artist
- Barry Johnson, painter and installation artist
- Benjamin McAdoo Jr., midcentury modern architect
- Dave Lewis, musician, keyboardist, bandleader
- Donald Byrd, choreographer and dancer
- Douglas Barnett, theater maker and performer
- Edna Daigre, dance/movement teacher
- Elisheba Johnson, curator and artist
- Ernestine Anderson, jazz singer
- Esther Ervin, sculptor and jewelry maker
- Ishmael Butler, musician (of Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces)
- Jade Solomon, dancer and choreographer
- James Washington Jr., painter and sculptor
- Kabby Mitchell, ballet dancer
- Laurie Allison Wilson, architect
- Marita Dingus, sculptor, glass and ceramic artist
- Mona Lake Jones, poet and author
- Porter Ray, musician and rapper
- Sharon Nyree Williams, theater maker and performer
- Tariqa Waters, curator and installation artist
- The Black Tones, rock band led by twins Eva and Cedric Walker
- Tina Bell, punk rock/proto-grunge musician/singer
- Valerie Curtis Newton, theater maker, and director
- Zoë Dusanne, visual art curator for midcentury Seattle artists
Black Arts Legacies Debuts
A free community event to call attention to the launch of Black Arts Legacies was held on the evening of June 16, 2022, at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle. It quickly sold out. Attendees lucky enough to secure tickets listened to music by Black musical artists JusMoni and DJ Yaddy of Sway and Swoon DJ Collective, and heard short performances by poet Mona Lake Jones, poet and installation artist Anastacia-Reneé, and dancer Edna Daigre, three of the individuals included in the archive.
To keep the archival material fresh and updated, additional content will be added regularly through the efforts of a dedicated team of storytellers, filmmakers, producers, and researchers. The Legacies team hopes its efforts will be more than just a look at artists and their art. They hope to create more awareness about the social, political, economic, and institutional conditions that shaped that art. "Theirs are stories of being the first, of contending with discrimination and breaking down barriers, of long careers and careers cut short, and of building community through the arts. Their stories help make sense of who we are – as a city and as a region" (Blackartslegacies.com).