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February 24, 2021

Celebrate Black History Month: MCA Denver Staff Shares Their Influential Creators

Tai Bickham

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During the month of February, we joined in honoring the experiences, achievements, contributions and sacrifices made by Black/African Americans in this country. The influence of Black/African American artists have indelibly shaped our culture and our approach to creativity. In celebration of Black History Month, we asked our staff to share artists/creators, throughout the month, that have impacted their lives and imprinted the cultural experience in America. 

Anna Alarid - Executive Assistant & Office Manager 

Who is an artist/creator that has been an influence in your life?

Alvin Ailey | Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

My parents had me in dance classes from the age I was five. I continued to dance until I was sixteen, but stopped when I dropped out of Denver School of the Arts. Still, Alvin Ailey was a historical figure that always fascinated me. When I moved to NYC for college, I would see the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater advertisements all over the city. They are impossible to ignore, since they always feature almost bare black figures doing contortions, leaps or other mesmerizing and beautiful poses. Not only are they beautiful, but they inspire a sense of boundlessness and elevate the viewer from the dingy overcrowded subway to a place of awe. I first saw an Alvin Ailey production in 2012. Ironically, my favorite piece is a pas de deux that was originally performed in Vail, CO by another choreographer. The duet is from Five Movements, Three Repeats and is performed to Dinah Washington's This Bitter Earth (another one of my favorite artists). I remember crying almost throughout the whole piece! Historically, The Alvin Ailey Company has elevated black dancers and brought forth contemporary dance in a way never done before, and this is why he is such an inspiration to me!

black and white photo of dance performers in "Ailey"
Photo by Jack Mitchell 

We want to know more! Share some resources to learn more.

Takademe

Ailey II in Saa Magni

Examples of Alvin Ailey Subway Posters

Miranda Lash - Ellen Bruss Curator

Who is an artist/creator that has been an influence in your life?

 Ebony G. Patterson

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

…three kings weep…, 2018

It’s hard to choose a favorite work by Ebony G. Patterson, but I remain deeply moved by the memory of watching people respond to her video piece …three kings weep… It has all the things I love about Ebony’s practice. The work is beautiful, powerful, and thoughtful, but above all deeply empathetic and humanizing. Three young men dress before the camera and become kings, but in the process we see them weeping. A young boy’s voice reads Claude McKay’s poem “If We Must Die.” It is as if these kings are dressing for battle, adorning themselves, and celebrating their worth, in the face of a society that has refused to honor who they are and their potential. It’s an incredibly brave and vulnerable piece, shown in a chapel-like space. The video inspires reverence and sorrow, but above all love and the desire to make things better. In many ways it captures who Ebony is as a person. Always a force, always with a tremendous heart.

Black and White photo of the artist, Ebony G. Patterson
Photo by the artist, Ebony G. Patterson

We want to know more! Share some resources to learn more.

Ebony G. Patterson: On Dress & Dignity in...three kings weep

Ebony G. Patterson's Lush & Provocative Garden Installation in North Carolina is a Delight for the Eyes

If We Must Die - Claude McKay

Tai Bickham - Marketing & Community Specialist

Who is an artist/creator that has been an influence in your life?

Sarah Vaughan

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

Misty – recorded in 1959 (originally composed in 1954 by pianist, Erroll Garner)

I fell in love with Sarah Vaughan as a child. My mother was a local singer in Colorado Springs and covered a lot of the jazz standards. At home on the weekends, I would often wake up to hearing her singing or the voices of artists like Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan floating up the stairs into my bedroom. When I first heard Sarah Vaughan’s version of “Misty”, I cried. I loved the journey her voice took my imagination on and what the idea of love and that consuming feeling of being in love could feel like. Sarah’s voice carries a wonderful vocal range, the body and volume of her vocals, from baritone to the smoothness it would elevate to soprano and the textures of how she performed those notes, were, to me, perfect and piercing to my heart. In songs like “My Funny Valentine” or “Broken Hearted Memory”, the operatic levels she goes in and out of, is nothing short of mastery in the power of song and voice. I am forever grateful that my mom exposed me to such prolific musicians, particularly in jazz, and the lessons learned, the fantasies drawn from days of just sitting in front of the record player, listening to the musical trips that Sarah would take me on have definitely left an imprint on me, and how I listen to and experience music. 

Black and White photo of the singer, Sarah Vaughan. In the 1950's, singing into a mic
Photo by William P. Gottlieb

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Misty (Live from Sweden) Mercury Records 1964

My Funny Valentine - live 1969

 Eric Fogal - Gallery Attendant 

Who is an artist/creator that has been an influence in your life?

bell hooks

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

Gloria Watkins, better known fo her pen name, bell hooks, is an author, professor at Berea College in Berea, KY and educator on feminism intersectionality and compassion. The work of hers that has influenced me the most is Feminism is For Everybody. Other publishings include: Teaching To Transgress, Feminist Theory and All About Love

black and white photo of the author, bell hooks
Photo from Pluto Press

We want to know more! Share some resources to learn more.

In Praise of bell hooks - New York Times

All About Love: New Visions - C-Span 

bell hooks: Moving from Pain to Power - The New School

Be part of the celebration! Here are a couple events happening in Denver/metro area for the last week of the month. 

FEB. 25

'Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child' - Doc & Talk Series 
Online, 7–8 p.m.
This week the Denver Public Library will host a discussion about this documentary on artist and iconoclast Jean-Michel Basquiat. Watch the film at your leisure (available for streaming on Kanopy with your library card) anytime before the online video discussion. 

FEB 27

Virtual Screening: “Black Men in White Coats”
Online, Noon - 1:30 p.m.
Arapahoe Libraries
Fewer Black men applied to medical school in 2014 then in 1978 and today, only 2% of American doctors are Black men. Even more concerning, Black men have the lowest life expectancy in the United States. Black Men in White Coats is a documentary that dissects the systemic barriers preventing Black men from becoming medical doctors and the significant consequences on society.

In case you missed it! Check out last week's blog here.