Just over year ago, the West Valley Arts Council was missing something. For Sandra Bassett, the newly hired president and CEO of the WVA in 2019, the solution was clear.
“What I saw that was missing was an opportunity to be more inclusive of the community and their demographic scope,” Bassett said. “What’s been missing are specific programs that go on continuously to celebrate people of color.”
And struck with the pandemic, the arts council was faced with the same challenges other art galleries faced. With public events shutdown, the WVA ramped up their digital platforms. Artist and musicians recorded performances or hosted live Zoom events. In a difficult time of isolation and uncertainty, council officials said art thrived more than even as people looked for an escape and emotional connection.
For the West Valley Arts Council, a one-time celebration of different ethnicities and cultures wasn’t enough.
“For those of us of color, we know that our life as being a person of color is not a one month or one day or one-week celebration. It is something we live and celebrate 24/7, 365 days of the year,” Ms. Bassett said.
For that reason, the WVA created “Imprint: African American in the Arts.” The series included a variety of events centered around lectures, music and workshops to celebrate African Americans in Art and Music.
Ms. Bassett and Michael Denson, the WVA gallery director, came up with the name “Imprint” as a reminder of the “indelible imprint” people of color have on American culture and history, and include community members in that celebration. An imprint can’t be washed away
Following the first Imprint series followed others to include other artistic expressions and cultures. “Imprint: The Cultural Sound of America is a 6-week musical program played in the Westside Blues and Jazz in Glendale from March through April. The program included different genres from Reggae Rap to Blues and Latin Jazz.
For Geibral Elisha, the band leader and musician in the Geibral Elisha Movement, his current music strives to bring people of different backgrounds together.
“What I’m doing now is sharing how connected we are collective. Like there is a oneness about us all, and that really where I’m at when we play,” Elisha said.
The band’s sound is a fusion of musical colors: from Hindi samples to funk and jazz. The band members itself is symbolic of this unity, bringing musicians from all walks of life to have audiences “become liberated, become like a child again.”
The Geibrel Elisha Movement recently performed at the WVA’s event “Imprint: The Cultural Sound of America,” in early April. Like other artists and musicians, they represented part of the larger mission of the WVA.
Celebrating artists and musicians of different cultures and ethnicities is “not at the exclusion of others. It’s at the inclusion of others,” Ms. Bassett said. Community members from across the West Valley and beyond are encouraged by the WVA to come together gain a deeper understanding of different ethnicities and cultures through art and music.
In May, the WVA will host “Imprint: Viva La Cultura,” featuring various artist, storytellers, and performers exhibiting Latin American and Chicano culture. In 2022, the WVA plans to bring an Imprint series celebrating the indigenous people of America.
Editor’s Note: Christian Serrano is a student at the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.