MILWAUKEE — If history is a series of stories, and stories are told through the arts, you could say it’s always Black History Month at Black Arts MKE.
The local performing arts group is quickly rising on news this week. It will receive a national grant, and the decision by United Performing Arts Fund late last year to name Black Arts MKE its newest member group.
“To be asked to be a member group last year was beyond exciting,” said Barbara Wanzo, Black Arts MKE Executive Director.
A five-year “affiliate” relationship with UPAF blossomed and will mean increased financial stability and collaborative support.
“It's important because small to midsized groups like ours need that foundational financial support but maybe even as important is the ability to develop a very robust audience development strategy with the kind of visibility that UPAF brings to us, it's priceless. UPAF is critically important to our future,” Wanzo explained.
Patrick Rath, President & CEO of UPAF is excited not just about what UPAF can do for Black Arts MKE, but for what Black Arts MKE will bring to other member groups.
“It really shines a light on what we're doing from a diversity and accessibility spotlight overall in our community. Each of our member groups are looking to collaborate with Black Arts MKE and offer more in terms of the community than they currently do.”
The effort to enhance the profile and expand the work of Black Arts MKE took on new significance with the focus in Milwaukee and the Nation on social justice issues.
“All of that has to be part of the performing arts in the future,” Wanzo promised. She’s noticed the audience hungry for art experiences that address issues facing the community.
“People expect some type of audience engagement or talkback after the performance, and we've had some really thrilling discussions with the community on the issues that are relevant.”
Black Arts MKE is best known for its signature, annual performance of "Black Nativity" by Langston Hughes. It also features a summer arts camp for youth and other educational outreach.
Additionally, programming like its popular “Hip Hop DNA” event aims to draw diverse crowds. “
That's what's going to help us be relevant,” Wanzo believes. “Doing things like Hip Hop DNA where people want to come together and be in a shared space and really enjoy themselves.”
UPAF’s Rath agrees. “I believe the mission and dedication of Black Arts MKE as they're looking to amplify not only the quality, the accessibility, the availability of African American artists and art forms in our community is so vital.”
Black Arts MKE is still producing shows during the pandemic. To stay up to date on virtual performances during Black History Month, as well as the upcoming production of A Song For Coretta next month, you can follow on Facebook.
For additional information on Black Arts MKE in-residence at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, click here.