HARLEM WEEK’S Spotlight on Broadway

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August 20, 2023—Last week, along with Tony Award-winning producer Irene Gandy, I had the honor of moderating the HARLEM WEEK Arts & Culture/Broadway Summitt. This was our fourth annual virtual summit, which provided an update on the demands for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access both on and off Broadway.

With the current escalation of culture wars aiming to cancel the history of and stories about people of color and the LGBTQ+ community, we know arts and culture are the changemakers for illuminating the values of racial equity and social justice. The arts promote respect for the dignity of all people and, at the core of all its diverse stories, exhibit the universality of the human experience.

That’s why I believe virtual summits like this one are so important. They make it possible for all of us to learn from perspectives of leaders in our field who are making a significant impact. This year’s dynamic panel was comprised of some of the most passionate thought leaders in the arts today. They shared some important insights based on the 2023 HARLEM WEEK theme, “Be the Change—Hope, Joy, Love.” We asked each of the panelists to share their experiences of serving as changemakers in their respective positions; we asked how hope, joy, and love manifests in their work and in their personal lives, and we wanted to know what they are excited about as they look to the future.

The virtual summit was conducted in two, 30-minute segments, to ensure that the audience had the opportunity to hear and learn from these powerhouse arts leaders. Both parts can be found at this link.

The Part 1 participants were:

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, who is a member of the Broadway League’s Board of Governors; serves as Vice President of Cultural Affairs at Arizona State University, and is Executive Director of ASU Gammage, the largest college presenting organization in the country. ASU Gammage also includes Broadway productions.

Lawryn LaCroix is a resident producer for The Shubert Organization’s “Artistic Circle,” and also a new member of the Broadway League. A Texas native, she is a graduate of the MA Creative Producing program at The Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London. She also was an associate producer of the recent Broadway production, POTUS.

Debra Ann Byrd is a director, producer, classically-trained actor, writer and the founder of Take Wing and Soar Productions, where she serves as Chief Executive and Producing Artistic Director, and the founder of the Harlem Shakespeare Festival. She established Take Wing and Soar to provide opportunities for classically-trained actors of color who needed support, encouragement, preparation, and direction for pursuing career opportunities performing classical theater.

And the Part 2 panelists were:

Marcia Lynn Sells is the first-ever Chief Diversity Officer of the Metropolitan Opera. She joined the Met from Harvard Law School, where she served as Dean of students and led her team in the creation and implementation of a wide range of diversity programs. She also held positions at Columbia University’s Law School, and once served as an Assistant District Attorney for the state of New York. Ms. Sells began her career in the arts as a dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem.

Michael Dinwiddie is an associate professor of dramatic writing and the history of African American theater at New York University’s Gallatin. He was the catalyst behind the university’s new theater space being named the African Grove Theatre, a living memorial to the Black theater founded in 1821, that transformed the history of American theatrical arts.

Rosalba Rolón is artistic director of Pregones /Puerto Rican Theater Traveling Theater, which a merger of two leading, Latinx arts organization. Rosalba founded Pregones in 1979, and merged with Miriam Colon’s Puerto Rican Traveling Theater in 2014. Today, the merged arts organization represents a multigenerational performing ensemble, multidiscipline arts presenter, and owner/steward of bilingual arts performances. The mission of Pregones/PRTT is to champion the Puerto Rican/Latinx cultural legacy of universal value through creation and performance of original plays and musicals, exchange and partnership with other artists of merit, and engagement of diverse audiences.

The call to action to protect the arts and expand access needs to be louder than ever, and we are grateful for our panelists’ frontline efforts. These six arts leaders are actively pushing open doors and avidly working to create opportunities for future generations of artists of color.

I believe you will find their answers to our questions noteworthy, provocative, and inspiring. I urge the readers of Arts& Culture Connections to make the time to listen to both panel discussions, which can be found at this link. As always, I invite you to share your comments below


 PS: Irene and I are both members of the HARLEM WEEK Board of Directors, and we would like to thank the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, which has sponsored this monumental culture festival for 49 years, and the Schubert Organization’s Executive Vice President Charles Flateman, a longtime friend and supporter of HARLEM WEEK, who gave opening remarks for the virtual summit.

3 thoughts on “HARLEM WEEK’S Spotlight on Broadway

  1. It was so informative and I love the passion of the panelists passion
    for the Arts. Only Donna Walker Kuhne who moderated could address the issues with such style and grace.

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