One of Syracuse’s long-standing Black arts organizations is paying homage to the arts by welcoming an international dance company. 

In celebration of the Community Folk Art Center’s 50th anniversary, the historic Landmark Theater opens its stage to the renowned Ailey II-Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m.  

The milestone event will present the work of Ailey II’s newly appointed Artistic Director Francesca Harper. 

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic and the forthcoming 50th anniversary, CFAC had intentions of welcoming the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to Syracuse to celebrate a professional dancer affiliated with the company and a Syracuse native. 

Dr. Tanisha Jackson, Syracuse University Assistant Professor of African American studies and CFAC Executive Director, admits Central New York seldom receives the opportunity to see the prestigious dance company. CFAC sought to carry out their pre-pandemic celebratory goals by presenting the dance theater’s work this year.

“I feel like dance has the power to transcend a lot of those identity markers and demographics in ways that capture a wider net of people who would appreciate participating in our celebratory program,” Jackson said. 

With a career spanning over two decades as an African diaspora arts scholar, Jackson has worked in Black cultural centers on community-based and institutional levels.

“It is organizations like the Community Folk Art Center that have provided a home away from home that is necessary for so many people,” Jackson said. She credits CFAC as a space that allows people to explore ideas, host town forums, and engage in scholarly conversations. 

Founded in 1972 by the late Herbert T. Williams, an African American studies professor at Syracuse University – along with a collective of faculty and students, as well as Syracuse residents and local talents – CFAC is recognized as a subunit of the Department of African American studies at SU.

As one of the oldest and most esteemed organizations in Central New York, CFAC serves as an artistic and cultural hub for African diasporic creatives.

Ailey II’s Meagan King and Travon M. Williams. Photo credit: Nir Arieli. Courtesy of Community Folk Art Center.

For Syracuse native Cjala Surratt, CFAC has played a significant role in developing her artistry. Surratt’s multi-professional titles as CFAC Board secretary and communications and marketing coordinator at LightWork, directly reflect the impressional teachings of the organization during her earlier years as a member. It also led her to teaching in pre-professional arts programs.

“For me I’m very much connected (to CFAC) because I know there are those who poured into me their passions and therefore, I want to give back as well, so that we’re cultivating the generation coming behind us,” Surratt said.

Surratt explains CFAC represents a power in place within Central New York that houses a space for people who look like her. 

Jackson and Surratt believe an event of this caliber within Syracuse is important for upcoming local talents and reflective of the times. 

One of the performance pieces entitled Revelations is said to “fervently explore the places of the deepest grief and the holiest joy in the soul,” Dr. Jackson said, in reference to one of the company’s founders.

“You can’t imagine yourself into a space or into a profession that you don’t see,” Surratt said. “To offer our community, seeing what hard work in a particular practice-this being dance- where it can lead you.” She mentions CFAC endeavors to support people who want to be artists with the emphasis of attracting patrons.

CFAC offers a variety of events for the public, including film screenings, gallery talks, workshops, exhibitions, and in-studio courses. Additionally, their Creative Arts Academy provides art accessibility to middle school and high school students in the community.  

Both sources bring awareness to the growing trend of institutions pushing to make Black cultural spaces more inclusive. Surratt and Dr. Jackson counter this by emphasizing the need for representation in unique ethnic organizations.

“Having CFAC in existence does not discount inclusivity, and I think that’s a misconception that needs to be addressed,” Dr. Jackson said. “We need specific individual representation and CFAC has been an organization that continues to stand on the original mission, which the cofounders developed.”

As CFAC looks ahead to its next 50 years, its goals include expanding internationally, creating artists in residency programs, and developing a larger infrastructure to service the demand of the community. 

Among the well known Black cultural spaces Jackson cites are the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

“I’m hoping that we become the go-to leaders of Black thought when it comes to African diaspora art.”

For further details on CFAC’s work and to purchase tickets for their 50th anniversary event, visit the official website. 

VIP and general admission tickets are available for purchase online. Attendees can also buy their tickets at the Landmark Theater box office. Seating is limited. 

CFAC invites VIP ticket holders to a luncheon and art auction fundraiser on Oct. 22 at 12 p.m. scheduled to be held at the CFAC gallery on 805 E. Genesee St. in Syracuse. The exhibition will feature creative works from CFAC co-founders and archived photographs of the organization throughout the years. 

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