On Q Performing Arts theater company, and Johnson C. Smith University have started a collaboration to strengthen the citys African-American theater experience.
The partnership marks a watershed in the growth of black performing arts in the city.
It will make black theater very visible, very viable and very critical to culture and arts in Charlotte, said JCSU President Ron Carter.
For the first time, Quentin Talleys 6-year-old theater company will have an office, in space donated by JCSU in the recently completed Arts Factory. The space houses a dance studio, black box theater and classrooms in a redeveloping area of West Trade Street near the university. Talley is currently trying to raise $40,000 for the office renovation.
Nationally recognized theater director Lou Bellamy, founder and director of Penumbra Theatre Company in St. Paul, Minn., will mentor Talley, offering artistic guidance and helping to develop a summer arts program at JCSU for students in the Northwest Corridor of the city. Penumbra, one of the largest black theater companies in the country, helped launch the career of playwright August Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.
This community has been very supportive of our company, said Talley, who started the company after noticing a lack of theater with an African American perspective in Charlotte. Im very proud of being able to take our art to the next level.
In August, the arts initiative received a boost when Talley, 32, won a One-on-One award for emerging arts leaders. The award is funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation and run by Theatre Communications Group, which promotes nonprofit professional theater in the United States.
Talley will receive $75,000 over 18 months as part of a leadership program to sharpen his skills as an artistic director and develop ideas to enhance On Q Performing Arts. A few weeks ago, Talley temporarily relocated to St. Paul, where he will serve as an assistant director to Bellamy, participating in operations, educational programs and the production of plays at Penumbra and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
A trio of arts advocates
Bellamy was in Charlotte last month to observe Talleys first production this season, Kiss My Black Angst, a pair of one-act plays by Amiri Baraka and Adrienne Kennedy. On the day of the final performance, Baraka, a founder of the Black Arts Movement, Joan Myers Brown, founder of Philadanco! dance company, and Bellamy participated in a panel discussion of the future of black arts. It was a dream come true, said Talley, to have that caliber of professional artists here in Charlotte.
The arts collaboration began taking shape after Carter reached out to Talley and other arts organizations as he planned the universitys Visual and Performing Arts curriculum and the 2010 opening of the Arts Factory. As part of that effort, he brought Bellamy to Charlotte to learn about Penumbras summer institute for youth and later sent several JCSU students through the program, and visited there as well. It was during Bellamys visit to JCSU that he and Talley met.
I want Beatties Ford Road from Trade Street to JCSU to be a dynamic place for understanding and embracing performing arts, said Carter.
He was impressed, he said, by Bellamys success in helping young people find their voice on social issues and wanted to do the same for youth in the Northwest Corridor. Weve got to do something, said Carter. This is a part of our teaching mission as an urban campus.
The road ahead
Talley will work at Bellamys summer institute and develop a plan for implementing a similar effort here over the next few years.
Bellamy said he is thrilled at the opportunity to help create a summer program for Charlotte students. Im hoping JCSU will become a paradigm that we can take to other historically black colleges and universities, he said.
Talleys theater company also will increase its work with the universitys performing arts students and provide a place for actors to pursue their careers in Charlotte. He wants to start an afterschool program for West Charlotte High School students.
Its been challenging to develop On Q Performing Arts, said Talley, but the company is growing. It now has a managing director and this year began its fourth season as a resident theater company at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.
We will still need the support of the community, said Talley, who will be honored later this month by the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture for his contributions to the center and area. Were trying to be an advocate of how to use your art to change the world.