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About the Project

Birdland jazz club, right, 2203 E Madison Street, Seattle, ca. 1955. (Courtesy of University of Washington, Special Collections, 18092)

Mission

Black Arts Legacies highlights the long-standing, vital and ongoing role of Black artists and arts organizations in Seattle.

Origins

The first seeds of this project were planted in late 2020, after COVID-19 had upended the local arts economy, and the Black Lives Matter protests had prompted cultural organizations throughout the Northwest to examine their approach to issues of race.

On behalf of the Seattle Arts Commission, arts advocates Vivian Phillips and Dr. Quinton Morris approached Crosscut with an idea: a project that would “present a holistic view of a Black art ecosystem that embraces and uplifts the resilient, visionary and incomparable brilliance of Black arts that exists in our region.”

The goal was to create a celebratory and educational tool that illuminates the history and ongoing legacy of significant Black artists who have contributed to the city’s vibrancy. Framed as a kind of digital yearbook, the concept was to illustrate Black artists as cultural bearers, cultural commentators and essential cultural contributors.

Crosscut, with its commitment to reporting on the local arts community while striving to create a more just, equitable and sustainable society, embraced the idea and got to work.

Approach

Black Arts Legacies is a growing archive of video profiles, written accounts, portrait photography and audio stories. The inaugural effort recognizes an intergenerational group of 26 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 song, script, brush strokes, choreography, architecture and poetry.

You’ll get to know these artists through written profiles, portrait photography, a podcast about the Black arts spaces that have fostered Black creativity, and five videos that each highlight two artists working in the same genre across different time periods. These videos will also be broadcast on KCTS 9 every Thursday evening in June.

Storytellers

Black Arts Legacies is made possible by the work of Black storytellers. Project editors Kemi Adeyemi and Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud researched and wrote the artist profiles that anchor this series. Tifa Tomb, a filmmaker and director, is the project’s video producer, assisted by Gabriella Segovia-Breaux as video series editor. Brooklyn Jamerson-Flowers produced our podcast about Black arts spaces, while photographer Meron Menghistab shot striking, in-depth portraits that aligned artists with the work they make. Meshell Sturgis, our research assistant, provided a variety of support across this project.

grid with profile photos
Top row from left to right: Kemi Adeyemi, Brooklyn Jamerson-Flowers, Jasmine Mahmoud, Meron Menghistab. Bottom row from left to right: Vivian Phillips, Gabriella Segovia-Breaux, Meshell Sturgis, Tifa Tomb.

Storyteller Bios

Kemi Adeyemi, Project Editor

Kemi is associate professor of gender, women and sexuality studies at the University of Washington, where she founded and directs The Black Embodiments Studio, an arts writing incubator and public programming initiative that builds discourse around contemporary Black art. Learn more about Kemi.

Brooklyn Jamerson-Flowers, Podcast Producer

Brooklyn is the emerging journalist fellow at Crosscut, where she works on podcasts. She is also the creator, host, producer and researcher of the history podcast We the (Black) People and a graduate of the University of Chicago, where she studied history. Learn more about Brooklyn.

Jasmine Mahmoud, Project Editor

Jasmine is assistant professor of theater history and performance studies at the University of Washington, where she holds an affiliate appointment in art history. She co-edited Makeshift Chicago Stages: A Century of Theater and Performance. Learn more about Jasmine.

Meron Menghistab, Photographer

Meron is a Seattle-based photographer who works primarily in portraiture and narrative-based photography that seeks to reveal the commonality between his subject and his viewers. A sense of community is an important aspect of his vision and is ever-present in his storytelling. Learn more about Meron.

Vivian Phillips, Consulting Producer

Vivian Phillips is an arts and strategic communications professional. She is a former Seattle Arts Commission Chair, and also chaired the board of 4Culture. She is the founder and editor in chief of Arte Noir, and is leading the development of the Arte Noir arts and cultural space at Midtown Square. Learn more about Vivian.

Gabriella Segovia-Breaux, Video Series Editor

Gabriella is a film editor, cinematographer and musician currently based out of Los Angeles. Gabriella (also known as Euca) has been present in the creative community of Seattle for many years, supporting filmmakers, visual artists and nonprofit organizations. Learn more about Gabriella.

Meshell Sturgis, Research Assistant

Meshell is a scholar, critic and artist currently living south of Seattle. She is also a Ph.D. candidate in the department of communication at the University of Washington and a contributor to the journals A Year in Black Art, New Archives and Art Practical. Learn more about Meshell.

Tifa Tomb, Video Producer

Tifa is a Seattle-area filmmaker who produces and edits feature-length and short narrative and nonfiction work. She also works as a media producer at the University of Washington and directed the short film Retch, which won Best Film at the 2020 Seattle Black Film Festival. Learn more about Tifa.

Crosscut Support Staff

Brangien Davis, Arts & Culture Editor/Project Manager

Chelsea Lee, Lead Website Developer

Genna Martin, Associate Photo Editor

Grace Palmieri, Social Media Editor

Greg Cohen, Design Director

Jingting Liu, Website Developer

M. David Lee III, Executive Editor

Margo Vansynghel, Arts & Culture Reporter

Mark Baumgarten, Managing Editor

Martina Pansze, Newsletter Editor

Sara Bernard, Podcast Producer

Sarah Hoffman, Video Producer

Sarah Menzies, Director of Videography


Share your stories

Care to answer a few questions about Black arts in Seattle? Responses may appear in our weekly Black Arts Legacies newsletter or on our Instagram.

Many Thanks To Our Sponsors

Meta
BECU
Frye Art Museum
Seattle Art Museum
Eckerhaus Consulting
FairVote Washington
DoubleXposure
Seattle Office of Arts & Culture
Seattle Arts Commission