February 3, 2021

Celebrate Black History Month: MCA Staff Share Their Influential Creators

Tai Bickham


During the month of February, we join 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 creators, throughout the month, that have impacted their lives and imprinted the cultural experience in America. 

Lacey Manuel - Shop Buyer

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

Devan Shimoyama

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

Butterfly Eater, 2017. Visually, this work is stunning. I am drawn to the bold colors and surreal style of the elements together. Symbolically, this work is profound. It challenges held notions of Black masculinity and emphasizes the complexity of intersectional identity. The layers of paint, sequins, and collage seems to reflect the multi layers of the artists race, sexuality, and gender. It's just so good. 

Devan Shimoyama often uses his body as the subject in his work to explore an individual as well as a universal narrative of the Black experience. He says, “It’s sort of like using my body as a kind of archetypal character, through which I explore those narratives. I’m kind of constructing my own invented mythology of the queer Black male.” 

Oil, flashe, sequins, color pencil, beads, collage and jewerly on canvas
 Butterfly Eater, 2017


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

Devan Shimoyama’s Dazzling Paintings Reimagine Black Masculinity

Lisa Strachan - Grants Writer

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

For me, my biggest draw will always be dance, and my heart always falls with ballet (the opposite of contemporary, lol). I love Misty Copeland, the first African American Female Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre. She is an inspiration to me, and the entire ballet community as the art form continues to struggle with diversity and inclusion. 

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

She is a leader in creating inclusivity in the ballet world by being vocal about the importance of having a variety of tones for pointe shoes. Up until 2019, most major companies only carried one color known as “Pink Satin” or “European Pink” and lacked any type of tone diversity in the pointe shoes offered. Pointe shoes are literally supposed to be an invisible extension of your leg and foot, so having only one color creates a world of problems for the inclusion of dancers whose skin tone is not “European pink”. 

Misty also didn’t start dancing until she was 13, which is pretty old for anyone who aspires to become elite. She is such an inspiration to the entire dance world, and brings much needed advocacy for diversity in ballet. 

I am a total Misty fangirl! 

Misty Copeland in a yellow ballet tutu, in midst jump, arms elongated
 Misty Copeland in Le Corsaire 

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

Misty Copeland Is American Ballet Theatre's First Black Principal Dancer

Popular dance shoe companies vow to make ballet shoes for dancers of color

Courtney Law - Director of Communications, Partnerships & Digital Initiatives 

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

I was in a yoga class in Brooklyn the first time I heard Alice Coltrane’s music. Three notes into Turiya and Ramakrishna and I was transfixed, and have been ever since. At this point, I had been listening to and studying jazz for twenty years (I’m such a nerd that I took classes from Jazz at Lincoln Center when I lived in New York), but I had somehow never come across her. And I’m really mad about it because I think her genius should be widely known, played, shared, and revered. I don’t know for sure but I suspect that as one of very few female jazz musicians ever, she likely faced both racism and sexism in this country and inside the world of jazz and was largely written out of its history. I relish this opportunity to share what I know about her with you.  

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

Alice McLeod was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1937. She grew up in a musical family and was encouraged by her father to pursue a career in music. She learned from and played with the great Bud Powell in Paris, where she was an intermission pianist at the Blue Note Jazz Club. She moved back to Detroit in 1960 with her daughter from a first marriage and continued playing, forming her own jazz duo and trio. In addition to being brilliant on piano, she was also equally gifted at the harp. She met the already famous jazz saxophonist John Coltrane not long after that. They were married in 1965 and had three children, two of whom also became professional musicians. Alice at one point replaced McCoy Tyner in John’s band. 

Alice and John Coltrane became deeply spiritual in new ways together, exploring all religions and taking a particular mutual interest in Indian philosophy. Their studies and spiritual awakenings greatly influenced their work. John had an untimely death in 1967, after which, in the midst of deep grief, Alice delved deeper and deeper into her spiritual practice. She released thirteen full-length records over the course of nine years and over this time, her music moved away from traditional jazz toward and into the cosmic and spiritual realms. In the 70’s she moved to California, changed her and became a swamini at a Vedantic Center that she founded. 

To me, Alice Coltrane was a mystic, a spiritual guide, a Boddhistava even. And her music bears that out. I lose myself in it, yet I am intensely present at the same time. It transcends time and place. 

This excerpt from a Pitchfork review frames her contribution to music and the world beautifully: “Alice Coltrane’s daughter Sita Michelle once recalled a morning when she was lying in bed before school. She awoke to the sound of a beautiful harp and thought, ‘If heaven is like this, then I’ll be certainly ready to welcome it when I get my chance.’ The story goes that John Coltrane had ordered that harp, but died before it could arrive. Since Alice’s career as a bandleader took off in the years after John’s death, and her practice centered around this silvery new instrument, it’s tempting to see the harp as the gift that he left her to perpetuate their shared musical legacy. But Alice was not Orpheus, and John was not Apollo. To suggest that the harp itself began her career would be to deny the intensity of her talent and do wrong by every wife whose legacy has been yoked to her husband’s.”

black and white photo of Alice Coltrane sitting at a piano, looking off to the right
 Alice Coltrane, photographed by Chuck Stewart

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

Journey in Satchinanda

Meditating On The Healing Power Of Alice Coltrane's 'Journey In Satchidananda'

The Story of A Love Supreme 

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary

Be part of the celebration of Black History Month! Below are events taking place throughout the Denver metro area this weekend and next week. 

FEB. 5

Free Entry to Museo de las Americas 
Museo de las Americas, 12– p.m.

The history and experience of Black people is an important part of our community's past, present and future. For February's First Friday, Museo de las Americas is making the museum free all day long and staying open late for visitors to experience the current exhibition Testigos / Witnesses .

FEB. 6

Virtual 2021 Juanita Gray Community Service Award Presentation 
Online, 1–2 p.m.   
The Denver Public Library honors African American community leaders at the annual Juanita Gray Community Service Award Presentation. This year, please join virtually as we honor men, women and youth who have made outstanding contributions to the Denver metro area and who exemplify the ideals and spirit represented by Gray’s commitment to the community. Registration required.

FEB. 10

The Year 1963 - An Active Minds Event 
Online, 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.

1963 is considered a definitive year in the history of the civil rights movement. It also saw the peak of the Cold War, the seeds of the feminist movement, the rise of the youth culture and the tragic assassination of John F. Kennedy. During this free, live webinar from Active Minds, you'll travel back in time to this key year in history and explore these and other milestone events.

Black History Month: Cleo Parker Robinson Dance
Online, 1–1:45 p.m.

Celebrate Black History Month with Aurora Fox-Cultural Concerts on Colfax, the metro area's largest and longest-running multi-cultural, multi-collaborative concert series. This month's free streaming event features Cleo Parker Robinson Dance  and showcases the music, dance and songs that exemplify the spirit of Black History Month.

FEB. 11

'The Order of Myths: Racism in Mardi Gras Celebrations' - Doc & Talk Series 
Online, 7–8 p.m.
This week the Denver Public Library will host a discussion about this award-winning documentary on the origins of Mardi Gras and the fact that, more than 300 years later, it is still racially segregated. Watch the film at your leisure (available for streaming on Kanopy with your library card) anytime before the online video discussion. 

Generational Curses: The Relationship Between Mental Health and The Black Community
Online, 1–3 p.m.
Join Community College of Denver's Center for Multicultural Engagement and Inclusion in a discussion about the Black community's difficult relationship with mental wellness and the importance of breaking down generational traumas.