We have sad news to share with you. I, Too Arts Collective will be closing at the end of the year. We thank you for your support over the past three years.
I, Too Arts Collective—the acclaimed arts nonprofit operating out of the historic Langston Hughes House in Harlem—today announced that it is shutting down, following the expiration of its lease at the Hughes House.
Founded by award-winning author Renée Watson, I, Too Arts Collective was committed to nurturing voices from underrepresented communities in the creative arts, and dedicated to the community of Harlem. The organization emerged out of a crowdfunding campaign launched in July 2016 to lease the brownstone on 127th Street where Langston Hughes lived and created in the last twenty years of his life. As Watson states, “I, Too Arts Collective was inspired by Langston’s poem ‘I, Too’ where he writes about having a seat at the table, how he, too, is America. In so many ways his home became our table, a sacred space for writers and artists to create, to gather, to heal.”
Over the course of three years, I, Too Arts Collective presented numerous acclaimed and bestselling authors and poets, including Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, and Willie Perdomo. Literary luminaries and community leaders regularly attended the annual Langston’s Legacy gala. I, Too opened their doors for over 700 community open hours, monthly Semple Happy Hours and Salon 127 Open Mics; they hosted a playwright showcase and performing arts workshop, and several annual events including a Day at Langston’s family fun days, and the Hughes Institute for Young Writers, a week-long poetry intensive for middle and high schoolers. The organization partnered with the College of New Rochelle’s MFA in Creative Writing Program, PEN America, Well-Read Black Girl, 4Ward Productions, and dozens of local and out-of-state organizations, as well as individual community members. They also collected hygiene and other needed items, which were donated to Greenhope Services for Women. Visitors to the house were able to see Hughes’s typewriter on the mantle and his piano on the parlor floor.
“When I reflect on Langston’s Legacy, I think about his love for Harlem, the love he had for his people. It is that deep love that inspired and guided us for three years,” said Watson. “I am very proud of the programs and events we’ve offered the community and I couldn’t have done any of this without our program director, Kendolyn Walker.”
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I, Too Arts employed one full-time staff member and had an active board, honorary board, and dedicated volunteer cohort. This summer, the organization was one of 22 sites to receive a major grant from the National Trust for Historical Preservation. They were also supported by the Ford Foundation, the Countess Moira Charitable Foundation, and the Black Art Futures Fund, along with hundreds of individual donors. I, Too Arts’ work was featured by NPR, CBS This Morning, CNN Money, Fortune, Ebony, The Atlantic, Essence, The New York Times, Architectural Digest, among many other outlets.
“As a child, I soaked up Langston Hughes’ writing and stories set in Harlem, and imagined the sort of nurturing and inspired a community that his words evoked,” remarked Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, author of Someday is Now and Two Naomis. “Then I didn’t have to imagine. I, Too Arts made it real. In a short period of time the organization curated and collaborated on a breathtaking array of programming for all ages, a truly dazzling realization of Langston’s Legacy. I saw little Black girls like the one I was empowered as they discussed books and shared their stories. Visitors from across the world brought their memories of their own encounters with Hughes’ work and how it transformed their lives. Renée Watson and Kendolyn Walker brought such a gift to the community, and world.”
I, Too Arts Collective operates in the spirit of Langston’s legacy and collective transformation. As the lease of the Hughes House neared its expiration date, I, Too Arts Collective was unable to agree with the property owner on the terms of a lease renewal. Because their mission is intimately tied to the space of the Hughes House, the loss of the lease has resulted in the necessary closure. The organization will continue to host its digital archives at www.itooarts.com.
“This house—Langston Hughes’s home—for me, was like walking into a sanctuary built with me in mind,” said Jason Reynolds, author of the National Book Award-finalist Look Both Ways. “It was a place to commune with the many children of Hughes, one colorful family, gathering around a historic pot, hands cupped into bowls, salivating for sustenance. The up-and-comings and top-of-the-heaps were all one. All fed and made full. Here, we were reminded that we all have a home. That, together, we are a home. And I will forever be grateful.”
I, Too will remain in the brownstone through December 31, 2019. The community is invited to join them in celebrating Langston’s Legacy and saying farewell on Sunday, December 8, 2019, from 1:00-6:00 pm. An Ode to Langston Hughes, the afternoon will feature many of the poets and writers who read at the brownstone and will include on open mic and readings at the top of each hour. Light refreshments will be served, and the community will be invited to share their reflections and memories of the space and the work of I, Too Arts Collective.
I, Too Arts Collective at The Langston Hughes House, 20 East 127th Street (between 5th and Madison Avenues), New York, New York 10035