Harlem Stage celebrates 4 decades of lifting creative voices of artists of color

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Monday, November 20, 2023
Harlem Stage celebrates 4 decades of lifting creative voices of color
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Sandy Kenyon has more on Harlem Stage as the arts center celebrates its 40th anniversary.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Harlem Stage is celebrating four decades. It's a non-profit group with a mission to lift up the creative voices of artists of color because those singers, musicians, dancers and other creatives have often lacked the recognition and support they deserve.

The celebration began earlier this fall with a series of "Uptown Nights" and continues through next spring, culminating in a 40th anniversary gala on June 3rd.

Harlem Stage has been called invaluable because of the way it has developed talent over four decades.

Folks there like to say they stand at the intersection of art and social justice, which as it turns out, is a very exciting place to be.

What began as a way to level the playing field has been transformed into a launching pad for stars of tomorrow.

"And one of the things we've been doing with this 40th anniversary celebration is bringing in artists that we're worked with in the past and then having them introduce us to new artists," said Pat Cruz, CEO and Artistic Director.

At Harlem Stage, those in charge never stop asking a simple question.

"Who are the artists? Who are visionaries? Who are breaking ground in terms of their work, but also because they are looking at issues of social justice?" Cruz said.

The arrival of Cruz a quarter century ago transformed this non-profit organization and gave it a permanent home in a structure built originally to provide clean drinking water to the city.

"Well, there's no place like the gatehouse. I mean, I mean look at this place. It's absolutely gorgeous. It's unique. It's special. It's historic," said Lachanze, Harlem Stage Board Member.

Where once water flowed, there's now a torrent of words and music.

The idea is not so much to present finished works as to develop them.

"To be able to have that resource was something that we felt artists of color were not getting," Cruz said.

Showcasing them remains a top priority here says one board member.

"Underrepresented people need many more chances to tell their stories," said Claire Danes, Harlem Stage Board Member.

And when those artists get that chance, all of us benefit from what happens at Harlem Stage.

"The community is not just about Harlem. The community is about everyone who has the shared values and beliefs that these artists represent, and it's like family," Cruz said.

The likes of Maya Angelou and Harry Belafonte, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente have graced Harlem Stage with their presence, but Cruz and her team are most proud of the fact thousands of public school children are touched and inspired by the program every year.

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