Artist and Lecture Series: Nikki Giovanni and Ailey II

When SPSCC President Timothy Stokes, Ph. D., was first hired last year, he proposed the idea of organizing an Artist and Lecture Series for the college and community. Stokes initiated the project by assigning David Rector, Ph. D., dean of student life, and Kellie Braseth, dean of college relations, to the task.

Rector explained that he and Braseth work together to gather recommendations for possible presenters in the series, as well as in managing the administrative tasks of the process such as negotiating and securing contracts. The theme of this year’s series is “Reflections,” which was decided by a small group of faculty and staff members, said Rector. Because of the focus of this series is diversity, the director of diversity and equity, Eileen Yoshina, has also been involved the the planning.

The two most recent installations in the series were a presentation by Nikki Giovanni, a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator and a dance performance by Ailey II.  As both happened to be traveling near Western Washington for Black History Month, securing them as performers in the series became more convenient, said Braseth.

Giovanni was suggested as a potential speaker earlier in the planning process and “fits in perfectly with the theme,” as her content focuses on the power of the individual, said Rector.

Braseth, who has been familiar with Giovanni’s work since she was a teenager, described her content to be “really accessible, even for folks who don’t see themselves as readers of poetry. She’s had something insightful to say on everything from the death of Tupac Shakur to finding the perfect beer.”

Prior to her evening presentation, a read-in was hosted to allow students, staff, and faculty to connect with Giovanni and her work on a more personal level.  Kayla Perez, the Campus Activities Board’s diversity outreach coordinator, helped to organize this event.

Her role included purchasing some of Giovanni’s books to give to students, finding a location for the event to take place, event promotion, and working closely with the event’s English faculty sponsor, Jennifer Berney.

During the read-in, the topics discussed ranged from “militant activism to a house’s dirty windows to pork-chops,” said Perez. She believes Giovanni’s content is important because as a published author, she is a role model to women of color and her work “exemplifies the power that comes with believing your story is worth telling.”

Ailey II was brought to SPSCC in partnership with Ballet Northwest in Olympia. To Braseth, the proposal of this partnership was a perfect way to strengthen the college’s relationship with the community. Both Ailey II and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater are celebrated around the country and provide a remarkable caliber of dancers and choreographers, said Braseth.

Similar to Giovanni’s read-in, a Question and Answer session was held before the performance to give audience members the opportunity to learn more about Ailey II.

As a whole, the Artist and Lecture Series “is really allowing us to leverage the Minnaert Center to the benefit of our students, the college, and the community,” said Braseth. In addition to the performing arts space, the series also utilizes the art gallery portion of the center.

The finale of this year’s Artist and Lecture Series is currently planned as a celebration of the of the 60th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, said Braseth.

According to Braseth, “Brown changed the face of education.” This case ended legal segregation in public schools.

For the event, judges of the Washington State Supreme Court will reenact the Supreme Court argument. Following this presentation will be a dinner and a keynote address by Cheryl Brown Henderson, whose family was involved in the original case.

Braseth anticipates this event to be a “really strong” end to the series.