Harlem Arts Alliance: The Hottest Ticket in Town!

By Heyliger, Yvette | Black Masks, July/August 2008 | Go to article overview

Harlem Arts Alliance: The Hottest Ticket in Town!


Heyliger, Yvette, Black Masks


The Harlem Arts Alliance (HAA) meeting-on the first Monday of every month-it's the hottest ticket in town! The HAA is a nonprofit service organization committed to nurturing the artistic growth and organizational development of individual artists and arts organizations primarily in Harlem and its surrounding communities. An enthusiastic, near capacity crowd meets at Theatre of the Riverside Church for the ever-popular, ever-expanding gathering of lovers of the arts, culture and community.

The Harlem Arts Alliance was first conceived by the late Joseph L. Persons who created the Harlem Foundation for the Arts and the Harlem Historical Society. By 1996 he was having a series of regular monthly meetings in an effort to get Harlem cultural institutions to network by sharing information that would enable them to not only gain increased visibility, but more importantly, to broaden their audience base. Aptly titled, Extending Today's Audience (ETA), Person's brainchild was well received and after his sudden death, ETA evolved into what is now called the Harlem Arts Alliance, with Voza Rivers then serving as interim chairman and Natsu Ifill as interim executive director.

About those early days, Ifill who was formerly an arts administrator with the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs recalls, "At that time there had not been an organization representing the Harlem cultural community for many years. The importance of the creation of such an organization was evidenced by the mass of artists and artist administrators who came to the monthly meetings. The meetings were so packed, we outgrew the boardroom donated to us by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and moved into the Theatre of the Riverside Church," also a Harlem Arts Alliance member. The rest, as they say, is history in the making!

The HAA meeting is presided over by Chairman Voza Rivers, the consummate mover and shaker in Harlem. His many credits include: founding member and now executive producer of New York City's oldest Black not-for-profit theatre company, New Heritage Theatre Group; executive producer of Harlem Week; chairman of Community Works, an arts and education program servicing 350,000 residents, students and tourists; and executive producer of the 2008 Academy Award nominee IMPACT Repertory Theatre. During each meeting, members and guests alike are treated to a full agenda covering a range of issues, but not before the microphone is passed so that each attendee-young emerging artists as well as established and nationally recognized artists and arts professionals-can introduce themselves: "I'm a dancer... an actor... visual artist... crafts artist... playwright... producing artist... marketing director... arts administrator... filmmaker." Also represented are small grassroots organizations and major cultural organizations alike: "I'm from the Apollo Theatre... AUDELCO... Museum of the City of New York... Frank Silvera Writers Workshop... Columbia University... H.A.DL.EY Players.. .WHCR FM.. .Dance Theatre of Harlem... Negro Ensemble Company.. Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts," and so forth "It's important to know who's in the room," Voza Rivers explains, and then he calls the first speaker.

HAA has developed a number of strategic partnerships with a host of cultural, civic, business and educational institutions to facilitate services and support for HAA members. To this end, guest speakers make presentations on topics relevant to Harlem and the surrounding communities-anything from special ticket offers to shows, to arts advocacy, to workshops, to grant opportunities, to health and wellness issues and much more-all for the information of the membership. In addition, the meetings are sprinkled with samplings from the creations of visiting and member artists: visual artists' work is displayed, film clips are shown, excerpts from the latest show on or off-Broadway are performed. Sometimes, jazz ensembles play or individual vocalists, poets, or actors perform. …

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