Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (Seattle)

  • By Zola Mumford
  • Posted 8/06/2014
  • Essay 10909

For more than 40 years, a community center named for Harlem Renaissance luminary Langston Hughes (1902-1967) and housed under the dome of a former synagogue has played a major role in the artistic, cultural, and social life of Seattle's Central Area. Known since 2013 as the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, the building located at 104 17th Avenue South at Yesler Way began life as Chevra Bikur Cholim, an orthodox Jewish synagogue. Since 1971, after the City of Seattle used federal Model Cities funds to acquire the building, it has been known variously as the Yesler-Atlantic Community Center, the Langston Hughes Cultural Center, the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center, the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, and the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. Management and administrative structures for center operations have changed many times, but Seattle residents' fondness for Langston Hughes and the creative atmosphere he inspired has endured for generations. Many African American Seattleites with personal, cultural, and professional ties to the Central Area still refer affectionately to the building as "Langston."

Chevra Bikur Cholim

Chevra Bikur Cholim was established in 1891; the congregation built a synagogue at 13th Avenue and Washington Street in 1897. In 1908, the congregation began raising funds for a new building to accommodate its growing membership. Designed by Marcus B. Priteca (1889-1971) and completed in 1915, the new synagogue could seat up to 1,400 in a "white brick terra cotta" structure "surmounted by a colored dome" rising 70 feet above street level ("New Synagogue ...").

"The design of the synagogue, Byzantine, is emblematic of the Jewish faith. It was selected by the architect ... after he had made an exhaustive study of the architecture of the Biblical era and [in] particular of the Jerusalem temple ... Mr. Priteca, who is known throughout the West for the architecture he has exhibited in several theaters built for Alexander Pantages, devoted his very best efforts to working out a design that would be impressive in a dignified way as well as symbolical, and the members of the congregation are enthusiastic over the results" ("New Synagogue ...").

The congregation sold its building to the City of Seattle in 1969 as the result of efforts by Walter R. Hundley (1929-2002), Program Director of Seattle's Model Cities Program, and other Central Area citizens to acquire the building for use as a community center. Some services and events continued to be held in the synagogue through 1971. That year Chevra Bikur Cholim merged with Congregation Machzikay Hadath, becoming Congregation Bikur Cholim -- Machzikay Hadath; that congregation's new building on South Morgan Street was completed in 1972.

Model Cities: the Yesler-Atlantic Community Center

Seattle was the first city awarded federal funds to implement urban renewal under the Model Cities Program (established by the Demonstration Cities and Metropolitan Act of 1966). The Model Cities Program was intended to address poverty and social inequalities by improving physical and social conditions. Citizen involvement in planning and development was a major element of the program.

In 1967 Walter Hundley, then Director of the Central Area Motivation Program, was selected by a citizen's committee to head Seattle's Model Cities Program, and the effort he and others led to purchase the synagogue building was conducted under the auspices of that program. Once the purchase had been arranged, planning began for use of the building as a community center managed by the city parks and recreation department. A large, multipurpose facility in the Central Area had the potential to develop stronger community ties while dollars circulated close to home.

According to one analysis, "instead of groups having to go out of their area for a special convention or event, they would now have a special facility in which to hold their own meetings or events, including a large banquet facility and a large hall for their presentations" (Gabrielson, 1972). Seattle's Model Cities office estimated that local areas residents would make up 90 percent of those who used the center.

A 1972 Cooperation Agreement called for a wide range of city-sponsored programs and activities -- including classes in English for immigrants, flower arranging, dance, crafts, Japanese cooking, African history, and Filipino art; social club events; a food program; and youth social activities -- to move from the Collins Recreation Center at 16th and Washington streets to the new Yesler Neighborhood Center Project, as the former synagogue building was to be known.

All of the classes proposed for the new community center were to be free to the public and funded by grants. The agreement also mentioned "provision of space for day care programming, use of the facility by the Cinematography Project of the Model Cities Program, and provision of Drop-In Center activities for the elderly of the service area" (Gabrielson, 1972).

Construction work to convert the synagogue building into a community center began on April 6, 1971, and was completed on March 31, 1972. Daycare and office space now occupied an extension built by Chevra Bikur Cholim as its Education Annex in 1961-1962. A house on the southwest corner of the lot, formerly occupied by synagogue caretakers, was demolished and a patio/play area for the childcare center built in its place. The final cost of the renovated facility was $761,968.23. On Sunday, July 16, 1972, the newly renovated Yesler-Atlantic Community Center was dedicated in a public ceremony.

Community Engagement

The new community center's small staff devoted itself to creating a welcoming atmosphere, as reflected in a 1972 letter from Ruth K. Arai of the Saga School of Japanese Flower Arranging to Yesler-Atlantic Community Center Director Tom Turner and Supervisor Willie Campbell.

"We drew a larger crowd than ever before and received so many compliments on the location, the newly re-done quarters, especially the 'no steps' for the elderly and most of all we appreciated the very sincere and helpful cooperation of the entire staff. Don't be surprised if in the future you might be approached by other Japanese Flower Schools to have their exhibit there" (Arai).

Performing artists, churches, and community groups rented the center's theater for a wide-ranging variety of events, some of which were characteristic of the period. "New Dimensions in Music," a November 1972 concert, combined live performers and multiple synthesizers with "audience participation, with the synthesizers, and the visual realization of sound through oscilloscope and radar tubes" ("N.D.M. Concert ...").

Supervisor Willie Campbell's handwritten list of some of those who used the building in 1973 provides a snapshot of Central Area life at the time. It includes various school department groups, Model Cities staff, the Human Rights and Community Development departments, and other city agencies; many religious groups, including New Hope Baptist Church, Cherry Hill Baptist Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Clear Tone Gospel Church, and Damascus Baptist Church; organizations including King County Foster Parents Association, Washington State Women's Political Caucus, Century Social Club, Seattle Council PTA, Seattle United Black Arts Guild, Harborview Community Health Center, Black Culture Workshop, Seattle Chapter of the Links, Inc., and Jack & Jill Organization of America; a Koyasan Folk Lore Open House; the Safeway Christmas Party; and many other shows, meetings, wedding showers, graduations, and more.

Early Challenges

Despite the center's promising start, an exchange of January and February 1973 letters indicates that some classes suffered from low participation rates. In a January 1973 memorandum Turner and Campbell expressed concerns about the Yesler-Atlantic Community Center's future. Center staff promoted classes and events by sending weekly news releases to radio stations KJR, KYAC, and KIXI. They also sent press releases to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Facts, and The Seattle Medium newspapers as well as the Franklin High School student newsletter.

In April 1973, Model Cities Program Director Walter Hundley warned parks superintendent Hans A. Thompson that Model Cities would not be able to continue paying for a security guard at the center. In October 1974 the center did receive an additional $28,500 in Model Cities funds to extend operation support. It soon began to charge a $5 class-enrollment fee.

A New Name for Changing Times

The global Black Consciousness movement of the 1960s and 1970s was just as alive in Seattle as in other U.S. cities with larger African American populations. Changing historical and social perspectives led to discussion of a new name for the center representative of the history and culture of the neighborhood's primarily African American population. Names considered by the Yesler-Atlantic Community Center Board included the DuBois Dome (proposed by Mildred Russell on January 9, 1973, after W. E. B. DuBois); the Paul Robeson Cultural Center (proposed by Russell on February 24, 1973); and the Langston Hughes Cultural Center, recommended by Ms. J. T. Stewart, the Chair of the Yesler-Atlantic Advisory Board. In keeping with the Model Cities mission, public input was requested: "Names should be placed in a box at the receptionist's desk at the center" ("Name Sought ...").

Bruce Chapman, chairman of the city council's Parks and Public Ground Committee, supported naming the center for Hughes:

"I understand that an excellent name has been suggested for the Yesler-Atlantic Community Center. In my opinion, to call it the 'Langston Hughes Cultural Center' would most appropriately honor a great Black American poet and writer. The name is fitting and I do support it" (Chapman letter, April 3, 1973).

The name change was confirmed in a May 30, 1973, letter to the Yesler-Atlantic Advisory Board from Virginia van Ness, Chair of the Board of Park Commissioners, and subsequently placed on record and officially adopted by the City of Seattle. The Seattle Times announced a June 9, 1974, ceremony, luncheon, and entertainment for the dedication of the center under its new name: the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center, or LHCAC.

Langston Hughes: His Presence and Influence in Seattle

Poet, playwright, author, traveler, and Harlem Renaissance luminary Langston Hughes, the center's future namesake, first spoke in Seattle on Thursday, May 26, 1932. Three years later he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship. Hughes delivered a public lecture titled "Color Around the World" on January 24, 1946, one of a series presented by the Associated Women Students of the University of Washington.

A headline published the following day read "Negroes Happiest in Seattle, Says Writer of Verse, Song," but Hughes's actual commentary as described in the article was not quite so idealistic:

"Hughes ... reported today the impression prevails in the rest of the nation that Seattle is 'a liberal city where social problems do not exist on the same scale as elsewhere.' Hughes ... said that Seattle had more to offer a non-white in educational and cultural lines than many other western and eastern cities. 'However, the great influx of Negroes to the West was purely economic,' he added. 'Now that they are here, they are finding it a much happier place in which to live than say, the South, or Portland, Or. ... Negroes all over America are under the impression that Seattle understands them, although there is not too much opportunity for them here'" ("Negroes Happiest ...").

Hughes quoted his lyrics for "I Dream a World," an arietta from Troubled Island, a new opera he was working on at the time:

I dream a world where men
No other man will scorn.
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn.
A world I dream where black or white
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free.

Hughes's Harlem-set musical comedy Simply Heavenly was staged by The Contemporary Players at Seattle University's Piggott Auditorium in 1959 and again in 1960 at the Boards Playhouse.

In 1967 Paul Bellesen, an African American from Marysville, established North by Northwest Adventurers, a Central Area-based youth seafaring program, and began raising funds to purchase a boat to be christened the Langston Hughes. Years earlier, Hughes had sent Bellesen an autographed copy of his book The Best of Simple. The organization was able to purchase an 85-foot tugboat built in Canada in 1906; two other boats were later donated. Students took to the waters of Puget Sound and learned helmsmanship, charting, communication, marlin-spike seamanship, deck duties, scuba diving, safety, ocean studies, and more. Works by Hughes shared space with nautical books on the shipboard library shelves.

In the early 2000s, Jacqueline Moscou, Artistic Director of the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, directed annual productions of Hughes' play Black Nativity, staged at Intiman, the Moore, and other Seattle theaters.

Classes, Food, and Clothing

In 1974 the newly dedicated Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center offered classes for a wide audience: "Pantomime for the Deaf," "Advanced Karate," "Koyasan Folklore," "International Crafts" for ages 6-12 and adults (macramé, batik, tie dye, clay stitchery and block printing), Ikebana flower arranging, puppetry, acting, public speaking, music, art, literature, stage lighting, and more. Many children from the nearby St. Mary's Elementary School attended classes twice a week after school.

Francene Major, hired as program director in 1974, discussed her program plans with a Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter: "We plan to add creative writing, drama, modeling classes, and a course to teach the kids to take care of their Afro hair cuts ... I hope to add other programs as soon as I find out what the community would like. That's always hard to judge but we have to find out their needs if we are going to serve them" (Grimley)

Class schedules from 1975 list adult exercise, Japanese flower arranging, creative dance, arts and crafts, acting, basic photography for children from seven through their teens, painting, creative writing, sewing, an "Oratory Mini Course," and hair grooming. Other programs included a weekly Japanese folklore class, "Campi Pre-Satellite School," "Creative Movement for Pre-Schoolers," guitar lessons, and a cultural exchange program operated with Purdy State Reformatory, the Washington State Reformatory at Monroe, McNeil Island, and the King County Juvenile Court. A "To Langston with Love" field trip taught children about Langston Hughes's life, travels, and work, and minority inventors. Films shown at the center ranged from The Learning Tree, directed by LIFE magazine photographer Gordon Parks, to Return of the Dragon, starring former Seattle resident Bruce Lee.

The Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center offered more than arts and culture. The Post-Intelligencer reported in 1974:

"A big draw to the center is a food program through the Department of Agriculture. Free meals are served to any young person up to 21 years. During the school year breakfast is served on Saturdays and dinner is at 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Snacks also are provided to children after classes. Last month 298 breakfasts, 2,285 dinners and 1,784 snacks were served" (Grimley).

Food and clothing were distributed to needy adults at the December 1973 holiday party. This practice of generosity continued for years. LHCAC addressed the problem of child hunger by becoming a location for the city-sponsored Summer Sack Lunch Program. In 1985 the summer program schedule also promoted "Everybody's Birthday Party," a way to give all kids aged 5 to 14 a celebration with birthday cake and games. Guests were asked to bring donations of canned food to a December holiday dance. During the 1980s, Central Area United Senior Citizens used the center's large multipurpose room for its lunch program.

By 1976 Walter Hundley had been appointed Budget Director at the Seattle Parks Department. He remained supportive of LHCAC, as shown by his advocacy for the center's Food Supplement Program. When federal Department of Agriculture funding failed to keep up with increased food prices, Hundley requested for an emergency funds appropriation and the parks department transferred $1,500 between budget areas, keeping the Food Supplement Program operating.  

Community Engagement

LHCAC remained busy through the end of the 1970s. A 1978 program schedule mentions the Langston Hughes Repertory Theatre Company: "this community oriented center has formed the first in-house community theatre in the Central Area" ("Langston Hughes ... Winter 1978"). The company staged Jean Genet's The Blacks in 1979.

During 1978 and 1979 the center offered courses in karate, astronomy, tumbling, meditation, yoga, photography, painting, drawing, and playwriting in addition to "Senior Citizen Activities" and an occasional on-site, drop-in Geriatric Clinic. "Survival for Parents" provided "an opportunity to talk about concerns and problems facing parents today. Single parents and extended families are welcome" ("Langston Hughes ... Winter 1978"). Instructors taught classes ranging from woodworking to playing bridge and chess to drill team steps, patterns, and technique to Chinese brush painting and calligraphy. Children aged eight to 16 could get help from tutors or learn to cook nutritious meals with the King County and Washington State University Extension service.

The disco craze was mirrored in a six-week Disco Dance Lessons course by Larry Cabrales: "Keep up with the modern dance steps. Learn such steps as the Bump and the Hustle from a professional teacher" ("Langston Hughes ... Winter 1979"). A roller skating class was held at nearby Washington Middle School. A twice-weekly drop-in activity group for young mothers provided activities (macramé, sewing, drama, writing, art) and a chance to make friends. Robert Long taught American Sign Language. Seattle and King County libraries provided films for an ongoing free children's film series. Daily youth drop-in activities for children 16 and under included a social hour with ping-pong, pool, and other games. LHCAC classes now cost $5-$10; a HUD Block Grant provided compensation for instructors.

During the early years of the 1980s LHCAC offered fewer classes than it had in the prior decade. However, certain artists and program instructors became associated with the center as a result of frequent classes and performances there, becoming in effect artists-in-residence and enabling intensive concentrations in their respective disciplines. The Paul Robeson Community Theater Group (PRCTG) became LHCAC's theater-in-residence around 1980. The PRCTG presented several plays written or adapted by actor, director, producer, and longtime Central Area resident Umeme Upesi.

In 1982 Seattle's chapter of the National Council of Negro Women rented LHCAC to present the traveling film series Reel to Real: Black Women Make Films. The event foreshadowed the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival, established by Artistic Director Jacqueline Moscou in 2003.

Arts and Culture of the African Diaspora and Beyond

LHCAC programming upheld the center's commitment to providing access to arts and culture from across the African diaspora and supporting the effort with rehearsal and performance space. From the time of its opening the center was a frequent location for performances by African drumming and dance ensembles, some of them led by professional musicians and dancers, other based at local high schools and middle schools. In March 1974, Capoeira Angola Western Washington State presented "The Capoeira Exhibition" at LHCAC, an event described as "a program on African culture featuring a ballet of gladiators involved in a mock battle" ("African Ballet ..."). By 1982 LHCAC offered Capoeira classes. In 1984 Jack Spencer taught steel drums. In 1985, Won-Ldy Paye taught Liberian folk dance, Liberian ballet dance (dance-drama), and Liberian drama and poetry.

During the 1980s, Kofi Anang led a drumming and dance ensemble that frequently rehearsed at LHCAC and taught Ghanaian dance. In the winter of 1980 Zimbabwean dancer and musician Lora Chiorah-Dye began teaching Shona dance, music, singing, and language classes. From 1979 Sheree Sparks taught mbira (similar to the kalimba, or 'thumb piano'), Southern African drumming, and African children's games and songs. In 1982 Sparks joined the Shona language classes as co-teacher; Sparks would later teach marimba classes and lead Sukutai Marimba Ensemble rehearsals in the first-floor classrooms through the mid-2000s. Christina Pullen also taught African drumming and dance in addition to teaching acting, writing and producing her play Under the Auspices, and directing the Senior Citizens Acting Ensemble.

Two program-schedule cover designs from 1981 and 1982 attest to a particular Afro-Asian diasporic intersectional sensibility present in Central and South Seattle. A 1981 design incorporates images of the African continent, a lion, a dragon, and elements of the Hinomaru version of the national flag of Japan showing a rising sun with rays. A 1982 design repeats the motifs of continent, lion, and dragon with the rising sun as background. Karate classes for youth and adults drew loyal students to LHCAC for years; for a few seasons LHCAC offered "Karate for Women Only." In April 1982 the Seattle Central Community College Asian Pacific Student Organization and the Asian Pacific American Arts Consortium presented the multimedia play Breaking Out, in the LHCAC theater. Playwright Timoteo Cordova staged the world premiere of his play Heart of the Son, about political leader and Philippine President General Emilio Aguinaldo, at LHCAC in 1994.

A Full House

In 1987, Seattle Parks and Recreation planner Lou Ann Kirby compiled an issue paper that included results of a detailed study of LHCAC as one of three specific sites under consideration as an African American Cultural Heritage Center in the Central Area. She wrote:"As the only cultural arts center remaining under the Department's jurisdiction, Langston Hughes offers a unique program. Its target service area is citywide, and because of its outstanding ethnic cultural tradition, it has regional appeal" (Kirby, 8).

However, the study noted that the LHCAC building needed extensive renovation and pointed out that unlike other Seattle community centers, "Langston Hughes lacks a gymnasium and therefore is extremely limited in its ability to offer athletic programs. ... Langston Hughes is limited to three or four activities at a time" (Kirby, 13).

Despite these concerns the report recognized that "the size and acoustical qualities of the theater constitute an important community asset. During the school year, the theater is generally scheduled to capacity ... Theater revenues average about $3,000 a year, which places Langston Hughes near the top for revenue production among the Department's 25 community centers" (Kirby, 13).

In fact, demand for the theater was so great that Parks Superintendent Walter Hundley noted in a July 1987 memo that the resident Paul Robeson Theater Company had been using moveable set pieces, rather than larger and more detailed sets that would have to be left in place, for its theatrical productions so that the theater could also be used for weekday classes and rentals. An attachment to Hundley's memo lists an even greater array of events at the theater than in 1973, including meetings of the Mayor's KidsPlace Task Force, King County Arts Commission, Seattle Police Department Crime Prevention, and Central Area Chamber of Commerce; benefit shows for University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Alumni Benefit Show, Gay Theatre of Seattle, and Amazing Manning Brothers Church; city Human Rights Department public hearings; performances including 10 Black History Month performances, Chicano Theater production of "Chicana," Black Community Festival Lip Sync Show, Musavir Middle Eastern Dancers, Girls' Club Variety Show, Native American Action Committee Cultural Evening, and Suzuki Violin School Recital; Paul Robeson Theater classes and rehearsals; First Church of Christ Scientist lectures; Gemini International gospel films; a School Board Candidates Forum; a National Conference of Black Lawyers Community Forum, and more.

The Langston Hughes Center and Seattle Hip-Hop

By the summer of 1984 LHCAC was offering 10-to-18-year-olds classes in "Break Dancing -- New! Exciting! Breathtaking! The current craze that is sweeping the nation" (LHCAC Summer Program Schedule, 1984)

In addition to break-dancing classes, LHCAC was a popular performance space for rappers and dancers. Anthony Ray (b. 1963) -- better known as Seattle rap star Sir Mix-a-Lot -- lived at neighboring Bryant Manor, 1801 East Yesler Way, for some years during his childhood.

B-Self (Bill Rider), half of hip-hop duo Ghetto Chilldren, told Seattle Times reporter Vanessa Ho in 1994: "People think that a hip-hop show is going to be violent ... but you can go to the Langston Hughes (Cultural Arts Center) and see some quality hip hop and there won't be any violence" ("Ghetto Chilldren ..."). Some productions during the 1990s and 2000s combined theater and hip-hop in musical plays such as Pressure: A Hip Hop Theater Experience (1995).

Back to its Roots was a three-day hip-hop arts festival first organized in 2003 by Jacqueline Moscou. Talib Kweli opened the 2006 festival, introducing local performers including Madeleine Clifford and Hollis Wong-Wear, performing as the rap duo Canary Sings. Hip-hop performers at this festival and other LHCAC events included Source of Labor; Esai, a Samoan-American spoken-word artist; a production of playwright Melissa Noelle Green's Hip Hop: Back to its Roots; hip-hop duo the Silent Lamb Project; Seattle's Finest, a group combining gymnastics, break dancing, hip-hop dancing, and tap; and DJ Spinderella of Salt-n-Pepa, among many other Pacific Northwest hip-hop performers.

Social Issues Addressed

LHCAC was frequently the site of creative exploration or discussion of local and international subjects of political, social, and community concern. Two South African anti-apartheid leaders, Rabbi Ben Isaacson of Johannesburg and Rev. Zachariah Mokgoebo, a black minister from Soweto, spoke at LHCAC in March 1987.

Public-safety problems caused distress among local residents and building staff. A December 2, 1986, parks department memo confirms plans to stop "'hanging out' and associated activities" on the southwest corner of the lot by removing shrubbery, adding "More light is needed to discourage the use of this spot as a hide-away" (Hopkins).

Crime produced creative responses. 1989 saw the Madrona Youth Theatre's presentation of Peer Pressure, an anti-drug, anti-gang play by local playwright James Lollie with original music composed by Reco Bembry. Steve Sneed directed the cast of teenagers and young adults; he later led LHCAC as Recreation Coordinator and then director of the center until 2000. Lollie also wrote the screenplay for the 1995 film anti-youth-violence project What Could Have Been. LHCAC was a sponsor of the film and provided rehearsal space. Film and TV director John Gordon-Hill directed the film, donating his time and expertise. Many of the teen actors came from Central Area communities near LHCAC. Felicia Loud, later a renowned vocalist (Black Stax) and actor, was among the cast members.

A Place for New and Experienced Artists

Teenagers and young adults learned solid performance skills through their participation in LHCAC programs. The Seattle Times reported in 1989 on one such program:

"The Madrona Youth Theater's summer program has a long string of successes, including "Little Miss Dreamer,'' based on the life of blues singer Bessie Smith; 'Boys Will B-Boys,' by A. M. Collins, who wrote 'Angry Housewives'; "Slow Dance on the Killing Ground,'' with guest artist John Gilbert; and last year's West Coast premiere of 'Sing on, Ms. Griot.' ... Early productions were staged in the Madrona Community Center ... The Langston Hughes Cultural Center now seems to be its permanent home" (Duncan).

A quarter-century later, the All-Teen Summer Musical remained one of LHCAC's most popular programs. Participating youth guided by theater professionals learned aspects of musical theater and technical production. The first Summer Musical production was Summer Rhapsody Reunion, staged in 1996; subsequent productions included Peter Pan, The Wiz, and Grease. During the rest of the year, young people in Central and South Seattle participated in such events as the Best of the Best talent shows of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Performing arts luminaries from a broad range of disciplines treaded the boards of Langston Hughes: musician and activist Gil Scott-Heron; Arthur Duncan, a tap dancer featured on the Lawrence Welk television show for 17 years; actor and film producer Danny Glover (as a guest of the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival); Ghanaian drum and dance ensemble Ocheami, led by Kofi Anang and Cecilia Anang; the Kronos String Quartet; Marvin Tunney of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company; Edna Daigre's Ewajo Dance Workshop; the Joe Brazil Orchestra; the San Francisco Mime Troupe; Harlem tap dancer Jeni LeGon; African-dance teacher and performer Makeda; the Choreopoets, an ensemble performing the song, dance, and poetry repertoire of African American artists; Sounds of the Northwest, an a capella choir performing traditional African American music; the Inception Dance Company; and hundreds of other touring and local performers.

Acclaimed artist Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000), a recipient of the NAACP's Spingarn Medal in addition to countless arts awards, exhibited paintings at LHCAC in 1978 during a Black History Month event. The 2004 Black to the Future black science fiction festival produced by the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas used LHCAC as its screening location. Black to the Future festival guests included science fiction and speculative fiction authors Charles Johnson, Nalo Hopkinson, Octavia Butler, Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Walter Mosley, and Nisi Shawl. Science fiction films were shown free to Central Area fans 26 years earlier during the summer "Star-Worlds Film Festival" series.

A Time of Transition

After the implementation of a parks department reorganization plan in 2001, the center was renamed the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center (LHPAC). Executive Director Royal Alley-Barnes led LHPAC a through an intensive two-year renovation of the building between 2010 and 2012. During the renovation period the annual film festival was held at Central Cinema and other programs took place off-site at various Seattle venues. The center experienced another substantive change in 2013, when its management was transferred to the City of Seattle Office of Arts and Culture. Along with the change of management came a new name: the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (LHPAI).

Following the 2010-2012 renovation, community arts continued to thrive below the former synagogue's soaring dome. The annual Langston Hughes African American Film Festival has shown an international lineup of films every spring for more than a decade. As of 2014, LHPAI hosted ongoing projects such as open-mic nights by Freshest Roots, an organization providing performance and visual arts, and performances by the Afro-Peruvian cultural project De Cajon. The Seattle Firefighters Bagpipe Brigade practiced in the building. Although LHPAI had no resident theater company in 2014, Artistic Director Moscou presented innovative theatrical productions such as the first production of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman with an all-black cast (2005), and the 2013 world premiere of Hello Darlins: Moms' Got Something to Tell You, Seattle playwright Dan Owens's play about comedienne Jackie "Moms" Mabley (1895-1975).

The renovated center launched an artist-in-residence program in 2012 and again offered arts classes, an annual fundraising gala, the Teen Summer Musical, and music and theater. A new plan called for LHPAI to undergo a transition to a non-profit organization by 2016. Seattle's Office of Arts and Culture hired a transition consultant to work with a community-based transition team during the transition process, and committed to provide financial, operational, and maintenance support through 2018.

Sources: "Notice of Completion of Public Works Contract," Audit Section, Washington State Department of Revenue, June 5, 1972, Willie Campbell to Stephen F. Chin, August 16, 1973, and "HUD Form 6202, Yesler Atlantic, Wash. R-5, Certificate of Non-Cash Grant in Aid, September 12, 1973, Folder 8, Box 17, Series 1620-02, Department of Community Development ... Central Files, Seattle Municipal Archives (SMA), Seattle, Washington; Arnie E. Gabrielson to Hans A. Thompson, March 27, 1972, K. Ruth Arai to T. Turner and W. Campbell, [date incomplete], 1972, Tom Turner and Willie Campbell to the Central Area Model Neighborhood, January 28, 1973, and Bruce Chapman to the City Council of the City of Seattle, April 3, 1973, Folder 19, Box 44, Series 5802-01, Parks Superintendent's Subject Files, SMA; David L. Towne to Walter R. Hundley, April 7, 1976, Folder 8, Box 51, Series 5802-01, Parks Superintendent's Subject Files, SMA; John Hopkins to Grant Morris, December 2, 1986,Walter R. Hundley to Charles Royer, July 17, 1987, and Lou Anne Kirby, "Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center Issue Paper (Revised Draft)," September 26, 1988, Folder 7, Box 114, Series 5802-01, Parks Superintendent's Subject Files, SMA; "Your Seattle Parks and Recreation Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center Fall 1974," "Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center 75," "Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center Spring 1975," "Langston Hughes Cultural Center-Summer 1978," "Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center Winter 1978," "Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center Winter 1979," "Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center Summer Program Schedule 1984," "Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center Summer 1985," and "Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center Fall 1986," Folder 6, Box 1, Series 5807-04, Recreation Program Schedules and Brochures, SMA; "Seeking Transition Consultant for the Langston Hughes Institute," press release, February 14, 2014, City of Seattle Office of Arts and Culture website accessed July 29, 2014 (; Janet Grimley, "Where's a Kid to Go When There's Nuthin' to Do?" Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 13, 1974, p. D-6; "New Synagogue to Have Stately Byzantine Design," The Seattle Times, January 18, 1914, p. 17; "Negro Poet to Speak," Ibid., May 22, 1932, p. 4; "Music," Ibid., September 2, 1945, p. 19; "Negroes Happiest in Seattle, Says Writer of Verse, Song," Ibid., January 25, 1946, p. 9; "Hughes Play to Be Offered," Ibid., September 14, 1959, p. 39; "Bikur Cholim Will Dedicate Education Plant," Ibid., February 17, 1962, p. 3; "Seafaring Group Plans Adventures," Ibid., November 26, 1967, p. 47; Marty Loken, "Dreamer to Make It True for Others," Ibid., January 21, 1968, p. 1; Elizabeth Stafford, "The North by Northwest Adventurers," Ibid., March 16, 1969, magazine p. 10; Glen Carter, "Boys Learning to Man a Ship," Ibid., February 22, 1970, magazine p. 10; "Yesler Center to Be Dedicated," Ibid., July 13, 1972, p. A-16; "N.D.M. Concert Tonight at 8," Ibid., November 10, 1972, p. F-4; "Name Sought for Community Center," Ibid., January 28, 1973, p. B-7; "Food, Clothing to Be Distributed," Ibid., December16, 1973, p. A-10; "African Ballet Programs Scheduled," Ibid., March 17, 1974, p. G-4; "Center to Be Dedicated," Ibid., May 27, 1974; p. A-6; "Kronos Quartet in Free Concert," Ibid., January 21, 1975, p. A-17; "Ailey Dancer Returns the Favor," Ibid., September 19, 1975, Tempo, p. 6; "Stage and Screen," Ibid., November 16, 1975, p. B-11; "Movies: Film Programs," Ibid., December 5, 1975, Tempo, p. 10; "Sr. Doings," Ibid., April 10, 1976; p. B-4; "Lawrence Art Will Be Shown," Ibid., February 20, 1978, p. A-10; "Reel to Real: Black Women Make Films," advertisement, Ibid., March 5, 1982, p. C-10; "If Bebop's Your Thing, Catch the May Day Scene," Ibid., April 21,1982, p. C-9; "Seattle-area Theater Groups," Ibid., February 24, 1985, p. L-4; "Anti-apartheid Leaders from South Africa to Speak," Ibid., March 5, 1987, p. F-3; Don Duncan, "'Peer Pressure' Musical with Message -- Play Teaches Life Has Options," Ibid., July 20, 1989, p. C-2; Leone Pope, "Out of Africa," Ibid., November 16, 1989 p. E-1; Vanessa Ho, "Ghetto Chilldren: Relax, Kick Back, Gyrate If You Want To," Ibid., January 7, 1994, p. D-11; Misha Berson, "Theater: Drama and Diversity," Ibid., September 8, 1994, p. D-8; "Arthur Duncan," Ibid., November 3, 1994, p. B-2; Alex Tizon, "In the Shoes of the General: Tim Cordova Emerging As a Filipino Community Leader Here," Ibid., November 23, 1994, p. A-1; Therese Littleton, Tyrone Beason, "Hip Hop Show Mirrors City Life: Musical Tells About Pressures Kids Face," Ibid., December 22, 1995, p. B-1; "Langston Hughes Director Moves to Seattle Center," Ibid., July 8, 2000, p. A-9; Young Chang, "Festival Elevates Hip-hop into Realms of Poetry and Politics," Ibid., April 25, 2003, p. H-36; Tom Scanlon, "Source of Labor's Frontman Gives Up Mike for Management," Ibid., March 19, 2004, p. H-5; "'Black to the Future' -- Fest is Mothership for African Americans in Science Fiction," Ibid., June 6, 2004, p. K-1; Joe Mullin, "Hip-hop Aficionados Bust a Move -- Seattle Showcase 3-day Event Includes Theater, Fashion, Dance," Ibid., November 20, 2006, p. B-2.

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