Chuck Davis (1937–2017)

Chuck Davis

Chuck Davis, the dancer and choreographer who was a luminary of African dance in the US, died last Sunday according to a report by Margalit Fox in the New York Times. His work involved recreating traditional dances from throughout the African world as well as contemporary choreography fusing African traditions with modern dance. He was the founder and longtime artistic director of DanceAfrica, a festival held each Memorial Day weekend at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Created in 1977, the festival is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this month and is a multiday celebration that presents dancers and musicians from the United States, Africa, and the diaspora, along with an outdoor bazaar selling African food and handicrafts. It has since been staged in other cities throughout the United States. Davis also founded the African American Dance Ensemble Durham in the early 1980s, and served as its director until 2015. In North Carolina, his company performed in schools, prisons, and nursing homes, as well as on concert stages.

Born as Charles Rudolph Davis in 1937 in North Carolina, he entered a Navy R.O.T.C. program in high school, training as a medical corpsman. After completing his naval service in the late 1950s, he worked in a Washington, DC-area hospital and intended to enroll in nursing school but he also he enrolled in dance classes at a local studio; he later studied a broad array of dance traditions at Howard University. He joined a small troupe, La Dalemo Trio, which performed in nightclubs around DC. In 1963, the day after he attended Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, the Nigerian-born drummer Babatunde Olatunji saw Davis dance and invited him to join his music and dance troupe in New York. There he studied with choreographers Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham, Arthur Mitchell, Alvin Ailey, and José Limón.

It was seeing a troupe from Sierra Leone perform at the 1964 New York World’s Fair in Queens, however, that motivated him to research African dance traditions. After a brief time in the Colombian-American modern dancer Eleo Pomare’s company in the late 1960s, Davis formed the Chuck Davis Dance Company in New York. He won two Bessie Awards throughout his life, and in 1999, the Dance Heritage Coalition chose Davis as one of the country’s hundred “irreplaceable dance treasures.” In 2016, the Brooklyn Academy of Music created an annual award in his honor: the Chuck Davis Emerging Choreographer Fellowship. Davis retired as DanceAfrica’s artistic director after the 2015 festival and was succeeded by Abdel R. Salaam.

Davis often said, “As long as you’re dancing together, you have no time for hatred.”

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May 26, 2017

Italian Court Rejects Appointment of Five Museum Directors

Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi with the twenty new museum directors appointed in 2015. Photo: Tiberio Barchielli

On Thursday, May 25, an Italian regional court made a controversial ruling disrupting the culture ministry’s plan to revive the museum sector. After a high-profile recruitment campaign in 2015, the ministry hired twenty new directors for institutions across Italy. After two individuals who had applied for the same positions, but had been rejected, filed complaints, the judges suspended five out of the twenty new appointments, citing a lack of transparency in the hiring process, The Local reports.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said that he was “speechless” after the ruling, adding that he plans to appeal the decision made by the Lazio administrative court. The five ousted directors include Martina Bagnoli at the Galleria Estense in Modena; Paolo Giulierini at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples; Eva Degl’Innocenti at the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto; Carmelo Malacrino at the National Archaeological Museum of Reggio Calabria; and Peter Assmann at the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua

While the court questioned the ministry’s decision to nominate foreigners for the positions, only one of the five was a foreigner, Assmann, the art historian from Austria. Yet, it approved other foreign candidates including the German director of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery.

May 26, 2017

El Museo del Barrio Executive Accused of Intimidating Staff Members

El Museo del Barrio in New York.

Following the recent appointment of Patrick Charpenel as executive director, El Museo del Barrio in New York is facing discord amongst its top executives. After Berta Colón, the deputy director of institutional advancement, was fired on May 19, for “performance reasons,” she wrote a letter to the board of trustees, in which she disputed her dismissal and accused a fellow staff member of employee intimidation, Colin Moynihan of the New York Times reports.

In the letter, Colón claims that deputy executive director Carlos Gálvez “created an environment that promotes distrust, fear of retaliation and isolation.” Both Gálvez and Colón have been serving as codirectors of the institution since former executive director Jorge Daniel Veneciano announced that he was stepping down in August 2016.

“Staff is threatened with the possibility of being fired, they are pitted against each other,” Colón wrote. She also alleged that Gálvez had discussed the candidates being interviewed for the executive director position with museum employees and pressured them to support the ones he favored.

May 26, 2017

Denis Johnson (1949–2017)

Denis Johnson

Celebrated playwright, author, and poet Denis Johnson died at the age of sixty-seven on Wednesday, May 24. Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, confirmed his passing.

“Denis was one of the great writers of his generation,” Galassi said in a statement on Friday. “He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was.”

Best known for Jesus’ Son (1992) a collection of stories that chronicled the lives of drug dealers in America and his six-hundred-page Vietnam War novel Tree of Smoke, which won the 2007 National Book Award and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, Johnson was born in Munich in 1949. Since he was the son of a US State Department employee, his family moved frequently. Johnson spent his childhood in the Philippines, Tokyo, and Washington, DC, before settling in Arizona and Idaho. He graduated from the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop, where he studied under Raymond Carver.

May 26, 2017

Queen Elizabeth II Knights Architect David Adjaye

Architect David Adjaye receiving his knighthood from Prince William at Buckingham Palace on Friday, May 12.

Architect David Adjaye, whose recent projects include the celebrated African American History and Culture Museum in Washington, DC, was awarded with a knighthood for his service to architecture, Natasha Kwok of Designboom reports. Prince William performed the investiture ceremony on Friday, May 12.

“[Adjaye] is one of the leading architects of his generation and a global cultural ambassador for the UK,” the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood at St. James’s Palace said in a statement. “His designs include the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo in the shell of a disused railway station and the Whitechapel Idea Store in London where he also pioneered a new approach to the provision of information services as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver and numerous private commissions.”

Born in Tanzania to Ghanaian parents, Adjaye set up his first office in 1994. In 2000, he renamed his firm Adjaye Associates, which now has offices in London and New York. Among the projects Adjaye Associates is working on is a new major contemporary art museum in Riga, Latvia. The $33.8 million institution will be completed in 2021. Adjaye has also worked as a professor at the Royal College of Art and at the Architectural Association School in London. He is currently the John C. Portman Design Critic in Architecture at Harvard.

May 26, 2017

Art League Houston Names Kheli R. Willetts Executive Director

Kheli R. Willetts

Art League Houston has announced that arts consultant Kheli R. Willetts was appointed as its new executive director. Willetts succeeds Michael Peranteau, who announced earlier this year that he would step down in May. She will take up the post on June 1.

“We are extremely excited to have found a new executive director with the leadership, vision, and extensive experience in arts education, curatorial programming, and community-building in Kheli,” said board president Kristen Johnson Perrin.

Prior to relocating to Houston, to work as an independent consultant, Willetts was the executive director of Community Folk Art Center and a professor of African American art history and film at Syracuse University in New York. Willetts has also worked for a number of arts institutions including the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Wadsworth Athenaeum, the Connecticut Historical Society and the Connecticut Commission on the Arts. She also served on several boards throughout the New York area. Currently, she sits on the board of the Association of African American Museums and is a grants panelist for the Institution of Museum and Library Services.

May 26, 2017

London's Wilkinson Gallery to Close After Two Decades

Wilkinson Gallery in London.

The founders of Wilkinson Gallery in London’s East End have announced that they will close the space at the end of July, Anny Shaw of the Art Newspaper reports. Amanda and Anthony Wilkinson said they are “dissolving their partnership” for personal reasons.

The co-owners first opened the gallery on Cambridge Heath Road in Bethnal Green in 1998, and in 2007, they bought a larger space on Vyner Street, which they knocked down and hired architect Bobby Desai to lead the redesign. The gallery became known for being one of the first in London to mount exhibitions by major female artists including Joan Jonas, Dara Birnbaum, and Laurie Simmons. In a statement, the Wilkinsons said they plan on opening separate galleries and that once they are up and running, “it will then be business as usual.”

May 26, 2017

Florida’s Cummer Museum Receives $4 Million Gift

The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville , Florida.

The Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville has received a $4 million gift to name from the Disosway Foundation of New York to endow the position of executive director. The donation is the second largest gift to the museum since it was established in 1961.

Founded by Dudley D. Johnson, a Jacksonville native who currently serves as a trustee of the museum and whose grandfather, George W. Gibbs, was influential in the development of Jacksonville during the first half of the twentieth century, the foundation gave the money in honor of Johnson’s grandparents. The head of the museum will now be known as the George W. and Kathleen I. Gibbs executive director.

Born in 1884, George Gibbs was an inventor and pioneer shipbuilder. He started the Gibbs Gas Engine Company in 1908 to build gas engines that he designed and by 1910, the company began building naval ships, and was renamed the Gibbs Corporation. During World War II, the shipyards employed more than 2,000 people. Kathleen Maria Ingraham was the daughter of James Edmondson Ingraham, one of Florida’s early railroad builders and land developers, who led the first expedition through the Everglades and later served as mayor of Saint Augustine.

May 25, 2017

New York’s Peter Blum Gallery Moves Downtown

Peter Blum Gallery’s new home at 176 Grand Street. Photo: Peter Blum Gallery

Peter Blum Gallery in New York is relocating to a new 7,000-square-foot, second floor space downtown, Nate Freeman of Artnews reports. Located at 176 Grand Street, the gallery will open in September with an exhibition of works by John Zurier.

“After having been informed that our building on West Fifty-Seventh street, along with four neighboring buildings, will be torn down for another high rise, we looked at many different places and areas which would suit our needs for a substantial size gallery in an area which was not overrun and still felt like ‘New York,’” director David Blum said. 

The gallery first learned that it had to move out of its former home, which it shared with Washburn Gallery and Laurence Miller Gallery, in February. It also announced that it is now representing Miles Coolidge, Paul Fägerskiöld, and Enoc Perez as well as the estates of Chris Marker and Sonja Sekula.

May 25, 2017

Arizona Commission on the Arts Names Jaime Dempsey Executive Director

Robert C. Booker and Jaime Dempsey.

After more than a decade as executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Robert C. Booker has announced that he will step down in August. He will be succeeded by Jaime Dempsey, the agency’s deputy director since 2006. Her promotion was approved by the state on May 18.

“I will be forever grateful to have served Arizona residents through the work of the Arts Commission,” Booker said. “I thank the artists, educators, elected officials, community leaders, and advocates who have played such important roles in advancing our shared work, and who so generously offered inspiration, guidance, and support throughout my career.”

During his tenure, Booker led the commission through recession-era budget reductions and major shifts in public policy and successfully maintained the Arts Trust Fund as a primary source of state arts funding. He also initiated new private funding partnerships between national corporations and foundations, established Arizona’s first poet laureate post, and collaborated with rural communities to create programs that would employ the arts to address community problems.