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Black Arts Legacies

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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.

Meet the artists

Bringing Black history to the present

A woman in period costume holds a sign that reads "To hope is to vote" in one hand and a lantern in the other

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)

A person gestures as they read out loud from a book they hold in their hand

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)

A sepia still of Black cowboys talking

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)

Multimedia art with a mission

Artist and longtime Seattle teacher Preston Wadley believes in the importance of engaging your brain with art. (Video by Tifa Tomb)

Podcast: Exploring decades of arts and culture in the Central District

Aerial view of a neighborhood, students exiting a bus, man in front of a school, four children dancing

Conversations about Black arts venues in the neighborhood led to stories of creation, loss and preservation.

Expression through movement

A woman sits in a dance position on a block with one arm on her waist and the other above her head, one knee down and the other up
Person in tight dance leotards with hands up in the air in ballet pose
Person with arms outstretched in front of black screen
Person in black suit in front of black screen, as dancers dance besides him
A man sits on a stool and plays the violin

Blending genres to redefine folk

“My favorite way of making art is in collaboration with other folks who know music is only made richer with dance,” Hunter says. “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.

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Podcast: The afterlives of Seattle’s groundbreaking Black Arts/West theater

Street sign, building and playbill

Though the Madrona theater closed in 1980, several artists trace their current work to its heyday.

The soul of Northwest rock ‘n’ roll

Meet the Seattle music pioneer Dave Lewis and see how the contemporary band The Black Tones is carrying the DNA of Northwest rock forward.

Foundational influencers

A man sits with a child, appearing to read a book with her
Person in black and white photo on orange and yellow
Bird carved out of stone
Three story building with square windows

Podcast: How James and Janie Washington sculpted a legacy

Three photos of a home and one of a sculptor

The late couple’s house in Seattle’s Central District is now a cultural center that inspires the next generation of creatives.

Person in pink room with blue locks and pink balls floating around

The art of make believe

“Only thing I'm fighting for now is the land of make believe. Don't mess up my head. Do not take away the thing that I need in order to make this make sense and make this actually real. If I don't do it, it doesn't exist. If I don't create it, it doesn't exist.”

Pushing the boundaries of contemporary dance

For dancer-choreographers Donald Byrd and Jade Solomon Curtis, social engagement takes center stage.

Art of many layers

artwork showing black papercut paper overlaid on colorful paper, like a stained glass window
detail of metal-cut artwork featuring heads and a cowrie pattern
multimedia artwork

Podcast: How Black arts took center stage at Seattle’s Langston institute

One old photo of a building exterior, three recent photos of its interior

Transformed by a 1960s urban relief program, a former synagogue has fostered generations of Black artists even as the neighborhood around it changes.

Person in colorful hoodie sitting behind piano

Keeping memories of the Central District alive

“I feel like it's been a fight between us as Black people and the city, a fight for our own identity in a lot of ways. Because if we don't have our neighborhoods, we don't have our villages that we grew up in. Everyone's sort of dispersed. It makes it tough to continue to represent a city that you feel like is working avidly to wipe you out.”

The power of words

Person with blackout poetry behind them reads from a book, looking at the camera and gesturing with hand
A woman smiles with her eyes looking off camera, and a projection of a woman holding a voting rights sign is behind her
Person in pink jacket holding their sunglasses
A woman stands in front of a projection of the ocean with her hands clasped

Podcast: A history of many hopes at the NW African American Museum

Building and museum exhibit

The Central District institution has a complicated backstory and an important role to play for Seattle's Black arts community.

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