Spotlight: Ashe Cultural Arts Center

A performance at Ashe

Program format: Arts-focused community center offering a variety of programming to serve people of all ages, cultivating and honoring community through the arts and culture. In addition to workshops, they also serve as a presenting space.

Art form(s): All forms, but primarily performance arts such as theatre and dance.

Location: New Orleans

Community served: New Orleans’ Central City neighborhood.

Mission: During this Post Hurricane Katrina recovery phase, to serve as:

  • A community-based center for ReBuild New Orleans activities
  • A strong advocate for culture, community and justice principles in the ReBuild New Orleans effort
  • A leader in the strategy to re-populate the Central City neighborhood with it’s former residents, and other like-minded neighbors who will work with us to establish a community that respects the values of diversity, justice, cultural fabric, strong families, strong educational resources, youth development, and a robust economy available to all
  • A producer and presenter of multi-disciplinary cultural art works throughout the New Orleans Diaspora (Katrina evacuee locations) that inform and guide the consciousness of community, public policymakers, and business leaders about ReBuild New Orleans issues; and
  • Support and assistance for New Orleans artists and culture bearers in their efforts to resume their lives and careers

The Ashe Cultural Arts Center is truly a gathering place for the community they serve.  In the week that I was in New Orleans I attended an end-of-year performance by the Young Audiences youth, a bi-weekly health/dance workshop for women, and a celebration of the Freedom Riders coming to New Orleans, all in Ashe’s space.  In addition to the things I was able to attend, I missed the Kuumba Institute, Ashe’s youth arts education program that runs on Saturdays.

Not only does Ashe provide a wide diversity of programs for the community to participate in, they also have their own nationally recognized theatre troupe, which most recently created a production in partnership with Eve Ensler, of the Vagina Monologues. They maintain a very strong presence in the Central City community – they are at the table of virtually any meeting that takes place regarding their community. This enables them to both remain aware of the current issues of concern (and incorporate this into their performances and programs) but also to remain a trusted face, and to gather support for whatever they decide to work on.

Executive Director Carol Bebelle puts a strong emphasis on the role of culture in their work.  She talks about culture as the origin of art, of creativity, and the idea that every social space has a culture.  It is important to first recognize the culture of the community in which you work, and figure out how to best teach what you need to teach within that cultural environment. She brings up the difficulty of getting past the idea many people have that “artists” are these special creatures and only they can practice art.  Everyone has a creative path, and the importance of this work is in helping people to find that path.

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