Artists sustain cultural vitality


It was a genius-rich gathering. Artists explored their work and their gifts in a robust exchange being broadcast live from the Guthrie Theatre thrust stage at Vineland Place.

“I am just so blessed by the richness that we have here this morning. We have spoken word artists; we have dancers; we have poets; we have incredible playwrights and members of the community who are here in this space to celebrate the identity through African American art forms. This is just a small pool of people. But we are spread out broadly within the Twin Cities as a whole,” T. Mychael Rambo told the “Conversations with Al McFarlane Public Policy Forum” October 10th.

“But for art to exist as a part of our culture, we have to continue supporting art by giving our wealth. To be born in the spirit and to claim your blessing is an amazing thing. I think sometimes we failed to realize what great wealth and blessing we have here. Both Sharon Washington and Sterling Brown have brought to the Guthrie stage an incredible craft that they have accumulated from years of study, from great expertise, but also from living from inside out. From really turning the shows and their spirit out to audiences in ways that show the amazing spirit, the depth, the warmth and the reality that exists in each of us,” said Rambo.

“As African Americans,” he said, “we live in a hyphenated culture. We have always claimed Africa because that is our heritage. But I know that my family is also Native American. It is Irish. It is French and Portuguese. So as people of the African Diaspora, we need to stand on the commitment to tell our own story. The way that we can knit the culture and the fabric of our community is to tell our story. Despite the chaos, despite the madness, we must tell our story, in spite of those who tell us not to tell. Theatre does that. Music does that. The written word does that. It must be present in the way we dress, the way we cook and the way we be as Black people. I think sometimes we forget that our blackness is what makes us so strong. We forget that and we step away from it.”

He noted, “we just lost the cornerstone of the African tradition, August Wilson. The Penumbra Theatre has celebrated his work for many, many years. Because of what he brought to the Twin Cities by starting the Playwright Center, by writing much of his work here, the Twin Cities has been put on the map by August Wilson. He certainly spoke to tell our story and telling it well.”

“Why we are here, all of what you do by bringing this Forum to the airwaves is just another of the many things we have to do as Black people. When we see each other, I firmly believe that we have to see Black people. When we see each other, we must look straight in each other’s eyes. Are you my brother? Are you my sister? We are each other’s brothers and sisters. We are each other’s family. And if we don’t look at each other and see each other, we are not going to collectively be able to knit up our fabric,” Rambo concluded.

Regina Marie Williams added, “I agree with T. Mychael that the death of August Wilson is a great loss to us at Penumbra and the entire black community in the twin cities. I didn’t know him as a person, but we felt a loss. To be able to speak his words was such a blessing. I got to do several of those pieces at Penumbra.”

Williams and Rambo were joined by artists including Kenna-Camera Cottman, Shá Cage, Maya Washington and James Craven.

Asked about the Black Choreographers Evening, Cottman replied, “Black Choreographer Evening, which just completed its third annual showing, is a gathering of people working in the Black Dance genre, which includes Tap, Hip Hop, Jazz, modern, traditional African, and Afro-inspired modern dance. They are Black choreographers, who are themselves Black and they are also people that are working in the genre of Black Dance. It is an opportunity that I try to provide these artists to present their work to the Twin Cities community.”

“Patriot Acts is an interdisciplinary multi-media performance that will take place at the Varsity Theatre from November 7-9. This show explores the idea of telling our own story and how we do that together. We brought together 15 artists to cross these artificial lines of separation that keep us separated from each other. We are asking questions like: What is freedom? What is patriotism? What does freedom feel like? How do we tell our stories? How can we continue to create this bond? We really hope that the community can come out to see this magnificent piece of work,” Shá Cage said on the Independent Public Radio broadcast.

Other artists on the show included Thomasina Petrus, Sharon Washington (Intimate Apparel), Sterling Brown (Intimate Apparel), Kimberly Morgan (Pillsbury House Theatre – Hotcomb, The Story), Shawn Hamilton (Guthrie – His Girl Friday; Mixed Blood; CTC; Jungle, etc.) and Warren Bowles (Mixed Blood Theatre – Radical Optimism), Rosa Bogar, Essie Kammin, Naima Richmond, E.G. Bailey.