Last time, we put the spotlight on Hourglass Escapes. Up next, we hear from LANGSTON, a Seattle-based nonprofit arts organization established in 2016 to lead programming within the historic Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. LANGSTON guides generative programs and community partnerships that center Black art, artists, and audiences and honor the ongoing legacy of Seattle’s Black Central Area. LANGSTON supports a variety of enriching programs, across multiple disciplines, rooted in its mission and values.
Hello! Would you mind introducing yourself and LANGSTON for the folks at home?
Hello! Our team includes Tim Lennon, Executive Director; Jazmyn Scott, Director of Programs & Partnerships; and Isabella L. Price, Film Programs Manager. Our mission is to strengthen and advance our community through Black arts and culture.
What were the first few months of the lockdowns like for y’all?
Tim: That second week of March was pretty dark. We went from cancelling our monthly Fade to Black series on Wednesday, to cancelling the rest of 2020 programming by the end of the week. Initially, we weren't sure how our organization could live it's mission without bringing people together in our space, but we quickly found new ways to serve our community. We created amazing new virtual programs like our oral history of Seattle hip-hop series 2(06) the Break. We retooled our Seattle Black Film Festival and made it more accessible than ever before. We partnered with Black artists to run the Seattle Artists Relief Fund (SARF). In all of these and more we were able to center Black art, Black artists, and Black audiences and show up for the broader community in creative and powerful ways. That connection remained at the heart of our work in the pandemic, even if we couldn't always do that in-person in our beautiful theater.
How did you see the community come together in that time to support LANGSTON?
Tim: We're blessed to have deep relationships with some pretty amazing local artists and arts organizations and the pandemic really took that to the next level. Figuring out how to pivot to virtual-only events and how to use our resources in new ways to help folks keep working and creating was a big collective effort. We wouldn't have been able to survive this without one another's support. Our Seattle Artists Relief Fund also brought us to the attention of literally thousands of new donors and supporters of the arts in general. Community came together to help us raise and distribute over 1.1 million dollars to support struggling artists and creatives. It was amazing being able to work with so many local businesses and funders and to amplify the support of so many individual culture lovers to fuel SARF and give back to our community.
Were you able to do anything during the COVID lockdowns that you weren’t able to do before?
Jazmyn: We were able to reach wider audiences and increase our support base by presenting virtually. Also partner with other local community organizations in new and creative ways.
Isabella: For Fade to Black, our monthly film program, we have been able to widen our reach for who we can have as guests to speak. Before the pandemic we mostly had local guests, but with the use of Zoom we were able to get guests from all over like Tony Todd, Rachel True, and in October, we have Keith David. It’s been really exciting to be able to widen our reach like this.
What about the last six months? What has opening back up AND operating in a digital space been like?
Jazmyn: We’ve been excited to slowly and at a limited capacity, bring back participants for programming; especially welcoming youth back into the space for our filmmaking workshops. It was the last in-person program we had in 2020 before being abruptly shut down, so having them back has been a thrill. We are continuing to offer programs either fully virtual or in a hybrid format to ensure accessibility for our audiences.
Isabella: It was definitely a challenge to pivot to digital in such a short space of time and under such stressful circumstances, but it opened an opportunity to reach new audiences and think of new programming. I really enjoy the cross between in person and virtual programming, it has made me think of accessibility in a new way and I think those steps will be here to stay.
How are you seeing the community come together now?
Isabella: People are really excited to see each other again. It’s been really great to see my friends that I haven’t seen in nearly two years. While people are really excited to get back in person, they are also cautious, so we are seeing the mix of in-person and virtual for many communities. I really love how my community is rethinking who gets to participate, who has access, who is curating, and how they are giving back. We all had a year to evaluate our priorities and I’m seeing a lot of people who want to come together in a way that is equitable and fair.
What does LANGSTON have in store for the next six months? What are you all looking forward to?
Jazmyn: We will really be diving into more theatrical productions in 2022 as well as preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute with a number of collaborative events and programs.
What are different ways we can all support you? Either locally or nationally?
Tim: Creating an enduring Black cultural institution is a community effort and everyone can play a part. Attend a show. Check out some of our past performances on YouTube. Tell your friends about a new artist you discovered here and support their work however you can. Seek out other Black cultural spaces and support them too — we are all in this together. And DONATE to help us keep this beautiful dream going!
Isabella: Reach out to us! We love to work with artists and organizations! If you have an idea for programming we would love to hear it. We really want to keep Black innovation and creativity alive and we can’t do that without the community.
Jazmyn: Connect with us digitally from wherever you are in the world. Subscribe to our newsletter via our website, langstonseattle.org, follow us on all of our social media platforms, and spread the word about our work to strengthen and advance our community through Black arts & culture and Cultivating Black Brilliance!