Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute Celebrates 50 Years Of Service To Seattle


Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, Seattle, Washington

By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium

The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (LHPAI) located in the Central District of Seattle is celebrating 50 years of community involvement and service and providing a space, a place at the table, for artistic, social, religious and political expression.

For centuries the descendants of Africans born and raised in America have worked to establish their own identities and way of life. Throughout this timeline, two institutions in American culture have allowed Black people the opportunity to express themselves freely and those were religion and art.

Performing and/or Cultural Art Centers, like churches and community centers have given the African American a place and the ability to define ourselves, through art, education and expression, and in Seattle that place has been Langston Hughes, as if is affectionately called in the community.

Royal Alley-Barnes, Seattle Office of Arts and Culture Acting Director, says that LHPAI has and will continue to play a major role in the development of arts in Seattle.

“Each year Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute recommits and rejuvenates its civic and cultural connections through the robustness of programs community engagement,” says Alley-Barnes. “For 50 more years to come the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute will be a steward of African American arts in Seattle, and a beacon of arts engagement citywide.”

Constructed in 1915, LHPAI is a historic landmark in the Central Area of Seattle. The building, a former Jewish Synagogue of Chevra Biku Cholim on the corner of 18th and Jefferson, became a community center and part of the City of Seattle’s facilities in 1972.

From theater and plays, to live music, fashion, spiritual events LHPAI has seen it all. Its ability to provide the region with a state-of-the-art facility, high quality talent and performing arts leadership, LHPAI has been an integral part of the Central District’s fiber and a cornerstone of the African American artistry and community since its founding.

In 2011, the center underwent extensive renovations to preserve its architectural character and update the facilities. It is now and will continue to be a center for African American culture and arts.

“The first day it became city property Langston Hughes became emersed in the African diaspora and celebrating the multiplicity of cultures in art,” says Alley-Barnes. “As a matter of fact, in its inceptions it was called the Yesler Atlantic Community Center originally in 1971, then it was named the Langston Hughes Cultural Center and then in 2013 it was named the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Institute.”

Langston Hughes recently enacted changes as the city transferred some of its responsibilities into a non-profit arm of the organization.

LANGSTON, the non-profit arts organization now housed in the building, was created to continue the programmatic mission of the LHPAI, with the vision of transforming the programming arm of Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute into an independent and thriving arts organization.

According to Jasmine Scott, Director of Programs and Partnerships for LANGSTON, LHPAI is now run by the city’s Office of Arts and Culture which stewards LHPAI’s brick and mortar., while LANGSTON orchestrates the programming and talent that flows through its doors.

“Essentially in a nutshell LANGSTON the non-profit was formed to continue the legacy that LHPAI was founded for 50 years ago which was being a cultural space for the Black community, an arts and cultural space for the Black community,” says Scott. “LHPAI is the facility, the building and that building is owned and operated by the city of Seattle, owned by the Parks department and operated by the Office of Arts and Culture.”

Why are performing arts important? Art stems from our ability to create the environment under which we want to exist. Whether it through music, dance, prose or writ, how we express ourselves influences how we are perceived and ultimately how one is respected. LHPAI is commemorating 50 years of providing the citizens of Seattle a platform and safe place where we as a people are “allowed” to “express” our brilliance and creativity.

“The arts are so important not to just the city of Seattle but to the region,” says Alley-Barnes. “Because this community asset has created a cultural magnet that shines bright and has a seat for everybody to learn about our Black brilliance, so this is why this legacy is important and why I am passionate about it.”

As an outlet for creative expression, Scott says that cultural arts centers like LHPAI are very important when it comes to the artistic expression of a community.

“Cultural Art Centers and institutions are important to the Black communities because of expression,” says Scott. “Our Cultural and Arts Centers are an outlet, a reflection of our brilliance and creativity. I think that one way we know how to express ourselves is through creative outlets and sometimes its performing and sometimes its other forms of art as well. But that is how we express what is on our hearts and minds.”

“It’s therapeutic in a lot of sense, when I say its an outlet its an alternative to maybe other ways, we have had to express ourselves, this is important to me because especially for our young people in our community to have access to art and culture so that they can understand that there are a number of ways for them to express themselves,” Scott adds.

A 50th Anniversary Celebration for the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (LHPAI) will be held this Sat., Sept. 10 from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. The event will commemorate the role LHPAI has played a central role in the artistic, cultural, and social life of Seattle’s Central District.

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