Thanks to our Title Sponsor
BECU is proud to support Black Arts Legacies. Learn more ›
Black Arts Legacies recognizes an intergenerational group of local musicians, dancers, visual artists, poets, performers, curators and architects, whose creative expressions document the complexity of being a Black artist in Seattle. Theirs are stories of being the first, of contending with discrimination and breaking down barriers, of long careers and careers cut short, and of building community through the arts. Their stories help make sense of who we are — as a city and as a region — through songs, scripts, brush strokes, choreography, architecture and poetry. Learn more about the origins and aims of the project here.
TV producer, host
Muralist, apparel designer
Painter, musician, educator
Visual artist, educator
Musician, Arts Facilitator
Theater Director, Educator
Theater Producer, Poet
Visual Artist, Curator
Poet, Visual Artist
Visual Artist, Graphic Designer
Theater Producer, Director
Seattle playwright Cheryl L. West is known for bringing complicated historical figures to life, including Fannie Lou Hamer, the American civil rights activist from Mississippi. Here, actress E. Faye Butler plays the lead in Fannie: The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. (Liz Lauren)
Seattle poet Quenton Baker's latest collection, ballast, is based on a U.S. Senate document detailing the only successful shipboard revolt of enslaved people in American history. Baker redacts the official text to tell a new, untold story about the people who made the remarkable choice to fight back. (Meron Menghistab for Crosscut)
The late Northwest television titan Nate Long was devoted to diversifying the airwaves with Black stories and voices. As part of these efforts, he created the TV series South by Northwest, detailing the early history of Black people in the Pacific Northwest. Here, a still from an episode about Black cowboys. (Courtesy of Washington State University)
Artist and longtime Seattle teacher Preston Wadley believes in the importance of engaging your brain with art.
Conversations about Black arts venues in the neighborhood led to stories of creation, loss and preservation.
“My favorite way of making art is in collaboration with other folks who know music is only made richer with dance,” says multi-instrumentalist Ben Hunter. “They go hand in hand.”
Since moving to Seattle more than 15 years ago, Hunter has used music to build space and community for local artists of many genres. And boy, has he been busy.
Thanks to our Sponsors
Though the Madrona theater closed in 1980, several artists trace their current work to its heyday.
Syvilla Fort helped put Seattle dance on the map and influenced generations of dancers.
The late couple’s house in Seattle’s Central District is now a cultural center that inspires the next generation of creatives.
“Creativity is the essence of existence. That’s my belief, why we’re here. Turning something from nothing is what it’s all about, ” muralist and apparel designer Takiyah Ward says.
“It’s self-expression. Being able to stand out from the crowd has always been very important to me because I’ve always considered myself a little bit of an outcast — being an artist, being queer, navigating those spaces at a young age. It’s also armor.”
Seattle actor/playwright Reginald André Jackson pays tribute to the Black theater-makers who paved the way.
Transformed by a 1960s urban relief program, a former synagogue has fostered generations of Black artists even as the neighborhood around it changes.
"Although my work was praised, particularly in illustration, fashion design, figure painting and other commercial lines, I was flatly refused any position, again because of color," Milt Simons wrote.
"Many times I have broken up brushes, thrown away my paints and work in deep remorse and bewilderment. But I am an artist. To function is to create.”
Singer/songwriter Tiffany Wilson started out her career in a gospel group signed with Hendrix Records called SOUL. After a brief period in Los Angeles where she worked as a songwriter for other artists, she returned to the Pacific Northwest and has remained ever since. She's independently released two records, with a third underway. (Meron Menghistab for Crosscut)
Ernestine Anderson had a voice that Quincy Jones described as "the sound of honey at dusk." She recorded over 30 albums and was a four-time nominee at the Grammy's. A Seattle local through and through, she won the Golden Umbrella at Bumbershoot in 2002. (Courtesy of Museum of History and Industry)
Singer Tina Bell was the frontwoman of the proto-grunge band Bam Bam in the 1980s and '90s. Bell was born and raised in Seattle, and formed Bam Bam with her then-husband Tommy Martin. Known for her fierce stage presence and large vocal range, Bell continues to inspire local musicians today such as the Black Tones. (Photo by Cyndia Lavik)
The Central District institution has a complicated backstory and an important role to play for Seattle's Black arts community.