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Black Arts Legacies

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.

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,” 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

Defining dance and breaking barriers

Syvilla Fort helped put Seattle dance on the map and influenced generations of dancers.

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
A person paints abstract shapes on clear plexiglass

A creative existence

“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.”

Bringing Black stage history to the present

Seattle actor/playwright Reginald André Jackson pays tribute to the Black theater-makers who paved the way.

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
An open book with a sculpture of a hand coming out from the left page, and a black and white photo of a person on the right page

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.

A black and white photo of a man drawing

Making art amid discrimination

"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.”

Resounding voices

A woman sings into a mic and has her hand up expressively

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)

A black and white photo of a woman singing into a microphone with her eyes closed

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)

A woman with bleached white-blonde hair leans down with a microphone stand, singing into the microphone

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 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

Thanks to our Many Sponsors

Village Theatre
Seattle Shakespeare