By Jennifer WarrenCulutre
BEACON – Whether it was art, music or poetry, the Howland Cultural Center appeared to have all creative bases covered Saturday afternoon.
Once again, the historic, architecturally impressive Center housed a host of art created by about 20 local artists, as it celebrated the beginning of National African-American History Month with the Exhibit’s Opening. Most of all those artists came out to discuss their creations with a packed audience, who carefully navigated the two-story impressive building, as they admired close to 100 pieces, while paying tribute to African Americans’ rich heritage and contributions. Not only was this year’s Opening one of the largest in its history, but it was one of its most diverse, providing soulful sounds from three local musicians; African drummer Baba Kazi Oliver, singer and pianist Ray Watkins and musician Doug Belding. Local spoken word performer, “Gold” also entertained the crowd with her emotionally-charged, rythmic recitations revolving around themes of racism, tolerance and peace.
This year’s Show features an ensemble of both veteran contributers as well as new ones. One of those long-time returnees is Newburgh artist Richard Outlaw who is showing in his 10th “African-American History Month Group Exhibit” at Howland. The overall flavor and aura of both the building itself as well as the event are indisputable drawers to Outlaw, who specializes in abstract, Afro-centric and self portraits and has six pieces on display at this year’s Exhibit.
“It’s just so great to be here today; I look forward to this day each year; Howland is like a second home to me, as the work of all these different artists is so diverse and beautiful to see,” said a smiling Outlaw, whose 14 year old daughter Symantha is contributing to the show for the eighth time with her piece, “In the Zone.” “This is just such a great way to display my work, and it’s a very festive setting as well as a chance to see local artists and other people I haven’t seen in a while.” Outlaw added, “It’s nice to have the African-American History theme, but honestly we need much more than just one month to tell our story.”
Another returnee to this year’s Exhibit is Poughkeepsie resident, Helen Douglas, whose riveting photos that speak narratives, were adorning the Howland walls for the sixth time. This year’s selections are images she captured while back in Boston during her college days. She was quick to cite the differences in photography back at those times as well as her ongoing passion for the craft itself.
“It was a time when you developed film and pictures on your own, back in the day,” smiled a reflective Douglas, whose ensemble includes a self portrait and one of her daughter. “I like doing pictures of people, as each has a story, surprises, all kinds of things to tell; I try to catch an expression, a look, something about that person that catches my eye, and makes me think about what they are thinking and who they are.”
As with all the artists in this Group Exhibit, Douglas sees something particularly authentic about the Howland experience.
“All the different types of work, the shape and size of the venue, that really lends itself to seeing everything from any given point,” Douglas said about the experience of showing at the Beacon locale. “This show honors our art and gives us a chance to talk about what we do and show it.”
And the audience Saturday was certainly happy all 20 artists were able to deliver just that, and even more.
“It was very inspiring to see various forms of art: musical, literary, spoken word and mixed media art; it’s particularly nice to see so many talented artists and other creative people from the Hudson Valley celebrating the African-American experience,” said one of the guests, Joyce Smith of the Town of Newburgh. “As an African-American myself, it is wonderful to see an event that celebrates my heritage and culture in such a positive way; it’s truly breathtaking.”