Last week there were two outstanding HBCU announcements affecting the arts. Howard University named Phylicia Rashad as dean of its reestablished College of Fine Arts. The award-winning actress brings her theatrical skills and accomplishments from television, stage and film to the Washington, D.C., institution. In addition, Spelman College in Atlanta revealed that their new arts center will be named the LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Samuel L. Jackson Performing Arts Center. The naming honors a lifetime of artistic achievements and support by alumna Richardson Jackson and Jackson, a Morehouse College alumnus.
Howard is known for producing many talented artists including classical music talents Jessye Norman and Richard Smallwood and actors Chadwick Boseman, Roxie Roker and Debbie Allen — the equally talented sister of Rashad. In Atlanta, between Spelman, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta University, students who established impressive careers include Spike Lee, Kenny Leon and Bill Nunn in addition to Richardson Jackson and Jackson.
Over the past 30 years, we have seen a reduction in funding for arts programs in K-12 and higher education. Music, visual arts, theater and dance are a few of the disciplines under the fine arts collective. Some District residents may remember when D.C. Public Schools offered children’s plays during the 1960s in the Ira Aldridge Theatre on the Howard campus. That kind of early exposure to theater for K-12 students expands the imagination of young minds.
Wherever the arts are on an HBCU campus, students, faculty and surrounding communities reap the benefits. Let us not forget that during segregation, HBCU campuses and churches were the only places Blacks could attend performances. By growing their arts programs, Howard and Spelman are demonstrating how HBCU campuses remain committed to the development of the “whole” person. The arts serve as an integral component in that development.