As Civil Unrest Roils The Nation, National Black Theatre Helps Black Arts Orgs Navigate COVID And Racism

Founded in 1968 by the revolutionary theater lion and legend Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, National Black Theatre (NBT) was forged out of the social upheaval of the 1960s.

The upheaval was part of the Black Arts Movement which used the arts as a weapon for social justice, a flank to the Black Power Movement. Now, as the nation is again forced to examine its often brutal and unjust present and past in light of the killing of George Floyd while confronting the systemic inequities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, NBT continues its mission to use art to achieve Black liberation and healing.


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And CEO Sade Lythcott and artistic director Jonathan McCrory have sprung into action to advocate for both Black arts organizations working to give voice to the unheard and the broader arts sector, an engine bringing 11.1 billion annually to the economy, which is struggling to survive.

To that end, Lythcott is helping to spearhead efforts to ensure that Black arts organizations are not relegated to the sidelines and defunded at the precise moment they are most needed. Chair of the Coalition for Theatres of Color (CTC), a cohort of 42 New York City-based nonprofit theaters, Lythcott will help lead the organization’s virtual town hall tonight at 5:30 p.m. addressing the impact of COVID-19 and a holistic plan for healing communities of color.

Presented in partnership with Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer, the town hall will also feature guest speakers including actor-activist Danny Glover, Broadway actor André De Shields and Broadway director Ruben Santiago-Hudson.

To register for the virtual town hall or to find more information, please visit http://bit.ly/UptownArtsCall.

Lythcott also leads the reopening working group of the Culture at 3 Call, a daily Zoom meeting of more than 500 cultural leaders from across the city and across sectors working to navigate these difficult times, as reported in the NY Times. She’s also one of 12 Harlem cultural leaders (NBT, the Studio Museum, Apollo, Dance Theater of Harlem, etc.) who meet regularly to assess the COVID-19 situation, leverage their resources, share information and work to survive and innovate as they support the Harlem community and their own workforces.

Lythcott has also testified at City Council hearings, created surveys to measure the impacts on arts organizations, and has to lead the charge to ensure that Black arts institutions are not left out as plans and designs are brought together concerning the revamping the hard-hit NYC arts community.

NBT’s continued focus on serving the cultural needs of underserved communities was recognized at the top of this month as McCrory was named as one of Crain’s New York Business 2020 Notable LGBTQ Leaders and Executives in commemoration of Pride Month.

The honor sees McCrory spotlighted as one of 70 LGBTQ leaders at the vanguard of activism and leadership in New York, recognizing his role in implementing the theater’s one-of-a-kind residency for Black playwrights, directors, and writers, helping with the creation of the National Black Theatre of Sweden and programming productions examining the treatment of Black lives in America, including James Ijames’ Kill Move Paradise and Liza Jessie Peterson’s The Peculiar Patriot.

Photo credit: 1) Dr. Barbara Ann Teer. 2) Jonathan McCrory (credit Christine Jean Chambers). 3) Sade Lythcott.

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