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'#hellablack' Provides Safe Space For Black Expression And Artistry

Lyndsay Allyn Cox is not concerned with producing work that's palatable for white audiences. Her priority lies in elevating Black artistry.

A dearth of opportunities for Black artists to thrive has always plagued Boston, but the tide is slowly turning. Boston and beyond darlings STL GLD just held their album listening party at the Museum of Fine Arts. Boston's latest Poet Laureate is a Black woman. Last year's Boston Music Awards finally recognized rap as a dominating force on both a local and national scale.

As Director of Theatre Arts at BCA, Cox is wholly aware of the progress but her sense of urgency is not calmed.

She knows her latest creation, #hellablack, is necessary.

The one night pop-up event she's spearheading, #hellablack BCA Mixtape Vol. 1, is taking place on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Boston Center for the Arts' Mills Gallery. In celebration of Black History Month, the goal of #hellablack is simple: to elevate the voices of local Black artists whose contributions to the city don't garner enough recognition.

Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Director of Theatre Arts for the Boston Center for the Arts (Courtesy)
Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Director of Theatre Arts for the Boston Center for the Arts (Courtesy)

"It's clear we have a ways to go. Before coming to BCA, I had a lot of late night conversations about the state of the arts scene in Boston for Black artists," Cox confesses. "I made a decision that I was going to focus my career on creating opportunities for Black artists to create, share and consume art. This event is just one tiny step in that direction."

Not only is #hellablack acknowledging the folks who help shape Boston's creative landscape, it's providing a safe space for them to unpack their experiences. Cox is hopeful in the dialogue and call to action that it will ignite. "I hope #hellablack inspires us to continue making space for Black artists to create, share and consume art. And by us, I mean other Black artists and larger arts organizations," she clarifies.

It's Cox’s pointed self-reflection and sharp aesthetic vision that makes #hellablack an event to watch. She stops not at a celebration of black artistry (though the event is that, too) but also pursues a deeper and nuanced exploration of the varied intersections within black artists.

Although some would like to believe that significant progress has been made since Boston's polarizing and public school desegregation battles of the '70s and '80s, a recent report revealed hate crime reports in Massachusetts reached a 10-year high.  Boston reported the most hate crimes (140) of any jurisdiction in 2017, 10 times as many as the next leading municipality.

In addition, Black Boston residents suffer disproportionately when it comes to access to education, incarceration rates and housing opportunities. These prejudices and barriers inevitably trickle down to public recreational spaces.

Black artists have long said local venues palpably discriminate against hip-hop. And while local museums tend to carry diverse works, it's still relatively rate to see Black artists present their craft in these spaces.

While #hellablack isn't a complete panacea for injustice in Boston, it provides an imaginative reprieve for one of the city's most vulnerable population.

Dance artist Melissa Alexis will perform at #hellablack (Courtesy of the artist)
Dance artist Melissa Alexis will perform at #hellablack (Courtesy of the artist)

Director of Dance at BCA, Andrea Blesso, presented the idea to Cox of a pop-up performance which eventually transformed into an evening that would include a lineup of local Black artists indicative of Boston's current cultural climate. They also align with Cox's vision of the importance and beauty of Black culture being placed front and center.

Taking place at the Mills Gallery, the three-hour function offers an array of diverse artists.

Dance company Jean Appolon Expressions will perform routines honoring the intricacies of Haitian folklore featuring live traditional drumming. Trans activist Eziah Blake, better known as Black Bear Extraordinare, will perform one of their songs. Local spoken word poet Ashley Rose will present work from her lengthy catalogue, which addresses of the intersection of politics and Black womanhood.

"Black art matters. We are out here making beautiful art, sharing the stories of our ancestors through performance and visual art, telling stories about life, love and pain, and moving to rhythms only we can fully experience," said Cox.

The ultimate objective isn't just to celebrate the culture during Black History Month, but to continually make room for unapologetic blackness all year round.

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