Blackout festival at heart of anti-violence art push

A nationally recognized spoken-word troupe will highlight an anti-violence afternoon for youths at the Aycock Recreation Complex on Saturday, April 30.

The Washington chapter of Blackout Arts Collective will send eight members to Henderson for a free performance sponsored by the Vance County Arts Council in collaboration with the Vance County Coalition Against Violence, Team Vance, Area Mental Health, Vance County Schools, the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, Gateway, Friends of Youth and the Recreation Department.

Jennifer Madriaga, the executive director of the Arts Council, said the seed of the program was planted last year when Team Vance leader Marolyn Rasheed approached Madriaga about commissioning a memorial mural to honor Vance County’s murder victims, including Rasheed’s son.

Madriaga had the idea for some public artistic expression against violence when she saw Blackout perform at an arts convention in Washington last summer.

The collective delivered a 15-minute show covering blacks, Hispanics and incarceration as a way to spark conversation. After a brainstorming session, audience members gave their own spoken-word performances.

“I said, ‘We need this in Vance County,’ ” Madriaga said. It helped that one Blackout member, Heather Kenney, is the daughter of Henderson Dr. James Kenney.

Madriaga said Blackout uses the facilitation skills of social workers and teachers to help participants “channel anger into art.”

The Saturday afternoon will target middle- and high-schoolers, although Madriaga said some fourth- and fifth-graders could enjoy the program.

To encourage attendance, the Arts Council will offer several door prizes, including two $100 prizes consisting of $50 in cash and $50 in a credit union account. Three youths will win scholarships to Vance County Schools’ summer camp, and the group with the most participants will win a pizza party.

Two local student groups will warm up the crowd for the Blackout Arts Collective: the Warren County High School drumline SteelStix and the Pinkston Street Elementary School Steppers. Registration at Aycock will start at 1:45 p.m. April 30, and the student groups will perform for about 15 minutes each, starting at 2:15. Blackout will perform at 3.

“Through empowerment in the arts, youth can find creative and productive ways of channeling fear, anger and frustration while transforming latent energies into goal-setting, activism and self-reliance,” Madriaga wrote in a fund-raising letter.

The April 30 event is not a fund-raiser, Madriaga said. Instead, the Arts Council and individual donations are paying for the Blackout visit.

But the Arts Council is accepting tax-deductible donations for its special fund for youth programming against violence, Madriaga said. One goal is to hold a series of youth workshops in the months after the Blackout festival. (Checks can be made out to the Vance County Arts Council with a note in the memo line that states “Mural/BAC Event” and mailed to VCAC, P.O. Box 34, Henderson, N.C. 27536.)

“We’re trying to create a conversation through the April 30 performance,” Madriaga said. “We want to have it be a springboard for other things we’re going to do.”

In the week leading up to the Blackout performance and for a week after, Madriaga said, the Arts Council will hold its annual art show for Vance students with cash prizes. The theme for the secondary school students will be “Stop the Violence,” the motto of the Vance County Coalition Against Violence, and the theme for elementary school children will be “All You Need Is Love.”

Artwork should be dropped at the Gateway Community Center on the afternoon of April 21, and the entries will be displayed at Gateway from April 25 to May 6. Full requirements are available at the Arts Council’s Web site. The winners in four groups — kindergarten to second grade, third to fifth grade, sixth to eighth grade, and ninth to 12th grade — will be announced at the Blackout festival.

Both the art show and the Blackout performance will be part of a “continuum of efforts for youth” through the coalition.

If the money allows it, that continuum will extend through the painting of the mural Rasheed envisioned last year.

The Arts Council is working with Chapel Hill artist Michael Brown on the project. He’s responsible for the murals on the backs of Garnett Street buildings facing the railroad tracks downtown.

Madriaga said the plan is for Brown to hold sessions at the middle and high schools this fall on how to design a mural, then to have a design contest. Brown would incorporate the five winning designs into a mural downtown.

The minimum cost for a four-color mural is $12,000, Madriaga said. More complex works can cost $40,000.

She said the Arts Council needs to find the right wall and hopes to hear this summer on a couple of grants to defray the expenses.