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News A consequential performance

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Students' production launches community arts partnership

​"Women of Consequence" dancers (from left) Rachel DeLauder, Melissa Jones, Dianna Ruberto, April Singleton, Amber Rance and Ikira Peace perform at the Baby Grand Theatre in Wilmington.

The audience that filled the Baby Grand Theatre in Wilmington on Saturday, March 10, was there for an event that was described as consequential in a variety of ways.

One significant element was the launch of the University of Delaware’s Partnership for Arts and Culture, a collaboration with organizations throughout the state to advance the arts and humanities—and improve lives—in Delaware communities.

Another was the performance itself, “Women of Consequence: Ambitious, Ancillary and Anonymous,” a two-hour production that showcased the talents and hard work of UD students through their dance, poetry, music, visual arts and drama. All aspects of the performance were based on the historical research students conducted, beginning last summer, into the lives and important contributions of often-overlooked African American and African women.

Since the start of fall semester, the students have performed portions of “Women of Consequence” at a number of UD events, for cultural organizations and at middle and high schools around the state. Young dancers from the community also took part in the Baby Grand production.

The UD group’s interactions with those outside the University are an example of the kinds of collaborations the new partnership expects to foster.

“Many of the great cultural movements through history have been inspired by the arts,” Robin Morgan, UD’s interim provost, told the audience at the launch. “Part of the beauty of the arts is that they bring people together despite differences.”

The University has long worked with groups and individuals in the community, seeking to broaden the institution’s impact while also giving students the educational opportunity to take part in service learning and other engagement activities, Morgan said.

​Profs. Lynnette Overby and Dan Rich, deputy director and director, respectively, of UD's Community Engagement Initiative, welcome the audience. Overby is also the artistic director of "Women of Consequence."

But recently, she said, UD’s Community Engagement Initiative in the Office of the Provost has developed a Civic Action Plan to more clearly articulate and advance that vision.

“The plan also complements the University’s strategic plan for strengthening inclusion and diversity as we dream about a climate in which students, faculty and staff are able to recognize the contributions and perspectives of different cultures and genders,” Morgan said. “We need to integrate that knowledge into our everyday work … with the communities we serve.”

George Watson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and president of the Delaware Arts Alliance board of directors, also praised the benefits—to the University, its students, the arts in Delaware and the community—of UD’s engagement with organizations and cultural institutions statewide.

“I can’t overstate how much we value these strong partnerships,” he said.

The arts help bridge divides and bring people together in their common humanity, Watson said: “In the College of Arts and Sciences, we like to say that we illuminate the heart and mind, and that’s exactly what the arts do.”

Also celebrating the launch of the Partnership for Arts and Culture were Delaware Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, who spoke of a commitment by Gov. John Carney’s administration to supporting the arts and humanities, and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, who praised the initiative for recognizing “the power of the arts” in bringing people together and as a force for change.

The event opened with welcoming remarks by Profs. Dan Rich, director, and Lynnette Young Overby, deputy director, of the Community Engagement Initiative. A professor of theatre and an internationally recognized dancer and choreographer, Overby also serves as artistic director of “Women of Consequence.”

Overby “is passionate about this partnership, and we are all the beneficiaries of that passion,” Rich said. “She is, without a doubt, a woman of consequence.”

The partnership now has about 70 members, representing the University and Delaware arts and cultural organizations. Speakers at the launch urged the audience to “spread the word” and encourage others to join the partnership as it continues to grow.

About 'Women of Consequence'

​In the piece "Visible Force," performers (from left) Melissa Jones, April Singleton, Rachel DeLauder, Ikira Peace, Amber Rance and Dianna Ruberto highlight women's leadership in causes of social justice.

“Women of Consequence: Ambitious, Ancillary, Anonymous” tells the stories of women who have contributed to the political landscape of America but have often been viewed as ancillary or, worse, anonymous.

Through the lens of arts-based research, the program incorporates dance, music, poetry, drama and the visual arts to bring the lives of these women to life. It also seeks to promote audience discussion about freedom of expression and equality for all women.

The performance was introduced by P. Gabrielle Foreman, the Ned B. Allen Professor of English and professor of Africana studies and history at UD and research director for the “Women of Consequence” project.

Women highlighted in the production included abolitionist and Union Army scout Harriet Tubman, writer and reformer Harriet Jacobs, novelist Harriet Wilson, editor and political advocate Mary Ann Shadd Cary (a Delaware native), activist and educator Charlotte Forten and poet Frances Harper.

The first act of “Women of Consequence” focused on African American women in the 19th century, examining the Colored Conventions at which they gathered to advocate for social justice. It continued by illuminating the lives of “The Three Harriets” and of Charlotte Forten, who taught former slaves in South Carolina’s “Gullah Country.”

In the second act, performers and narrators told stories of women from the 20th and 21st centuries. “The Four Roses” was inspired by the young South African women who joined the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s.

The full program was designed to celebrate the past and present contributions of women and to encourage the audience to foster a successful future for all women.

The University held the event in honor of Harriet Tubman Day and Women’s History Month, in conjunction with the Delaware Historical Society’s Mitchell Center.

An encore performance was held March 17 at the Route 9 Library and Innovation Center in New Castle.

Article by Ann Manser; photos by Jessica Eastburn

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A performance of "Women of Consequence," with students using music, dance and poetry  to bring historical figures to life, launched UD's Partnership for Arts and Culture.

​A performance of "Women of Consequence," in which students tell the stories of historical figures, launched UD's Partnership for Arts and Culture.

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