Sunday, April 21, 2013

Who's Missing Out in the Cultural Equity Dilemma?

On Friday, South Dallas Cultural Center premiered a new work by Shontina Vernon, a former Dallasite now residing in New York City. Working under her stage name, Tina Vernon, Shontina brought a fresh, dynamic one woman show to our stage that featured her original music and a story that worked both your heart and mind simultaneously. WANTED was a powerful testament to the notion that life can deal you a bum hand but you don't need to crap out of the game unless you choose to. An autobiographical narrative takes us on a journey from Tina Cato's (Shontina's) tumultuous childhood to her ultimate redemption through music/theater/the arts ending in a non-ending of sorts that reminds us that until your life ends, it has the possibility to change. I and the two nights of audience who witnessed this amazing journey were transfixed by Shontina's poetic script and her beautifully lyrical music not to mention the brilliantly filmed video backdrop created by filmmaker Kate Freer. Thanks to National Performance Network, we were able to have “Tina” in residence for a week in which time she conducted an amazing workshop with young women incarcerated in the Henry Wade Juvenile Detention Center. Now that it's all over, I have settled myself and taken the time to reflect on the experience. I might have simply spent the reflection time mulling over the poignancy of Tina's script or the beauty of her music but for the email I received this morning from a friend. This email contained a congratulatory message regarding the SDCC and me being mentioned in a blog post by Darryl Ratcliff regarding the dearth of Black presence in the arts events of the last several weeks in particular, but the Dallas arts world in general. A next generation arts mover and shaker, Darryl has taken demonstrative steps to forge a presence in Dallas and has made tremendous strides in bringing new energy and vision to our arts scene. Although I haven't had the luxury of attending all of his events, I have been following his trajectory with great interest. So it was with both a heavy heart and a sense of slight despair that I read his posts. I wished what he had to say was surprising but unfortunately, what this young man, this visionary and committed young artist activist has discovered is what I've been ranting about for too many years i.e racism is alive and well in the world of the arts. I won't go into all the revelations he voiced because Lord knows I've voiced them enough in this blog. What the posts made me reflect on is the WANTED experience and how glaringly absent the white theater community was in the audience. It made me sad that such a stellar piece of theater was missed by so many who would have been thrilled by it; missed it only because it happened in Sunny South Dallas at a facility they never venture to. I wondered about the many times I have trekked over to the Dallas Theater Center or Undermain or SMU to see work and seen few if any Blacks in the audience. I also thought about how many times we've had to beg to get reviewers out to see our work and although I am a firm believer that being critiqued doesn't necessarily help your work, particularly if the reviewer has no understanding of it, I make this point because it does speak to the segregated nature of the Dallas arts world. I have committed the South Dallas Cultural Center's small resources to the development of new work by African diaspora artists because I understand the necessity of keeping the art of creating alive. That's what keeps the arts alive and fresh. My commitment to the next generation stems from an understanding that if I don't support them, no one will! So with the help of National Performance Network's Creation Fund/Forth Fund and a program I created called Diaspora Performing Arts Commissioning Program, I am able to give these next generation artists a glimmer of hope in their artistic journey and a platform from which to showcase their work. I hope one day our city will grow to appreciate ALL of its creative resources and proffer support in an environment of cultural equity. I guess I'll just have to wait and see if this hope is in vain...

1 comment:

Lauren Cross's Art Blog said...

Excellent and well-stated post! I spotted your blog through Darryl's Facebook page and I really applaud the work that you are doing in the community. I am working to accomplish similar strides in Fort Worth. Thanks for being a great model to follow!

Best, Lauren Cross
Director/Curator, WoCA Projects