February 9, 2021

Celebrate Black History Month: MCA Staff Shares 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 artists/creators, throughout the month, that have impacted their lives and imprinted the cultural experience in America. Stories will be shared weekly on our blog. 

Mike Zubrinic - Cafe and Bar Associate

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

One contemporary African American artist who has specifically influenced my ethos and speaks to me emotionally is the musician/producer, Flying Lotus.  The style of music he has helped advance is rooted in experimental hip hop beats, continuing the work of J Dilla, meshed with electronic elements such as IDM, and the incorporation of other black music such as soul and jazz.

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

My favorite work from this artist is the album Los Angeles.  This album really helped progress the burgeoning Los Angeles beat scene in the late 2000s and added a touch of experimentation, for example the incorporation of jazz harp samples from his biological aunt, Alice Coltrane.  His debut album for Warp Records also jump-started his career and led to the implementation of his own record label, Brainfeeder.  Brainfeeder is an independent label that represents electronic and hip hop musicians and has been leading to renewed interest in the Los Angeles jazz scene, with help from their artists Thundercat and Kamasi Washington.

Image of artist, Flying Lotus, with a blue light casting down on hist face, that is engulfed in thick red smoke against a black background
Photo by Tim Saccenti via instagram/flyinglotus

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


Clock Catcher

Flying Lotus: Inside the Mind of a Mad Beat Scientist - Rolling Stone

Music From Death's Doorstep: A Conversation with Flying Lotus - NPR

Clare Sobon - Development Officer

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

Kehinde Wiley

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

I had seen his 2007 Piece Officer of The Hussars in high school and was fascinated by how he converged yet uplifted black men in a different light. 

I remember seeing it and being truly in awe of the oddness of worlds and cultures he had merged together in this piece. He made history in also being the artist behind the portrait of President Barack Obama Forty-fourth president  featured exhibition at National Portrait Gallery. His ability to create work that shines a light on black people but in such a different way, for me gives power and hope in living my life, as a black woman, boldly and as authentic as possible.

Black male dressed in a white tank top and blue jeans, sneakers, atop a white horse with a cheetah print saddle. Set against a red back drop that has gilded graphics around the male
Officer of the Hassars, 2007

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

Officer of the Hussars, 2007

Cheyenne Michaels - Digital Producer

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

Playwright Branden Jacobs Jenkins

Share/discuss your favorite work from this artist?

I've had the pleasure of seeing two of MacArthur grant recipient Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' plays: An Octoroon at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in DC in 2017 and Gloria at Curious Theatre here in Denver in 2019.

An Octoroon remains to this day one of my all-time favorite plays and I love to talk about it. It's an adaptation/deconstruction of a play written in 1859 that takes place on a slave plantation. Jenkins takes the original source material and turns it on its head, critiquing the portrayal of race then and now. It miraculously manages to balance laugh-out-loud humor with gut-wrenching, gasp-worthy moments that make you think critically about race.

Gloria seemingly starts out as being about the office drama and politics of a prestigious magazine until the harrowing end of the first act when an outcast employee pulls a gun on her fellow colleagues, killing several. The second act shows the fallout of the survivors in the aftermath as they juggle with processing their own trauma and fighting over who gets to turn their experience into a book deal.

Jenkins doesn't shy away from challenging topics and his plays are always filled with layers to unpack. In this time of COVID, I desperately miss the in-person experience of attending the theatre, especially for plays like Branden Jacobs-Jenkins where the collective audience experience is something you can never get from Netflix. Those moments that are especially present in his plays where everyone in the audience is holding their breath, waiting for the next line, are something I can't wait to experience again.

Playwright, Branden Jacobs Jenkins, sitting angled in blue jeans and dark tee shirt, hands clasped and his has a joyful smile.
Photo by Gregory Costanzo

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

Watch an interview with Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins

Buy the script for An Octoroon

Buy the script for Gloria

**Be part of the celebration of Black History Month! Below are events taking place throughout the Denver/Metro area February 11 – February 18.

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. 

FEB. 17

'We’re Better Than This' - A Discussion of Congressman Cummings' Political Memoir 
Online 5–6 p.m.
Join Denver Public Library for an evening with Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings (the Founder, President, and CEO of Global Policy Solutions), congressman Elijah Cummings' widow, and co-author James Dale as they discuss Elijah Cummings' inspiring book, "We’re Better Than This." Registration required.

Ragtime & the Music of Scott Joplin - An Active Minds Event 
Online, 1:30–2:30 p.m.
Take a musical journey into the world of ragtime and Scott Joplin during this free, live webinar from Active Minds. Examine ragtime's origins in African American traditions, its emergence among Tin Pan Alley tunes and its surge in popularity in the early 20th century. 

FEB. 18

'Thunder Soul' - Doc & Talk Series 
Online, 7–8 p.m.
This week the Denver Public Library will host a discussion about the documentary "Thunder Soul," which follows alumni from Houston's storied Kashmere High School Stage Band as they return home after 35 years to play a tribute concert for their beloved band leader who turned the struggling jazz band into a world-class funk powerhouse in the early 1970s. Watch the film at your leisure (available for streaming on Kanopy with your library card) anytime before the online video discussion.

The Breakbeat Poets: A Night of Poetry and Performance

Online, 6pm

Join us for a virtual poetry reading and performance by The BreakBeat Poets on February 18th at 6pm. Idris Goodwin, Alexa Patrick, Lisa Marie Rollins, and Marcus Wicker will be performing - and you can purchase their books and the anthologies they’re featured in through this page! Register for the event via zoom.


In case you missed last week's staff share, click here.