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New leader of Chicago Black Arts and Culture Alliance


“How Does Blood Flow?” “What to Send When You Drop?” “Welcome to Matteson” – each is the title of a recent work produced by Congo Square Theatre, focusing on the experience of black people in America on a national or local level – productions for which Charlique Rolle is the theater company’s general manager. This is a role he takes on in addition to being the local and national assistant manager. August Wilson New Voices Competition.

Now the arts administrator, artist, choreographer, director, curator, writer and producer is the new board chair of the Chicago Black Arts & Culture Alliance (formerly the African American Arts Alliance). Founded in 1997 by a group of Black creatives and Black arts organizations, the nonprofit is dedicated to supporting Black artists working in performance, visual, literary, technical and design art forms. The alliance also highlights its achievements through its annual Black Excellence Awards.

Rolle takes over the leadership role from Black Ensemble Theater founder and Alliance co-founder Jackie Taylor. Vershawn Sanders-Ward, founding artistic director and CEO of Red Clay Dance Company, has joined Rolle as vice president.

We talked with Rolle about his plans for the 26-year service organization. The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What will your new role in the alliance entail?

A: It really helps guide our vision of where we go next. We have no executive director. So that’s definitely something we want to do, we’re really trying to build more community. Our founders were incredible in creating this space, and now we have a new generation of artists and storytellers with such a broad spectrum… Me and Vershawn created the Alliance where Black artists, Black arts organizations can come and find home, space, community, but also an artist in Chicago They can also find the resources they need to thrive. Consider what it took for black artists to not only succeed in Chicago but also help support the growth of the economy. … The alliance is very Chicago-centric. We want to see more individual and independent artists, yes, but we also want to see more artists who feel empowered to create things, to create work, to continually build sustainable partnerships. Additionally, artists have the autonomy and flexibility to move where they want, no matter where they are on the spectrum, they can have the resources they need to feel supported, and this continues to expand.

Q: Is this the reason for the name rebranding?

A: This is an Alliance for future generations, and “African American” is a very specific term. We want to ensure that the group includes diasporic representation in Chicago. For example, I don’t identify as African American because I wasn’t born in America, but I’m a black woman and I can have a space where people can identify more specifically without feeling like “maybe, I guess that’s me.” I fit in here,” but knowing that this is a space for us.

Q: Jackie Taylor is an institution in her own right, is it scary to step into a role she co-founded?

A: This is very exciting. It is scary to take over an institution that was built by the founders themselves and who carry these deep legacies, but it is also very unpleasant and honorable to say that they feel strong enough to convey this to us. and to say that we are the right people for this moment. … I’m really excited, I think as evidenced by my work on Congo Square, I’m really passionate about how we can continue to tell Black stories, even outside of theatre, across all art forms, and that we can do that. it not only helps focus on specific genres but also helps bridge more gaps between genres.

Q: What can we do as ordinary people to help black art thrive in the long term?

A: We’re building partnerships… the resources we can offer our artists, whether it’s legal support, financial support, medical support, insurance, we’re thinking about big picture long-term things that we need to strategize around. Creating more opportunities for artists and finding connections, our goal and intention is to be around the city, but we also want to support black-owned businesses, even the culture side of it. How can we build, develop and help society? The power of art in society is such a vital thing.

Q: What does programming look like going forward?

A: We do a lot of professional development, including mentoring programs, workshops for arts organizations, leadership development, and professional development resources. Another type of programming we do is our Black United series, which runs throughout the year and started in 2020. What it does is enable artists by helping bring specificity and focus to Black theaters or Black dance companies. opportunity to connect with them. We held a full day of workshops and panels for artists of this genre. On another day, performers had the opportunity to audition for all Black theaters and all Black dance companies in one space, no matter who was chosen. Bringing people together and saying “here are the people you want to work with.” There are many artists who work elsewhere and don’t know what other theaters or directors are there. In order to create that space for them… we have done theater and dance so far. Our goal moving forward is to make a similar Black United program for each of the genres represented, specific to some of the things they need. What’s it like for visual artists, musicians, and writers? They may need additional resources to provide them with access, networking opportunities, and help expand their portfolio. For actors and dancers, this is an audition to get a gig, but for visual artists it may be an opportunity to present at a gallery.

Q: How will your new role impact your creative schedule as an artist?

A: Every season has its ebb and flow, so sometimes there are a lot of things happening at once. I try to help build the program accordingly. Creating space to continue making art… for me, what I’m really exploring and gravitating towards now is leading, working and living from a place of rest. And what that means. This book “Rest is Resilience” was a powerful moment in my own ethos and how I can find support in this regard to take care of myself while supporting everyone else.

The Black Arts and Culture Alliance of Chicago Black Excellence Awards will be held at the Black Ensemble Theatre, 4450 N. Clark St., on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. This year, the event will honor inaugural members of the Black Arts Hall of Fame; more information at www.bacachi.org



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