It's feast or famine for black patrons and supporters of the performing arts.
Only during the month of February are more blacks, seemingly, attracted to the major art centers across the country. Black History Month celebrations at the Kennedy Center and elsewhere encourage blacks to display an interest in supporting the events presented. Unfortunately, the Kennedy Center, along with most of the art centers for the other 11 months, seems to show little interest in developing and producing attractions for black audiences; fortunately, however, the centers are able to program successfully for black audiences during February.
An ostensibly long and much discussed problem among administrators of performing arts centers is the inability to attract black audiences to attend such centers in predominately black cities. This seems hypocritical, because during February--when they are wanted--the attractions are found. Blacks (in most cases) are not subscribers because of habit; although when there is an event of significant interest to them, they do support it, despite the irregularity of such offerings. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which, by the way, is not appearing there this season, had sustained successful seasons at the Kennedy Center throughout the '70s. This February, the Dance Theater of Harlem was well attended and supported by blacks during its brief stint at the Kennedy Center.
Blacks believe that their values, if they are to be realized at all, must be realized in America and in relation to the actuality of American life. In addition, black artists and performers must be encouraged to participate fully in the art centers as the interpreters and recorders of black perspectives of the American dream.
The Arena, Ford, National and Warner theaters have all had successful, predominately black-oriented shows such as "Raisin," "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God," "The Wiz," "Timbuktu," "Ain't Misbehavin' " and "One Mo' Time." These shows have played repeated engagements in the Washington area to audiences both black and white. Still, there are too few outlets or producers actively engaged in promoting and developing appropriate vehicles for black performing artists.
It's sad in a way that, after a decade of art centers, thousands of studies, millions of words, tens of millions of dollars, we still cannot cultivate democracy and the rights of the "common man." American life is indeed partisan and racist; the cultural centers reflect this viewpoint through the proliferation of kitsch and the profit motive. Today, all Americans are victims of an increasingly sophisticated cultural control in which business, government, media, schools and art centers are limiting and restricting the known outlets that reflect black existence and validation.
Across the country, many art centers and their administrators continue to practice the same biases and bigotries that have existed in American culture and society since the beginning of this country. This consistent hypocrisy, perpetuated on all taxpayers, is present in their development and choice of performers, playwrights, directors, designers and imported spectaculars of international acclaim. It is understandable that art centers desire to make an adequate return on all attractions and events, yet there are still half-filled audiences and seemingly little continuing interest in developing and producing other choices.