As I sat in Hibernian Hall on the 25th of October, 2016 I listened from beginning to end to the works that would create the tone for the Roxbury Cultural District hearings. Lisa Lee prominent and phenomenal visual and spoken word artists framed the tone in which this hearing would take. Lee’s spoken words expounded on the streets, boulevards, avenues, culture, art and those who have made the history and fabric of the Roxbury community.
Councilor Tito Jackson, expressed community and lifting up our artists and supporting them and recognizing them as entrepreneurs. Celebrating the people who stayed as well as our heroes and (S)heroes who stopped a highway from going through Roxbury community. His plan is for those who are here not those who will come. Artists are entrepreneurs who add to the business fabric of our neighborhood and community. Affordable space for artists to live and create is also an essential portion of the process. Affordable housing for those who are coming is also important. Councilor Jackson followed Councilor Ayanna Pressley who spoke about the work that has been done up to the present. She stated the process has been “community driven and government endorsed.” Pressley gave a statement of the tone set by Lisa Lee, “We are lending our elated voice to your elated pen.”
Panelists included Kelly Chunn, cultural district consultant who spoke about a missed opportunity for the historic story Roxbury has to tell: economic revitalization the few residents, artists, businesses and entrepreneurs. Kelly Chun spoke about the District as an anchor to connect through the arts and for Roxbury to be seen in the neighborhood as an art and cultural assets that are under used.
Chunn also talked about changing the perspective held by outsiders of only crime not the art and culture assets that remain unknown to those outside the community. This is an opportunity to connect art and history.
Marshall Hughes director of the Visual and Performing Media Arts Center at Roxbury Community College (RCC) gave a great example of the use of RCC Media Arts Center. It’s used for civic engagement, performing arts, community events such as theater, oratory readings, graduation for surrounding secondary and high schools.
Artist, Educator and Executive Director of the Research Institute of African and African Diaspora , Inc. Napoleon Jones Henderson, E. Barry Gaither, Curator of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American, Kristen Belton Willis spoke of the artistic education that would not only elevate those who don’t know the community but our youth who need the artistic and historical knowledge. The best of Roxbury artistic community has kept the culture of this district alive such as Akiba Abaka, director, playwright, producer and founder of award winning theater company, “Up You Mighty Race” has lived as well as worked in the district. She has produced plays in a number of venues within the district, such as Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center, Hibernian Hall and the Museum of the National Center of Afro American Artists. Abaka has brought theatrical arts from “Arts Emerson the World on Stage” to the Dudley District through readings to educate and entertain the community