Harlem’s rich cultural heritage just got a little richer, thanks to the City College Center for the Arts. A city grant got the ball rolling on a ten million dollar renovation to create their new cultural hub. Hamptons fixtures Alicia Bythewood, Bonnie Comley and husband Stewart F Lane, chaired the Inaugural Awards Benefit Celebrating the Arts and Artists, at Aaron Davis Hall. “It will be a year-found facility that supports the campus and community,” Comley told Hamptons.com. “The events are destination for the Tri-State Area: theater, dance, concerts. The programming reflects the City College diversity, where 160 countries are represented and 90 languages spoken.”
Honorees included Singer/songwriter Alexa Ray Joel — standing on the same City College stage where her grandparents met in a production of the “Mikado;” Award-winning Screenwriter/director Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball,” “The Secret Life of Bees,” “Beyond the Lights,” HBO’s “Disappearing Acts”); Choreographer/Principal Dancer Carmen de Lavallade; and pianist, composer, educator and Founder/Artistic Director of the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance Arturo O’Farrill. Maurice Dubois emceed the event and WQXR evening host Terrance McKnight presented the awards. City College President Dr. Lisa Coico,and Vice President Karen Witherspoon were Honorary Chairs.
“I see CUNY as my birth home in some ways,” O’Farrill told the crowd, before leading his Afro Latin Jazz Alliance into a spirited performance featuring Cuban musicians. “I met my wife here. My son was an honor student here. This place has kept up an incredible tradition of educating anyone who has the desire…without costing an obscene amount of money.”
“It’s giving a place for young artists who have a voice,” said Gina Prince Bythewood, Alicia’s daughter. “My husband and I have a mantra … anyone can portray reality but art portrays reality as it should be.” She spoke about putting “people of color on screen showing our humanity, showing our complexities, showing us loving each other, showing our strength and showing our universality of thought.” She hoped ” in some way we can change the perception…that is literally killing us.”
Bonnie’s daughter Leah Lane was also onstage, as a dancer in the Sho-Off Dance Company that she co-founded last year with choreographer, Victor Sho. “The real African Step or Boot Dance is the precursor of tap dancing using the body as a percussive instrument,” Comley explained. Their modern version incorporates Hip Hop. Several months ago, Bonnie hosted a book signing for Stewart’s new coffee table tome, “Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way,” in the Marion Anderson Theater.
“Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist,” said Surrealist Rene Magritte. Those mysteries have a new outpost at City College.
For more information, visit www.ccny.cuny.edu.