By Sue Ann Rybak
This past weekend, FunTimes Magazine, in collaboration with Elebration, Sol Fed and ZBE Productions, hosted “The Colour of Culture: A Celebration of the African Diaspora” — a free community African art gallery featuring local visual artists, musicians, singers and spoken-word artists at newly renovated FunTimes building, 1226 N. 52nd St., in West Philadelphia.
The festivities were part of FunTimes’ multicultural mission to showcase the arts, culture, music, education and small business while celebrating the importance of investing in the local cultural economy. The event also opened up the building as a space for the community.
FunTimes’ Publisher Eric Nzeribe said the goal of the event was to bring African-American, African and Caribbean communities together in Philadelphia through diversity and grassroots community engagement.
He said FunTimes wanted to highlight the value of both art and commerce to “create an opportunity for artists, musicians and local businesses to make some money.”
“We are in the community, and we want to engage with the community,” Nzeribe said. “There is a lot of love and talent in this neighborhood, but we don’t have a lot of money in this community. So, we are trying to find ways to support local businesses and provide more opportunities for community members. A lot more can be done through communication and education to promote diversity. We hope to have more events that bring people together in the future.”
Rupert E. Salmon, Terrence L. Gore, Gail Lloyd, Nile Livingston, Niambi Brown and Rashied Amon were just a few of the artists whose works were on display.
Jamaican native Salmon, known as Ikuru, with his wide smile and bubbly face, was the first person you see when you enter the first floor of the building. His expressive eyes lit up like a pinball machine when he talked to curious onlookers about his artwork including two framed pieces entitled “Life.” He stood in front of the image of a women carved from pine. The piece was framed on a red background next to a companion piece of a man whittled in a mahogany-frame on a yellow background.
In addition to wood carving, the versatile Ikuru sketches, paints, writes poetry, makes pottery and works with marble.
Ikuru currently has an exhibit, “Moon at Night,” at The Free Library of Philadelphia at 19th and Arch streets. He describes his art as “authentic, relaxing … and just nice.”
Gail Lloyd, of Germantown, also had her artwork on display. Before becoming a professional sculptor three years ago, she worked in the independent film industry.
“I always loved working with clay,” she said. “I just didn’t envision it in my future [as a career].”
Lloyd, originally from Washington, said working with clay is very organic compared to film, which has become more digital and less tangible. Lloyd said she believes ultimately there is life to her art producing sort of “a spirit in the clay that comes alive after the clay hardens.”
She added that her artwork is “memory-inspired,” and she doesn’t use models. Besides doing pottery, Lloyd enjoys painting with acrylics. If you missed her artwork, don’t worry. She currently has a piece on exhibit at The Colored Girls Museum in Germantown.
Nearby, Masie Blu, a singer and entrepreneur from Roots Generate, was showcasing a different kind of art. She was promoting authentic homemade jewelry and fashion accessories made by tribes in Kenya, Ghana and other places a continent away.
Upstairs in the two-story building, Jeff Brown, the Founder and President of CEO of Brown’s Superstore, LLC, co-sponsored the event. He has supported many causes in underserved communities. The two days featured live performances by singers, musicians and spoken-word artists presented by Milena of Sol Fed Open Mic and the all-female band Black Canvas and the Sounds of Diaspora with DJ Reezey showcasing cultural indigenous Afro and Caribbean music. Brown took behind the controls of the turntables to learn a few riffs with DJ Reezey.
The event also featured a panel discussion on Black Arts and Liberation that included Tiffany Bacon, an actor, radio personality and fashion designer; Arabia Richardson, a self-proclaimed “dancivist;” and Terrence L. Gore, a multimedia artist, and several others. Gore is an inspiration and shared his journey of living with a rare progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), caused by HIV. The expression of his artistry is part of his healing therapy.
Zane Booker, of West Philly, participated in the panel discussion. Before injuring his ankle, he performed nationally and internationally with several dance companies such as The White Oak Dance Project, Fosse International Tour and The Philadelphia Dance Company.
Booker, who worked as the deli manager at the ShopRite on Island Avenue, said he took the job to start rebuilding himself. Thanks to Brown and his unique business incubation program, which partners with local entrepreneurs providing retail space to sell their products, Booker will open “Brown Street Café” inside the supermarket in the fall.
“We closed the hoagie bar in our store, and in the back of my mind, I thought it would make a beautiful coffee bar,” said Booker, “so when ShopRite’s business incubation program presented itself, I made a pitch.”
He added the store is named after the street where he was born.
While working at ShopRite, Booker recently started the Kitchen Table Dance Collective with Meredith Rainey, Chandra Moss-Thorne and Danielle Currica to educate and support Black dancers.
Booker’s boss Brown, who owns 10 ShopRites and two Fresh Grocer stores in the Philadelphia region, said he champions community endeavors like The Colour of Culture event and entrepreneurial programs to give back to neighborhoods.
Brown said: “It’s all about the community, connections and relationships, building each other up and being curious about culture, religion, art, customs and anthropology and looking at that in a positive way to learn about other people’s culture. Once we know and trust each other and have a love for each other’s cultures, we can make magical things happen.”