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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 8, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 6
New name, same mission - LHPAI preserves African-American culture in a changing Seattle
Arts & Entertainment
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New name, same mission - LHPAI preserves African-American culture in a changing Seattle

by James Whitely - SGN Staff Writer

The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (LHPAI), formerly Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, is one of Seattle's pre-eminent cultural institutions. It's locally focused, city-owned, and serves everyone - particularly populations that historically have been underrepresented and underserved by the arts.

As of January 1, Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center became Langton Hughes Performing Arts Institute. Oversight of the institute (located at 104 17th Ave. S., Seattle) was also moved to the Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs after 40 years under the jurisdiction of Seattle Parks and Recreation.

According to Calandra Childers of the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, the Institute will now be a far better-supported organization.

NO BIG CHANGES PLANNED
'The core of what they do isn't changing,' said Childers. 'We're not making any changes. All the staff are staying the same.'

A new, far more easily accessible website for the institute (www.langstoninstitute.org) has been launched by the Office, which also offers grants to local artists. Some of those artists will now be connected to LHPAI.

Royal Alley-Barnes, LHPAI's executive director, said the institute is now much better poised to give marginalized communities and 'grassroots artists' a clear and easily accessible way to express themselves.

The building itself, a designated city landmark originally built as a synagogue in 1915, recently underwent a $3.3 million renovation and is now seismically retrofitted and ADA-compliant. It features an apartment for its new artist-in-residency program, and the theatre itself - a historic, 287-seat auditorium - has a plethora of new features to give local artists far more options than they've had before.

Alley-Barnes said that the electrical system used to be so fragile that one night when she was sending an e-mail during a show, a co-worker ran to tell her she had browned out the theater, simply by turning her computer on.

HERE'S YOUR VENUE
Alley-Barnes says if you're starving for an aesthetic, or a vehicle for one, it's right around the corner.

LHPAI is a very busy place that offers workshops and performances ranging from dance and theater to hip-hop, poetry and many other art forms. The institute does regular open mics, which are intergenerational and regularly draw more than 100 participants. This event aligns with one of the institute's core values: open access without censorship.

'Visual culture' and 'performance culture,' what Alley-Barnes prefers to call what goes on at LHPAI, especially for traditionally underrepresented and underserved populations within the city, is intrinsically connected to social justice.

'Ideas, images and symbols really connect or disconnect us,' Alley-Barnes told SGN.

Some of the performance art that's produced at LHPAI can shatter patrons' preconceived notions of symbols and ideas. Sometimes people even leave angry. But again, it comes back to the institute's value of open access without censorship. Alley-Barnes believes that if art doesn't immediately teach us something, it opens the door for a dialectic conversation to take place.

BLACK HISTORY MONTH
LHPAI has many special events planned for February, Black History Month, including a one-man show about Paul Robeson (an actor and singer during the Harlem Renaissance, who was later blacklisted for his political activism); Cleo Parker Robinson's world-renowned dance ensemble (which, in addition to performing, will participate in both youth and adult dance workshops); and much more. See the website for details.

This April also marks the 10th anniversary of the institute's signature film festival, which began as a weekend-only event. The Langston Hughes African American Film Festival now lasts more than a week and features local as well as international contributions along with film workshops and guest speakers.

LHPAI also rents its space for weddings, with package deals priced at $2,000, $5,000, and $8,000. If desired, the ceremony can take on a Harlem Renaissance theme, complete with actors, costumes, and live music.

Alley-Barnes calls LHPAI a 'risk-free environment' where discussions around the arts are always welcome - it's their line of business. If you're an artist, get in touch with them. If you're a lover of the arts, go see a show there. Learn more at www.langstoninstitute.org.

'Our city would be adrift without its artists, and our artists are one of our most vulnerable populations,' said Alley-Barnes. 'The arts give us a voice.'

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