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caption: Office of arts and culture director royal alley-barnes (left) and executive director of Nu Black Arts West Theatre Kibibi Monie during a roundtable discussion with KUOW at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.
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Office of arts and culture director royal alley-barnes (left) and executive director of Nu Black Arts West Theatre Kibibi Monie during a roundtable discussion with KUOW at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.
Credit: Juan Pablo Chiquiza

50 years celebrating Black arts: The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute marks a milestone

For 50 years, the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute has played a vital role in fostering the talent of African American artists and performers here in Seattle.

royal alley-barnes, acting director of Seattle's office of arts and culture and former executive director of Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (LHPAI), attributes the longevity of the facility to the brilliance and commitment of the Black community.

"Being Black, and having that generational cognitive wealth, and performance wealth, that's how it came [to be]," alley-barnes said. "And in fact, during the 50th [anniversary event], you're gonna see some of the babies – that are now adults, who came up through the teen summer musical. That generational wealth has been contained, maintained, and developed here at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute."

caption: From left to right: KUOW reporter Mike Davis, KUOW producer Noel Gaska (standing), office of arts and culture director royal alley-barnes, executive director of Nu Black Arts West Theatre Kibibi Monie, LHPAI operations manager Sandra Boas-Dupree, LANGSTON executive director Tim Lennon
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From left to right: KUOW reporter Mike Davis, KUOW producer Noel Gaska (standing), office of arts and culture director royal alley-barnes, executive director of Nu Black Arts West Theatre Kibibi Monie, LHPAI operations manager Sandra Boas-Dupree, LANGSTON executive director Tim Lennon
Credit: KUOW Juan Pablo Chiquiza


Traditionally, visitors came from the neighborhood. The Central District, where the institute is located on the corner of 17th and Yesler, is Seattle's historically Black neighborhood. LHPAI was a hub where community members would drop in, check out exhibits, or audition for the annual summer teen musical. But the neighborhood has changed over time, said Sandra Boas-Dupree, the institute's operations manager.

"Obviously, there's a definite change in the demographics," Boas-Dupree said. "So, we don't get as many people who just walk up to the building, and we don't get as many youth who are just showing up."

But, even as gentrification continues to push Black folks out of the Central District, the institute has remained a staple in the Black arts community. LANGSTON, the nonprofit that partners with the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture to provide programming, has worked to ensure that Black arts continue to thrive.

"The reality is, when this facility opened 50 years ago as a Black arts center, 95% of our target audience lived within walking distance because 90% of black people live in the Central District in the Seattle area. That's no longer the case," said Tim Lennon, executive director of LANGSTON. "Folks come back here for events because this is their home. We had the teen summer musical here to sell-out crowd. A lot of these children don't even go to Seattle Public Schools anymore, because they've been gentrified out of the neighborhood. But this is where they want to be in the summer."

The teen summer musical is not the only long lasting event at LHPAI. The Seattle Black film festival, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2023, returned to live audiences for the first time in three years. This fall LANGSTON is hosting film camps for young people between the age of 13 and 20 in hopes of cultivating the next generation of Black filmmakers.

caption: Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute
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Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute
Credit: KUOW Juan Pablo Chiquiza

This Saturday, Sept. 10, the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture, in partnership with LANGSTON and the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, will host the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute 50th Anniversary Block Party.

They’ll be celebrating the artists and the community that have helped build the institute over the last five decades.

"It's gonna be real fun, is gonna be great," Lennon said. "We're gonna have performances from many generations of folks who came up in this building, so I'm really excited. We're gonna have some of the [elders] speaking and performing, but also some next generation stuff. We'll have the kids from the teen summer musical, we'll have some brilliant young artists on the ones-and-twos and also singer songwriters. I'm really looking forward to that multigenerational aspect of it."

The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute Block Party is scheduled for 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10 at 104 17th Ave. S. in Seattle.