Oronike Odeleye moved to Atlanta along with her household on the age of three and — as she recollects — virtually grew up with the Nationwide Black Arts Competition. At first, her mother and father attended, and later, she eagerly did as effectively. Little did she understand on the time she would finally develop as much as be the group’s new creative chief.
Odeleye, who beforehand served because the competition director for the city progressive ONE Musicfest, started half time in June after which full time November 1. She replaces Tiffany Latrice Williams, who left the group to develop into advertising and marketing director for Seattle’s Northwest African American Museum.
When she was approached by a competition board member concerning the place, Odeleye was initially hesitant. “I beloved my place at ONE Musicfest,” she says. “That position over the previous 10 years has been superb. I wasn’t searching for a change, however the extra I talked with them — the chief director (Stephanie Owens) and the board — I noticed they’re in an area the place they’re enthusiastic about progress and about constructing one thing. They swayed me with their imaginative and prescient.”
After a examine commissioned in 1986 by Michael Lomax, the chairman of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, the Nationwide Black Arts Competition was based and held its first occasion in 1988. It turned one of many metropolis’s premier arts occasions, a showcase for the artwork and tradition of the African diaspora, combining all types of disciplines and frequent visitor artists. It’s now acknowledged because the oldest multidisciplinary arts group in the US targeted completely on the humanities of African descent. A number of the artists who’ve been concerned over time embody Maya Angelou, Gladys Knight, Spike Lee, Maurice Hines, Harry Belafonte, Cicely Tyson and Alfre Woodard.
But, it’s been some time because the competition was at full capability by way of its programming and employees. Odeleye has been impressed nonetheless with how the group has been in a position to maintain the competition alive all these years by way of all of the ups and downs of funding and different points.
The Nationwide Black Arts Competition has skilled what a number of different Black organizations have needed to face — the altering whim of the funders whom they depend on for his or her programming. “Generally Black is in and everybody needs to offer you cash, and typically it’s not,” she says. One in all her main duties is attempting to construct a funding mannequin that doesn’t rely so closely on the altering priorities of funders — and attempting to impress upon others the very important significance of Black artwork inside the Black group and the group usually. “What we do will not be solely restricted to our group. It is a crucial issue on the planet.”
Covid had an impression as effectively, forcing the competition to pivot to a number of digital fare. Their Artist Undertaking Fund began on account of the pandemic, and total their efforts paid off. “It allowed us to refocus and re-examine and do some profitable programming. It additionally allowed us to have the primary full-time creative director in a great very long time.”
Shifting from D.C. was a tradition shock for Odeleye’s household. At the moment, within the Nineteen Eighties, Atlanta was a smaller city and her mother and father have been coming from a metropolitan middle that had plentiful artwork, tradition and variety to “what felt just like the backwoods to them.”
However the Nationwide Black Arts Competition impressed them. “What they received finally each two years was a world-class competition of artwork that excited them a lot that it was contagious to us as youngsters. We regarded ahead to attending as a result of we might see issues we wouldn’t see within the metropolis usually.”
Odeleye remembers watching the Nationwide Ballet de Guinea carry out on the Civic Middle. “That was simply enormous — you had this complete dance firm that had come all the best way from Guinea. They carried out in native costume, and the ladies have been topless. It was surprising on the time as a result of Atlanta was so provincial and conservative, however the competition embracing all of our tradition in that manner was superb. My mother and father have been so excited. That pleasure for artwork is what the competition introduced.”
Odeleye began her inventive profession proudly owning a graphic design and advertising and marketing firm with Atlanta visible artist Fahamu Pecou. The 2 finally co-founded the worldwide artist collective Artistic Currents Artist Collaborative (CCAC), the place they, alongside different artists, created nationwide and worldwide arts programming for greater than 10 years. From there, it was on to ONE Musicfest, which attracted virtually 50,000 patrons in October. Whereas there, she was in a position to safe virtually $1 million yearly in sponsorship cash.
Settling into her new job, Odeleye and her workforce are nonetheless attempting to determine their mannequin for 2023. The aim is to return to a big bi-annual competition, along with internet hosting year-round programming.
“I need Atlanta to develop into a vacation spot for various Black arts. We’re a hub for Black music, however in terms of theater and dance and poetry and literature, we aren’t in the identical spot as different cities with massive Black populations. I need to shine a highlight on that and make Atlanta a vacation spot for one of the best artwork. We are able to solely do this with a large-scale occasion that attracts the sorts of crowds it used to attract. That’s my hope.”
But that won’t occur in a single day, she realizes. A weekend occasion, three or 4 days in size, could be the most suitable choice, then rising from there. “I’m into sustainability. I don’t need us to leap up and never maintain what we’re constructing as we construct the viewers again. We’re going to baby-step it again in.”
Jim Farmer covers theater and movie for ArtsATL. A graduate of the College of Georgia, he has written concerning the arts for 30-plus years. Jim is the competition director of Out on Movie, Atlanta’s LGBTQ movie competition. He lives in Avondale Estates along with his husband, Craig, and canine, Douglas.