Twin Cities Black artists need broad community support more than ever

Here is a list of Twin Cities' Black-led arts organizations

A three-image collage of an actor, two dancers, and a playwright.
Jamecia Bennett (left) in "Skeleton Crew," Marcus Jarrell Willis and Alexis Staley (center) rehearse in TU Dance's studio, and playwright Carlyle Brown.
Images by Justin Cox Photography, Evan Frost and Charissa Uemura

Updated: June 28, 2:41 p.m.

Artists are both at the forefront of change and critical to the preservation of culture. Often their work involves envisioning new ways of being in the world.

As the Twin Cities wrestles with the police killing of George Floyd, structural racism and community devastation, artists will be crucial in articulating a path forward. The Twin Cities is home to numerous Black-led arts organizations; typically such groups are chronically underfunded.

Here’s a list of Black-led arts organizations in the Twin Cities that could use your support:

Alanna Morris-Van Tassel Productions

The mission of Alanna Morris-Van Tassel Productions is to produce solo dance works and global commissions that uplift and inspire our humanity; to produce educational programs that utilize the creative arts as a tool for self-development and to spearhead community-building initiatives that assist mid-career women creatives with resources to thrive.

Arts-US

The mission of Arts-US is to develop young leaders through the arts, culture and sciences of the African Diaspora. ARTS-Us provides cultural performances, art and art resources for educators, leadership opportunities for students, and consulting for community business and civic organizations through the lens of the African Diaspora.

Note: Arts-US executive director Anthony Galloway is a co-host of Counter Stories, MPR’s regular podcast on race and culture.

Blackout Improv 

Joy Dolo performs a dance solo during intermissions of skits.
Joy Dolo performs a dance solo, complete with an attempt at doing the splits, during a Blackout Improv skit.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News

Blackout Improv is a mix of comedy, social justice and arts access. Blackout seeks to put more black performers on more stages, to create comedic dialogue around serious truths, and to provide improv access for Black students. Blackout is changing the face of comedy stages in Minnesota.

Black Storytellers Alliance

The Black Storytellers Alliance’s mission is to maintain the art of storytelling as a primary source for positive instruction and reinforcement of the rich beauty embodied in the telling of “the story” — as practiced by African people in the Diaspora.

Black Table Arts 

A man wearing glasses and a brown jacket smiles as he sits on a stage.
Artist and educator Keno Evol leads a volunteer meeting in August 2019 ahead of the "Because Black Life" conference that was held at the University of Minnesota's Rarig Center. The focus of last year's conference was healing. Evol is founder and executive director of Black Table Arts.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News 2019

The mission of Black Table Arts is to gather black communities through the arts toward better black futures. Black Table Arts offers professional development for institutions centered in education and the arts, and works with artists all over the state of Minnesota to collaborate on speaking engagements, performances, writing workshops and panel discussions.

Black Women Speak

Black Women Speak centers Black women’s lives by cultivating a community with Black women, giving voice to their experiences as a way to heal, find joy and move towards liberation on their own terms. 

BLAQ

BLAQ is a dance company dedicated to using art to liberate, feed, and love the Black community.

Brownbody Productions

Brownbody skaters rehearse in unison.
From left, Deneane Richburg, Steven Smith, Carrie Maultsby-Lute and Lee Graham rehearse for Brownbody Presents: CoMotion inside the Charles M. Schulz Highland Arena in St. Paul in May 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2017

Grounded in African diasporic perspectives, Brownbody’s mission is to build artistic experiences that disrupt biased narratives and prompt audiences to engage as active participants in the journey. Brownbody accomplishes this through a blend of modern dance, theater, social justice and figure skating.

Carlyle Brown & Company

Described by The New York Times as “one of America’s more significant Playwrights,” Carlyle Brown has a long and rich history of creating plays that dramatize historical events in a way that makes them accessible to present-day audiences. Carlyle Brown & Company was formed in 2002 around a constellation of culturally and ethnically diverse artists dedicated to the development and performance of his work in an atmosphere of collaborative co-creation. 

Catalyst Arts

Catalyst Arts is a small arts incubator interested in the intersection of art, activism and artists who define themselves as change-makers.

The Cedar Cultural Center 

The Cedar’s mission is to promote intercultural appreciation and understanding through the presentation of global music and dance. The Cedar is committed to artistic excellence and integrity, diversity of programming, support for emerging artists and community outreach.

CLIMB Theatre

CLIMB Theatre creates customized plays, classes and workshops that build accountability, resiliency, empathy, advocacy and self-control. CLIMB inspires people to make the world a better place.

Contempo Physical Dance 

Contempo Physical Dance
For Orlando Hunter, 22, "dance is an emotional and spiritual release."
Nikki Tundel | MPR News file

Recognized as a leader in Brazilian contemporary dance, Contempo performs work that challenges human physicality while invigorating audiences and translate our mission into groundbreaking new movement approaches, innovative choreographic design, and stunning performances.

Dark Muse Performing Arts

Dark Muse Performing Arts is a Black woman-owned arts organization established in 2020. We are dedicated to creating and sharing bold stories, unapologetically.


Duniya Drum and Dance

Duniya Drum and Dance believes West African rhythm and dance is for everyone. It lives out that mission by both offering classes and by presenting community concerts.

Free Black Dirt

Free Black Dirt is an artistic partnership formed by Minneapolis-based collaborators Junauda Petrus and Erin Sharkey. Committed to creating original theater and performance, hosting innovative events, organizing local artists, and promoting and supporting the emerging artists’ community in the Twin Cities, Free Black Dirt seeks to spark and engage in critical conversations.

The Givens Foundation for African American Literature

The Givens Foundation is dedicated to enriching cultural understanding and learning through programs that advance and celebrate African American literature and writers. Its resources include the Archie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature, housed at the University of Minnesota, as well as Black Market Reads, a podcast featuring conversations with today's most exciting black literary voices. 

Heart and Soul Drum Academy

Heart and Soul Drum Academy builds bridges across communities by connecting youth with the art of drumming. The academy uses drumming to cultivate personal development, discipline, leadership and teamwork with respect for self and others that transfers into the classroom, community and the world.

In Black Ink

In Black Ink (IBI) seeks to create spaces where the intergenerational stories about Minnesotans of African heritage can be shared, documented, and archived. In Black Ink provides publishing arts initiatives and opportunities to communities that have been disenfranchised historically, and continue to be presently. IBI’s cultural literacy programming mitigates the damage of economic, educational, and cultural inequities that are the result of past and current prejudice and discrimination.

Juxtaposition Arts 

Juxtaposition Arts' Jordan Hamilton works with apprentices.
Contemporary Art and Public Murals Lab Lead Jordan Hamilton works with Juxtaposition Arts' apprentices on the design of a new mural.
Courtesy of Theresa J. Malloy | ThreeSixty Journalism file

Juxtaposition Arts is a teen-staffed art and design center, gallery, retail shop and artists’ studio space in north Minneapolis. Juxtaposition Arts develops community by engaging and employing young urban artists in hands-on education initiatives that create pathways to self-sufficiency while actualizing creative power.

Maia Maiden Productions

The mission of Maia Maiden Productions is to provide an equitable and engaging platform for Hip Hop, people of color, women, and youth through performing arts. Maia Maiden Productions is the force behind “Rooted: Hip Hop Choreographers’ evening” and “Sistah Solo | Being Brothas.”

Million Artist Movement

Million Artist Movement is a global vision and movement that believes in the role of art in the campaign to dismantle oppressive racist systems against Black, brown, Indigenous and disenfranchised peoples.

The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery
The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery on opening day in September 2018.
Nina Moini | MPR News 2018

The mission of the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery is to preserve, record, and celebrate the history of African Americans in Minnesota.

More Than A Single Story

More Than a Single Story is a series of panel discussions and public conversations where indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) writers and arts activists discuss issues of importance to them in their own words and in their own voices. The goal of More Than A Single Story is to empower voices that have long been marginalized by creating a public discourse, which in turn provides a forum for cross-cultural understanding.

Mosaic on a Stick

Mosaic on a Stick is a community art space created to promote mosaic art by selling quality supplies, teaching mosaic classes, and creating private and commercial commissions. Mosaic on a Stick is a values-led business that strives to be socially responsible, invested in the community and passionate about mosaics and the people that create them.

NEW DAWN Theatre 

NEW DAWN Theatre draws brilliance out of shadows by illuminating and supporting cutting edge works of overlooked, underrepresented communities of its theatrical landscape through innovative, exciting and excellent theater productions.

Obsidian Arts

Obsidian Arts seeks to be a new breed of Black cultural arts organizations suited for a socio-intellectual environment that maintains neither the strict barriers to nor the distinct pro-generators of what is deemed Black culture. Its focus is the use of art to invite the broader community to dialogue about issues that have been overlooked or shunned in the conversation-line of mainstream Black communities. 

Penumbra Theatre Company 

Three actors rehearse on a stage.
From left, Michelle O'Neill, John Catron and Lynette R. Freeman rehearse a scene in Penumbra Theater's production of "The White Card" in St. Paul on Jan. 31, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Penumbra Theatre creates professional productions that are artistically excellent, thought-provoking, and relevant and illuminate the human condition through the prism of the African American experience.

Pillsbury House Theatre

Two men, one standing, one sitting, in a shack.
James A. Williams as Zachariah and Stephen Yoakam as Morris in Athol Fugard's "Blood Knot" at Pillsbury House Theatre.
Courtesy of Rich Ryan file

Pillsbury House Theatre’s mission is to create challenging theatre that inspires enduring change towards a just society. Through the Mainstage season and other community engagement programs, Pillsbury House Theatre illuminates the differences that make each person unique and the similarities that bring people together, within an artistic environment that promotes understanding and leads to positive action.

RARE Productions

Since 2007 RARE Productions has been creating visibility and opportunities for arts of color.  Through engaging artists of color, and centering Queer and Trans artists of color,  RARE Productions seeks to unite communities and families in healing relationships and bridge cultural gaps via the vast mediums of art.

Saint Paul Almanac

Saint Paul Almanac is a literary-centered arts organization that shares stories across cultures and cultivates dialogue to promote understanding, relationships, and collaborative action. 

SHAPESHIFT

SHAPESHIFT dance collective was formed to create a fresh new innovative dance style which combines the lyricism of contemporary dance and hip-hop with other dance styles to illuminate the human experience and fuel social change. SHAPESHIFT’s powerful productions boldly tackle current issues of social justice, loss, love and human emotions.

Soomaal House of Art

Soomaal House of Art (Soomaal) is a Minnesota-based Somali art collective that provides studio space, studio critiques, artistic community, mentorships for younger Somali artists and annual exhibition space with educational programming.

Somali Museum of Minnesota

Somali artifacts
Osman Ali displays two artifacts from Somalia, including a container that holds water for washing and drinking and a wooden slate used to teach writing, at his Minneapolis restaurant, The Bright Moon Cafe, in March 2013
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News 2013

Founded in 2011, the Somali Museum of Minnesota opened the doors of its public gallery in 2013 as North America's first and only museum devoted to Somali culture. At last update, the Somali Museum of Minnesota was the only museum of Somali culture anywhere in the world. 

The Somali Museum is the home of Somali creativity in North America, and is a global leader in advancing and elevating the work of Somali artists, traditional and contemporary.

Sounds of Blackness

Sounds of Blackness performs and proclaims the music, culture and history of African Americans to audiences all over the world. From jazz and blues to rock and roll, R&B, gospel, spirituals, hip-hop, reggae and soul, Sounds of Blackness provides uplifting messages of hope, unity, love and peace for all humankind

Threads Dance Project

The mission of The Karen L. Charles Threads Dance Project is to examine, expose, and celebrate the threads that connect us. Threads seeks to be a national organization that betters humanity through dance, education and outreach. 

Truartspeaks

Qalid Hussein in the Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser studio at MPR
Poet Qalid Hussein in the Maud Moon Weyerhaeuser studio at MPR
Mary Mathis | MPR

Truartspeaks works to cultivate literacy, leadership and social justice through the study and application of spoken word and hip-hop culture. It strives to counteract the dominant narrative surrounding youth and those most often rendered invisible in our society by providing platforms for them to be heard, fostering the personal and social change required for equity.

Tru Ruts

Tru Ruts is an artistic organization based in Minneapolis with a history of high caliber artistic work ranging from films to theater performances, a record label to workshops and residencies. Tru Ruts projects include Freestyle Theatre, Foto Libre, Speakeasy Records and others.

TU Dance

Founded in 2004 by Toni Pierce-Sands and Uri Sands in St. Paul, TU Dance is a leading voice for contemporary dance. The 10-member, professional company is acclaimed for its diverse and versatile artists, performing work that draws together modern dance, classical ballet, African-based and urban vernacular movements.

Underdog Theatre

Underdog Theatre creates art for the underserved, underrepresented and unheard. Kory LaQuess Pullam, the artistic director of Underdog Theatre, said the company is all about what he affectionately calls “underdogs.”

"We are specifically dedicated to lifting up new voices, voices of color, voices of the disabled, women, LGBTQ stories and communities and things like that," he said. "So, I think that by leading with that mission, that is what separates us and that is what gives us that energy that people are looking for."

Voice of Culture Drum and Dance

Voice of Culture Drum and Dance is dedicated to the preservation of West African arts and culture.

Walker|West Academy

Walker West
Thirteen-year-old McKinley West practices piano with his grandfather Grant West in March 2014 during a lesson at Walker|West Music Academy in St. Paul.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News 2014

Walker|West provides exceptional, affordable music education and enrichment rooted in the African American cultural experience, where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather, explore, and grow through music.

Yo Mama’s House

Yo Mama’s mission is to empower mothers by disrupting the devaluation of women’s invisible labor and showcasing their mastery of the art of mothering and the universal traditional women’s work that transforms into art making and economic security.

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