The Way Forward, The Survival of Harlem’s Legendary Arts & Culture Scene

In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, the new normal is the main topic of discussion among arts and cultural organizations throughout the country. In New York City— the center of the largest arts community in the world—the Broadway community, historic museums, and large nonprofit organizations seek ways to traverse the difficult scenarios brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. While creativity and talent abound, with little access to audiences how can the arts survive?

The Harlem Cultural Collaborative consists of the larger cultural organizations in the community, including the Apollo Theater, Harlem School of the Arts, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Caribbean Cultural Center, National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jazzmobile, The African Center, National Black Theater, Harlem Stage, and Studio Museum in Harlem. Via regular Zoom conferences, they share ideas and resources.

However, as we know, this pandemic has had an even more severe effect on small organizations and individual artists. They have had to cancel their cultural presentations in nightclubs, art galleries, museums, libraries, schools, theaters, etc.— resulting in professional and personal devastation for many of them.

Harlem Arts Alliance (HAA), an arts service membership organization founded in 2001 and chaired by Voza Rivers, has cultivated a dynamic membership of artists and organizations based in Harlem, who play an essential role in guarding the reputation of Harlem as the cultural capital of the African Diaspora. HAA is the only arts service organization of its kind in Harlem and through its workshops, seminars, symposiums, and advocacy, has nurtured the artistic growth and development of artists, as well as arts and cultural organizations based in upper Manhattan and its surrounding communities.

In collaboration with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, The Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce Arts & Culture Committee, the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance, and Community Boards 9 and 10 Arts & Culture Committees, HAA has initiated a series of virtual town hall meetings sharing strategies that acknowledge and assist in preparing the upper Manhattan arts and culture communities for a sustainable future by engaging public, corporate, and private funders to share resources and inviting government officials to participate and examine how they can increase their resources and guidance.

“As a result of these important conferences we have learned about the many and multiple challenges the individual artists, small, and mid-sized cultural organizations are facing,” explained Chairman Rivers. “Our statistical information projects that up to 50 percent of artists and small not-for profit institutions that have closed their doors will not be able to open again. Individual artists have no clear sense of when they will be able to perform their work in front of live audiences.”

One of HAA’s major roles is advocacy. For several years, HAA participated in Arts Advocacy Day in
Albany, NY, bringing busloads of artists to advocate for increased funding and resources for artists of color. So successful were these efforts that in 2006 in partnership with New York City Councilmember Inez Dickens, HAA created Harlem Arts Advocacy Week — the first week in October — and in 2012, expanded the initiative throughout the entire month.

Advocacy, audience development, and tourism are integral to the DNA of HAA. It is apparent during this pandemic HAA continues to play a vital role in supporting, advancing, and sharing much needed resources with the segment of the arts community that may not have access to the kinds of discussions larger organizations are able to facilitate.

We firmly believe the way forward for HAA is through innovative action, powered by our collective conviction that in order for communities of color to maintain their cultural legacy, the arts are essential nutrients.

Call 212.862.7200 or email [email protected] to demonstrate your support with funds or other resources.