Madison’s Harlem Renaissance
By fall 2014, Madison will be home to yet another museum. Looking at the list of museums in Madison, which includes the Chazen, the Madison Museum Of Contemporary Art (MMCA), the Wisconsin Historical Museum, the Madison Children’s Museum and Veterans’, the last thing you’d think is that citizens need another place to house artifacts. However, this new institution focuses on a part of history that is currently very under-represented in Madison institutions: ethnic culture. Kick-started by a Harlem Renaissance Festival hosted by Urban Spoken Word Collective’s David Hart and Susan Fox, former project manager of the Madison Center for Creative and Cultural Arts (MCCCA), at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, the museum would celebrate the importance of black culture through the venue of representing the Harlem Renaissance.
Madison is a highly cultural city, there is no denying that fact. Any night of the week, a Madisonian can discover new music, listen to new poets, and view contemporary or classic art. However, Madison’s current cultural climate is highly Euro-centric. Although Madison’s art museums will occasionally represent non-white culture in exhibits (see LOS GRANDES DEL ARTE MODERNO MEXICANO from the MMCA), the majority of artifacts in these museums is a presentation of the history of European culture. Additionally, the museum’s curators tend to be European in descent. This means that the curators of the ethnic exhibits present the culture from a white perspective. The introduction of a museum that focuses solely on ethnic culture in its exhibits and interpretation of historical events is much needed to create a more accurate interpretation of historical events for Madison citizens and children. The Harlem Renaissance Museum seeks to add color to Madison landscape.
The Harlem Renaissance is a cultural movement that thrived in the 1920s and 30s as a upheaval of African American representation. Jazz, poetry, and artworks exploded in New York City as the black population surged to present themselves as both culturally viable and an integral force in propelling American ideas. The Harlem Renaissance Museum will celebrate this time in black culture. Additionally, it will link the culture of the Renaissance to contemporary movements, such as spoken word, displaying how the out-loud poetry is influenced by historical black culture.
The Museum also addresses concerns that arose in a recent report by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. The report shows that there are extreme racial disparities in the Madison area when it comes to poverty, unemployment, incarceration, and education.
The black population in Madison deserves a museum that represents their culture, education, and history. The museum could also serve as host for community events that will contribute to community support and efforts to build a strong black identity.
UW–Milwaukee professor and festival presenter Peter Brooks says Madison can learn from the Harlem Renaissance. The cultural upheaval illustrated how performance art like jazz and spoken word helped foster community, especially among marginalized people.
It is an information institutions duty to represent all perspectives of information, be it white, black, yellow, or red. By establishing a Harlem Renaissance Museum, the Urban Spoken Word Collective is taking the first steps towards a widespread cultural representation of Madison culture. While the museum itself is focused on a very small area of black history centered in New York City, it urges a conversation concerning how this surge of African American culture has affected today’s cultural movement while displaying to Madison’s students role models of strong black culture.
It is clear that a Harlem Renaissance Museum would be a boon to Madison culture and conversation. It would add to the cultural perspective, broadening the ambitious landscape that Madison is today. However, this museum is still under construction, and highly underfunded. I am writing this article for the Urban Spoken Word Collective to ask for donations to help fund this burgeoning force. Please, give what you can to help make this new Museum one with a wide, representative collection and a programming budget to help organize events for the children and citizens of Madison. Help Madison represent and support all races.