Black Arts United States: Institutions and Interventions Conference Information


Campus Map:

Directions to Block Museum from Hilton Garden Inn

Evanston Campus Map


All presenters and participants must register here.  Registration is free.  Reservations are sold out to view Sweet Tea–The Play by E. Patrick Johnson on Friday, June 5, 2015.  Tickets are still available for shows happening Thursday, June 4 and Saturday, June 6. Please visit here to purchase.



For your convenience, we have blocked a limited number of rooms at discounted rates with the Hilton Garden Inn, located at 1818 Maple Ave, Evanston, IL.  Please visit here to make your reservation.  The cut-off date for booking within the block is May 6th.  The group code is BAI.


Black expressive culture in the United States has a long and contested history whose boundaries are almost impossible to qualify and whose animating forces continue to evolve. Yet the African American arts—whether film, theater, dance, visual art, music, literature, or performance—necessarily tack between the pull of tradition and the push toward innovation, a dynamic often reflected in the processes through which artistic practices are codified as either conventional or transgressive at any given moment. Such designations both illuminate the historical conditions in which black art is produced and determine what practices come to be circulated, canonized, denigrated, or forgotten.

Bringing together artists, scholars, activists, administrators, and representatives of arts organizations, this cross-disciplinary conference aims to reconsider how we understand what constitutes an intervention within the black arts, and how such interventions come into contact with mainstream and culturally specific institutional frames. Given the vexed conditions in which black aesthetic practice now unfolds— thanks to a shrinking public sphere increasingly shaped by market forces rather than cultural expertise—these concerns seem particularly pressing today, but they are part and parcel of that much longer history of black subjects’ coming to voice within American culture.



Block Museum, Northwestern University
40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, IL

4–4:30PM: Welcoming Remarks
E. Patrick Johnson
Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies, Northwestern University

4:30–6PM: Plenary Panel (Moderator: Michelle Wright, Associate Professor of African American Studies, Northwestern University)

Toi Derricotte
Professor Emerita at the University of Pittsburgh and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

Theaster Gates
Director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago

Beverly Guy-Sheftall
Director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center and the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies at Emory University

Khalil G. Muhammad
Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

Nicole Mitchell
Professor of Music and Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology at University of California, Irvine

6–6:15PM: Associate Provost Remarks

P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale
Associate Provost for Faculty

6:15–7:30PM: Reception

Music entertainment by Members of the Bienen School of Music Jazz Ensemble
Spoken Word Performances:

Javon Johnson
Assistant Professor of Performance and Communication Studies, San Francisco State University

Kashif Powell
Black Performing Arts Postdoctoral Fellow

FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 2015
Block Museum, Northwestern University
40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, IL

8:45-9:15AM: Continental Breakfast

9:30-11AM: “Temporal and Formal Boundaries of Black Arts”
(Moderator: Faye Gleisser, Ph.D Candidate, Art History, Northwestern University)

Olivia Young, University of California, Berkeley, “Malleable Flesh: Black Female Artists and the Performative Potential of Visual Distortion”

Nicole Bass, Yale University, “Perpetually Present: Confronting History in Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle Series”

Amy Mooney, Columbia College, Chicago, “Photos of Style and Dignity: Woodard’s Studios and the Delivery of Black Modern Subjectivity”

Tanya Fernando, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

11:15-12:15PM: “Performance and Politics from Slavery to Ferguson” (Undergraduate Performances)

12:15-1:15PM: Lunch
1:30-3PM: “Histories of Black Arts Movements”
(Moderator: Assata Kokayi, Ph.D. Candidate, African American Studies, Northwestern University)

Claudia Gibson-Hunter, The Black Artists of DC, “BADC, an alternative network based on collaboration that prepares Black artists in many aspects of the business of art with a focus that leads to institutionalizing Black visual arts.”

Abdul Alklimat, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Kim Bobier, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, “‘Angela Libre’: A Matrix of Mass Cultural Expression”

Maryam Aziz, University of Michigan, “Our Fist is Black: Martial Arts, Black Arts, and Black Power in the 1960s and 1970s Urban North”

3-3:20PM: Coffee/Tea Break

3:30-5PM: “Deconstructing Institutional Regimes”
(Moderator: Brittnay Proctor, Ph.D. Candidate, African American Studies, Northwestern University)

Makeba Dixon-Hill, Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, “BLACK BOX: Viewing Museum Education Departments as Artist Expression Allies + Feeders into the Black Artist Cultural Economy”

Gayle Wald, George Washington University, “Black Arts and Black Power in the Televisual Public Sphere”

Sarah Cowan, University of California, Berkeley, “Resisting Light: Roy DeCarava’s Early Harlem Street Scenes, 1948, 1954”

Kai Green, Northwestern University, “In the Presences of Absence: Towards a Trans* Reading Practice”

7:30-9:30PM: Sweet Tea—The Play, by E. Patrick Johnson
Wallis Theater
1949 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL

9:30-9:45PM: Performance Talk-Back

Facilitated by Daniel Alexander Jones, Fordham University

9:45-11PM: Reception


Block Museum, Northwestern University
40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, IL

9-9:30AM: Continental Breakfast

9:45-11:15AM: “Improvisation, Aesthetics, and Experiments in Blackness” (Moderator: Kantara Souffrant, Ph.D. Candidate, Performance Studies, Northwestern University)

Mark Mahoney, University of Minnesota, “Jazz Critics and the Expectations of Black Improvisation: Reassessing the Reception History of Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz”

Layla Ben-Ali, University Of Pennsylvania, “Analog Girl in a Digital World: Experimentalism, Marginalization and Genre-Profiling in Popular Black Music”

Adrienne Edwards, New York University, “The Concept of Blackness in Flight: Performance, Sense, and Experimentation”

Zachary Price, University of California, Los Angeles, “Riffin on Robey: A Black Performance Theory on the Continuum of Black Los Angeles Theater, 1994-2014”
11:30-1PM: “Black Cultural Producers in Hegemonic Institutions”
(Moderator: Chelsea Frazier, Doctoral Student, African American Studies, Northwestern University)

Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, Temple University, “Black and Red: Communism and the WPA ‘Negro Units’”

SJ Brooks, Boston University, “Harlem to the Upper East Side: the Institutionalization of Black Arts Production.”

Ellen Tani, Stanford University, “Writing in Space: The Black & White Show and Lorraine O’Grady’s Performative Critique”

Aymar Jean Christian, Northwestern University, and Faithe Day, University of Michigan, “Locating Black Queer TV: The Production and Publics of Black Indie Series Online”

1-2PM: Lunch

2:15-3:45PM: “Memorializing/Contesting State Violence through Black Arts” (Moderator: LaCharles Ward, Doctoral Student, Rhetoric and Public Culture, Northwestern University)

Kimberly Welch, University of California, Los Angeles, “Skid Row: Performances of Memory and Citation”

Shoniqua Roach, Northwestern University, “A Scent, an Ass, a Complication: Theorizing Kara Walker’s A Subtlety as an Act of Reparation”

Stephanie Batiste, University of California, Santa Barbara, “Kinetic Affect: Communal Grief and Haunting in Southern California Krump”

James Gordon Williams, Syracuse University, “Strange Fruitvale: Improvised Music as Protest Against Police Brutality”

4-5PM: Closing Remarks

Huey Copeland
Associate Professor of Art History, Northwestern University

5-6PM: Closing Reception


toidericotte_choice 1TOI DERRICOTTE is the author of The Undertaker’s Daughter (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011) and four earlier collections of poetry, including Tender, winner of the 1998 Paterson Poetry Prize. Her literary memoir, The Black Notebooks (W.W. Norton), received the 1998 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Non-Fiction and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Her honors include, among many others, the 2012 Paterson Poetry Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement, the 2012 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, two Pushcart Prizes and the Distinguished Pioneering of the Arts Award from the United Black Artists. Derricotte is the co-founder of Cave Canem Foundation (with Cornelius Eady), Professor Emerita at the University of Pittsburgh and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

theaster-gatesTHEASTER GATES is a Chicago-based artist who has developed an expanded practice that includes space development, object making, performance and critical engagement with many publics. Founder of the non-profit Rebuild Foundation, Gates is currently Director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago.  Gates has exhibited and performed at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Punta della Dogana, Venice; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; and Documenta 13, Kassel, Germany; among others.  Gates has received awards and grants from Creative Time, the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, United States Artists, Creative Capital, the Joyce Foundation, Graham Foundation, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, and Artadia.

Beverly-Guy-SheftallBEVERLY GUY-SHEFTALL, PH.D is the founding director of the Women’s Research and Resource Center and the Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’s Studies. She is also adjunct professor at Emory University’s Institute for Women’s Studies where she teaches graduate courses.  She has published a number of texts within African-American and women’s studies, which have been noted as seminal works by other scholars, including the first anthology on Black women’s literature, Sturdy Black Bridges: Visions of Black Women in Literature (Doubleday, 1980), which she co-edited with Roseann P. Bell and Bettye Parker Smith; her dissertation, Daughters of Sorrow: Attitudes Toward Black Women, 1880-1920 (Carlson, 1991); Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought (New Press, 1995); and an anthology she co-edited with Rudolph Byrd titled Traps: African American Men on Gender and Sexuality (Indiana University Press, 2001).  Her most recent publication is a book coauthored with Johnnetta Betsch Cole, “Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women’s Equality in African American Communities” (Random House, 2003). In 1983, she became founding co-editor of Sage: A Scholarly Journal of Black Women that was devoted exclusively to the experiences of women of African descent.

khalilmuhammadKHALIL G. MUHAMMAD, PH.D is the Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Prior to joining the Schomburg Center in 2011, Muhammad was an associate professor of history at Indiana University.  In 2004, Muhammad received his Ph.D. in American history from Rutgers University, specializing in 20th century and African-American history.  Muhammad also holds an honorary doctorate from The New School. Muhammad is the author of The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Harvard University Press).  The book is notable for its lengthy discussion of the role of the social sciences – and of black and white social scientists – in shaping and sanctifying racial “data,” with terrible consequences for African Americans.  Dr. Muhammad is now working on his second book, Disappearing Acts: The End of White Criminality in the Age of Jim Crow, which traces the historical roots of the changing demographics of crime and punishment so evident today. His work has been featured in the New York Times, The Nation, New Yorker, Washington Post, The Guardian, and Atlanta Journal Constitution, as well as on Moyers & Company, MSNBC, C-SPAN, NPR, Pacifica Radio, and Radio One.


Nicole MitchellNICOLE MITCHELL is a creative flutist, composer, bandleader and educator.  As the founder of Black Earth Ensemble, Black Earth Strings, Ice Crystal and Sonic Projections, Mitchell has been repeatedly awarded by DownBeat Critics Poll and the Jazz Journalists Association as “Top Flutist of the Year” for the last four years (2010-2014). Mitchell’s music celebrates African American culture while reaching across genres and integrating new ideas with moments in the legacy of jazz, gospel, experimentalism, pop and African percussion through albums such as Black Unstoppable (Delmark, 2007), Awakening (Delmark, 2011), and Xenogenesis Suite: A Tribute to Octavia Butler (Firehouse 12, 2008), which received commissioning support from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works.  Her work has been featured on National Public Radio, and in magazines including Ebony, Downbeat, JazzIz, Jazz Times, Jazz Wise, and American Legacy. MItchell is currently a Professor of Music, teaching in “Integrated Composition, Improvisation and Technology,” (ICIT) a new and expansively-minded graduate program at the University of California, Irvine.