Dance, art, literature, poetry, and of course, jazz are a few of the cultural achievements that defined the Harlem Renaissance. Juneteenth Cincinnati and the Kennedy Heights Arts Center are partnering to celebrate that time period during Black History Month with an art exhibit and performance series.
A Celebration of the Harlem Renaissance opens Feb. 27 with Reflections of the Harlem Renaissance: The Legacy Continues, an exhibit featuring works by 12 artists honoring the spirit of the era while also drawing connections and sparking conversations.
With COVID-19 keeping people in their homes and limiting events, Juneteenth Cincinnati President Lydia Morgan says, "We wanted to have something that was really sparkling and banging and showing the good life of African Americans in a time when there was a lot of bad things still going on."
The Harlem Renaissance is considered a golden age in African American culture, running from the 1910s-1930s and centered in the New York neighborhood where many people settled after moving north to find a better life. Morgan wants all people, especially children, to see images from that time showing Black people in a positive light.
"During the Harlem Renaissance ... (it) was a really high-riding time for African Americans and they were in many ways doing quite well," she says. "Of course, there were also some who were not doing quite as well, but it was a high-flying time for African Americans, especially in the entertainment field and the literary field at that time."
In Reflections of the Harlem Renaissance: The Legacy Continues, artists look at how that time period transformed the cultural, economic and political landscape.
"The artistic, literary and musical contributions of Harlem Renaissance artists continue to serve as an inspiration for today's artists," writes co-curator Lex Nycole in a release. "It was a time where holding your tongue was scoffed upon and dwelling in your authenticity became the only elixir for success. An era that has paved an impenetrable path to greatness for anyone who so chooses to follow."
For the performance series, four evening virtual events are planed. They include an evening of live jazz music; poetry readings and an open mic night led by poet and performer Jennie Wright; a dance performance by Revolution Dance Theatre showcasing the contributions of African Americans set against the backdrop of Jim Crow laws, racial disparity and inequality; and a second night of live jazz performed by Cincinnati Public Schools students.
The organizers produced art activities and free curriculum for intermediate and high school students to accompany the exhibit and performances.
"I want students to understand the positive impact of African Americans in our country, how big the movement was, to know their history and build their self-esteem," says Morgan. "I want this experience to help them recognize their importance and use it to aspire to greater things."
Reflections of the Harlem Renaissance: The Legacy Continues runs Feb. 27 - March 27 at the Kennedy Heights Arts Center's Lindner Gallery. Admission is free but timed-entry tickets are required.
The performance series is as follows:
An Evening of Jazz
Premieres March 6 at 7:30 p.m. - Available to stream through March 27
Cincinnati Public Schools jazz faculty and prominent local jazz artists perform music of the Harlem Renaissance. Legendary jazz selections such as Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" and "Caravan" and Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin' " will be performed.
At Home in Harlem hosted by Jennie Wright
March 13 at 7:30 p.m.
Poet and performer Jennie Wright will host an immersive poetry experience and open mic via Zoom. Adult and teen poets are invited to sign up for a time slot to read their work and become an active part of the performance through at-home cosplay by picking up "At Home in Harlem" costume kits that contain Harlem Renaissance era "artifacts."
Revolution Dance Theatre - Resilience: Rising to Renaissance
Premieres March 20 at 7:30 p.m. - Available to stream through March 27
Revolution Dance Theatre celebrates the spirit of African American excellence and the legacy of African American resilience in this dance tribute to the Harlem Renaissance. In this spirited work, RDT showcases the incredible artistic contributions made by African Americans against the backdrop of Jim Crow, racial disparity and inequality in America.
CPS Students Perform Music of the Harlem Renaissance
March 27 at 7:30 p.m.
The Cincinnati Public Schools Elementary Jazz Orchestra and the Middle School Jazz Orchestra directed by Dr. Isidore Rudnick present a musical tribute to the great Harlem Renaissance musicians Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Billie Holiday. The orchestras will be joined by special guest artist, brilliant Louisville saxophonist Ron Jones.