New arts leader: 'Where are all the black folks in town?' | KUOW News and Information

New arts leader: 'Where are all the black folks in town?'

Jan 3, 2018

The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle's Central District is a hub for black performing arts.

For years the programming at the institute was run by the city. But now a new nonprofit is taking over with new leadership.

It's called LANGSTON and its first executive director is Tim Lennon. Lennon spoke with KUOW's Kim Malcolm about what the change means for the city's African American arts community.

"The critical need was for an independent, community-based programming entity that can do the work of bringing the programming that the community needs, in a responsible way, separate from the functions of city government," Lennon said. 

Interview Highlights

What can a community-based model can provide for building the arts that may not come in another way?

Lennon: "I think that being a part of the community that we are presenting to, I mean, being essentially our target audience, is a critical asset that we have at LANGSTON and other community-based organizations and the arts have.

"There is no sort of 'one size fits all' for any community in terms of the arts."

Describe what you would love to see in a typical week at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.

"The need that we're trying to fill is for a community gathering place — a place that answers the question that every black person in Seattle hears from every other black person, whether they're new to town, working for Amazon, or newly moved out of town to the entering suburbs: 'Where we at?'

"You know, 'where are the black folks in town?'

"So in a typical week, I want to have folks attending really great programming, but also just engaging in community and engaging in fellowship, just being with one another and exploring our worlds, our culture together."

The nonprofit LANGSTON is now running programming at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in the Central District.
Credit Wikipedia Photo/Joe Mabel (CC BY SA 3.0)/

How would you describe the state of black art right now in the city?

"Incredible. There are just so many beautiful black artists working in this town right now. It's kind of overwhelming.

"I think in the sense of talent, in the scope of the work that black artists are producing in Seattle, it's never been better.

"I think where we're lacking is in our own institutions."

And that lack is?

"The lack is in organizations by us and for us.

"There are a lot of great artists that are putting on shows for traditionally white organizations, great organizations. But there's a difference between seeing black performance at On the Boards or visual art at SAM and seeing it in our own home."

Why does there need to be a protected space that's set apart for black artists in this way?

"I mean, the flippant answer is, 'Why do we need to have so many organizations dedicated to white art and white artists?'

"But I think that really it comes down to creating a space where black art can be developed and can grow and thrive.

"There are so many artists that have come out of Seattle, so many black artists have come out of Seattle, that have enriched the lives of everybody in Seattle and people around the world.

"And I think having a space where we can develop the next generation of world-changing artists is really critical and important to not just the black community, but to Seattle at large.

"There are very few organizations run by people of color in Seattle. Our hope is that we will be developing the next generation of black arts leaders in addition to black artists themselves."

How will you measure success?

"When I see a young black person just light up at seeing somebody who looks like them on stage or seeing visual art that represents them and becomes inspired to pursue the arts themselves."