Photo: courtesy of The Apollo the Apollo Theater
I recently had the honor and pleasure of participating in a gathering of thought leaders at an Uptown Hall meeting commemorating the 45th Anniversary of HARLEM WEEK to discuss the role of cultural and arts organizations in preserving Harlem’s cultural traditions and advancing change. Produced by L. Adé Williams, this meeting at the world-famous Apollo Theater, was a very important exchange of ideas, especially considering the continued gentrification of Harlem.
These are some of the thoughts I shared:
- Seek and cultivate a deeper commercial investment from the film and theater community.
- Promote and preserve anchor institutions, such as the Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture, the Studio Museum in Harlem, Dance Theatre of Harlem, The Apollo, Harlem Stage and Harlem School of the Arts.
- Engage more of the faith-based community as churches expand their vision and outreach to grow their congregations.
- Become more of an incubator for emerging artists to present, perform and exhibit.
- Continue to respond to the community’s technology needs. Drive engagement and lead with innovation.
- Support ongoing anchor initiatives, such as HARLEM WEEK, which is now in its 45th year; the African American Day Parade, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and Dance Theatre of Harlem, which also is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
- Tourism continues to expand in New York City, and Harlem is a hot spot.
- I have been in the business of deliverables for a long time and HARLEM WEEK is at the top of that list for excellence—for its exhibitors, vendors, honorees, participants and the community. With the expanded partnerships, broad-based media platforms, any participation ensures high visibility. The publicity has been enhanced through support from the New York State Governor’s office and the 2018 I LOVE NY HARLEM
- Last year HARLEM WEEK had 250 million impressions. Within five years, I envision HARLEM WEEK will become one of the country’s most popular destination events.
- HARLEM WEEK is a template for multicultural festivals that can be used globally. Because Harlem also is a state of mind, HARLEM WEEK can take place anywhere in the world.
I know Harlem residents are concerned about the encroachment of cookie-cutter stores. However, the commercial expansion will not and cannot happen in a vacuum. These businesses and corporations will need a touchstone to engage the community; an entry-point. I believe that touchstone must include cultural institutions like HARLEM WEEK. At the same time, it is up to the community to establish boundaries. How will that be done?
The history of Harlem is infused with its cultural identity—from the Harlem Renaissance to its cornerstone institutions. Harlem also has a powerful history of dynamic and influential leaders—public officials; faith-based leaders; heads of civic and social associations, as well as heads of educational institutions. Ultimately, I believe the unity of Harlem’s leadership, including those responsible for its cultural organizations, is the key to helping the community retain its focus and sustain its heritage.
Let’s ensure that the legacy of Harlem is not diluted due to changing demographics. There is no need to be afraid of gentrification; let’s be smart, resourceful and entrepreneurial. Let’s look for the advantages, benefits and opportunities—driven by the determination that we have more to gain, rather than the fear that we have something to lose.