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Harlem Fine Arts Show: A Tribute to Our Past and a Celebration of Our Future

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Alamy
Alamy

Art, regardless of its form -- visual art, literature, music, theater, film, and dance -- has historically been a vehicle through we express our deepest thoughts, desires and feelings; and communicate, connect with and inspire others around us. Art gives meaning to the obscure, a voice to the voiceless and hope to the forlorn.

Following the ending of the National Black Fine Arts Show in 2009, I knew, after being a part of such a meaningful, cultural event, that I wanted to extend its legacy. I wanted an event that served as a cultural reservoir of beautiful art that flows from our progressive black community. Not for me, but for the benefit of current and future generations to truly appreciate our rich artistic heritage.

Harlem has long represented the soul of black America to the nation and the world by virtue of its rich cultural and artistic legacy, left to us by the artists, writers and musicians of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Fine Arts Show (HFAS), which was born later that year, was created to continue the celebration of this legacy that helped to define us as a people during a time when our ancestors fought for respect, civic equality and the right to an American Dream.

This year's Harlem Fine Arts Show, held at the Riverside Church in Harlem, was a four-day exposition (Feb. 7-10) reflecting the depth and breadth of work from more than 80 renowned and emerging artists of the African, African-American and Caribbean diaspora. With the event taking place in Black History Month, HFAS is a timely cultural celebration that also serves as an educational platform for our younger generation who might not have been exposed to iconic artists including Romare Bearden -- many artists showcasing their vast portfolio have been inspired this prolific artist.

Past notable guests who have visited HFAS include Oprah Winfrey, Gayle King and Spike Lee. Among the impressive roster of artists are: Dane Tilghman, whose paintings have appeared on TV shows such as The Cosby Show and Roseanne, and have been presented to notables including Ozzie Davis, Nelson Mandela and Bill Cosby; George Nock, distinguished sculptor and former running back for the New York Jets and Washington Redskins; Margerine Gordon, an innovative textile artist who uses recycled fabric to create "Pictorial Quilts"; Michael Escoffery, a Jamaican-born visual artist whose work has been published in over 70 books worldwide and in nine languages; and Woodrow Nash, a prolific ceramic sculptor whose work reflects a marriage of 15th-century Benin art and 18th-century French Nouveau, creating what he has coined "African Nouveau."

In preserving our heritage, we think about giving back to the community and providing the necessary tools to encourage self-sufficiency. The Opening Night Gala on Feb. 7 that saluted the late Honorable Percy E. Sutton, one of Harlem's most prominent political, civil rights, and business leaders, benefited the Mama Foundation for the Arts (MFA). This foundation, founded by Vy Higginsen in 1998, has been internationally acclaimed for rebuilding Harlem as an artistic cultural center featuring entertainment and arts education. The Mama Foundation has produced numerous theater productions, which have been performed in several countries. MFA's best known musical, Mama, I Want To Sing, is the longest running black off-Broadway show in American history.

Friday, Feb. 8, from 8 a.m to 3 p.m. was a Youth Empowerment Day where children from local schools enjoyed tours of the art exhibits, a special program of theatrical performances and series of motivational presentations by notable New York City business and educational leaders. In the evening at 6 p.m., guests enjoyed the sounds of Motown by the cast of Motown: The Musical, the upcoming Broadway show of the life and legacy of Berry Gordy, the R&B mogul. The fine art exhibitions were held on Saturday, Feb. 9 and Sunday, Feb. 10, where patrons were able to interact with artists and purchase their beautiful work.