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Seattle celebrates 50 years of Black excellence in the Central District at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute

(Image: City of Seattle)

(Image: City of Seattle)

By Elizabeth Turnbull

To honor the historic landmark and the people who have shaped it over the decades, city officials and community members will gather in the Central District Saturday to celebrate 50 years of the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.

“This will be a gathering of folk central to the evolution of Yesler to Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute and the generational wealth and the continuance of Black Brilliance that hasn’t stopped since 1971,” Royal Alley-Barnes, the acting director of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture, said in a statement to CHS. “It will be a day of generational joy.”

September 10, 2022 | 1 – 5PM
Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute
104 17th Ave S

Saturday’s event will include music and performances by artists and LHPAI alumni as well as remarks from Central District community members and Mayor Bruce Harrell, and it will also focus on honoring the legacy of those who have contributed in the past and present.

Over the years, LHPAI has existed in various forms but its presence and place in community have remained a constant thread. Serving as the Chevra Bikur Cholim Jewish synagogue, a community center, and a city building, the institute’s building and ethos have shifted over the years to today as it serves as a venue for community programs and events.

As part of its current presence, the Institute’s partners with the LANGSTON non-profit, which specifically centers on strengthening Black arts and culture in the city. CHS reported on the formation in 2018 as the group worked to tie the neighborhood’s deep cultural roots with the rapid pace of change from new development and shifting demographics.

“This space was created to fill a particular need for the time and place it was born into, an 80-plus percent Black community that needed a cultural center everyone could walk to,” Tim Lennon, the group’s executive director, told CHS at the time, “Now we’ve got the opposite problem: the community is super dispersed. The need for a cultural center everyone can come back to is critical. We’re gonna give folks who have been pushed out to the suburbs a reason to come back, and give new Black folks who have moved to town reasons to connect to the Central District, to see this as the cultural home for the Black community even if it’s not the geographical home for the majority of us anymore.”

(Image: City of Seattle)

“This is a strategic investment by the Black community and in the Black aesthetic for everyone to access and enjoy,” Alley-Barnes said this week. “…It has been and is the investment in Black brilliance and the importance of a black aesthetic for all of Seattle. An unbroken legacy of generational artistic wealth for all of Seattle.”

Alley-Barnes cited artists such as Umeme Upesi, an actor and director from the Central Area, the National Negro Council of Women in 1982, and other artists such as dancer Laura Chiorah-Dye, as some of the artists and creators who have contributed to or inspired such wealth.

Just as individuals with the institute are celebrating their past, those around the institute are looking to a future to continue its legacy of elevating and honoring Black excellence.

“We are safeguarding the future and keeping it as a generational cultural placemaking space that is in the public sector,” Alley-Barnes said.


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