AAMPA will live as the definitive archive of the cultural expression of African American high performance art. The centerpiece of this institution, the “living” museum will offer the general public a venue where they can learn about, participate in, and enjoy great works of performance art by African Americans. Housing both permanent and temporary installations, the museum will be fully interactive, with an analog and digital library, archival footage of theatrical performances, in dance, jazz, drama, musicals, etc., and live demonstrations by Conservatory students and local artists.
The first of its kind, AAMPA will rescue, preserve, and curate myriad facts and artifacts depicting black performance excellence to prevent the loss of this invaluable slice of American and world history to time. Exhibits will span generations of hard-fought accomplishments in traditional—theatre, film, TV, radio, classical, gospel, jazz, blues, ballet, modern—and nontraditional—comedy, architectural design, sports, visual arts, oration—performance disciplines.
AAMPA will become the premier institution through which we will chronicle our legends; provide a nurturing and inspiring environment for anew generation of performers who are dedicated to enriching our lives through their craft, daring, and accomplishment; forge arts alliances; and incubate thought leadership, research, and new art forms that foster self-definition, social justice, healing, and consciousness.
AAMPA will ultimately be the national hub for artistic expression on the South Side of Chicago. This will help change the stigma surrounding South Side neighborhoods and reinforce the African American legacy of arts and culture in Chicago.
Ekundayo Bandele is from the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. He attended Tennessee State University in Nashville, TN, and Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. He produced his first original play in 1993. He went on to write and produce four other plays including Judas Hands which premiered as part of Cleveland’s Karamu House’s reading series. Mr. Bandele founded Hattiloo Theatre, a non-profit Black repertory theatre, in Memphis, TN in 2006. He’s directed many of August Wilson’s Century Cycle plays including “Fences” and “Two Trains Running.” From 2012 – 2014, he spearheaded a $4.3M capital campaign that resulted in the construction of Hattiloo’s 14,000 square foot venue that opened debt-free in 2014. In 2014 he worked as assistant director to Tony Award-winning director Ruben Santiago Hudson at the Willamstown Theatre Festival’s production of Domonique Morriseau’s play “Paradise Blue,” which started TV/film star, Blair Underwood. In 2016, he partnered with the City of Memphis to open the Hattiloo Technical Theatre Center. Also, in 2016, he raised $900,000 to build an annex on to the theatre called the Hattiloo Development Center, which opened in April 2017, also debt-free. He is chairman of the board of Memphis Brand. He also serves on the board of directors of Memphis Tourism and Overton Park Conservancy. He is past chairman of the Memphis Office of Youth Services. He lives in Memphis with his wife of 26 years, Nicole, two daughters who Hattiloo Theatre is named after – Hatshepsut (Hatti) and Oluremi (Loo), and his mother, Judith Williams.
Djena Graves Lennix (“Gee- Na”) has distinguished herself in a variety of roles within private equity, investment banking, healthcare and chemical engineering. Over the course of her career, she has worked on successful M&A transactions, institutional capital raises and private equity investments totaling over $20 billion.
Djena began her career as a chemical process engineer at Lyondell-Citgo Refining Company in her hometown of Houston, Texas before attending business school. She then transitioned into finance as a Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) professional at Morgan Stanley, where she focused on large energy and utility transactions.
Djena spent nine years with ICV Partners, a private equity fund focused on making equity investments in lower middle market companies. As Director of Business Development, Djena cultivated numerous relationships with institutional investors and deal professionals to support and advance the fundraising and investment goals of the firm, leading investor relations and sourcing over 750 deal opportunities. She later joined Partners Group, a $94 billion private markets investment firm, where she led regional institutional fundraising for the firm’s private equity, private debt, real estate and infrastructure funds and separately managed accounts.
Between private equity funds, Djena acquired and served as President of Accent on Seniors, a leading senior living referral service in California. While at Accent on Seniors, Djena launched new digital marketing campaigns to drive customer acquisition and improved service quality, while serving hundreds of new clients.
Djena holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering, cum laude, from Florida A&M University, an International Management certificate from HEC School of Management Paris, and a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from New York University’s Stern School of Business. Djena serves as board chair of the African American Museum of Performing Arts (AAMPA) and has previously served on boards of other notable organizations including Success Academy, Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS) and the Association for Corporate Growth- New York Chapter.
Yasmin Namini, former Chief Consumer Officer of The New York Times and industry trailblazer, built the most successful digital news subscription business in history. Today, she advises leading media companies around the globe on strategic business and revenue development.
While at The New York Times, Yasmin architected its annual $836+ million consumer revenue business and its 2+ million paid consumer relationships. She directed the strategic development and launch of The Times’ Digital Subscription business in 2011. When she left The Times in March 2015, total consumer revenue accounted for 53% of the company’s total revenues; a game-changing achievement in an industry that had traditionally been dominated by advertising revenue.
Since leaving The New York Times, Yasmin works globally as a digital media consultant and advisor, specializing in digital and business transformation, including revenue diversification, product development, direct-to-consumer digital subscription businesses and marketing. Her roster of global clients include distinguished news media and entertainment brands including: Aftenposten/Schibsted Media Group, Oslo, Norway; Anandabazar Patrika (ABP) Group, Kolkata, India; El Tiempo, Bogota, Colombia; Media24, Cape Town, South Africa; TVN24, Warsaw, Poland; Nikkei, Tokyo, Japan; McClatchy, Sacramento, CA; Gannett, Mclean, VA; Advance Local, New York, NY; and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Stamford, CT. Yasmin has also served as a consultant to the Facebook Journalism Project. In 2019, she led Facebook’s Reader Revenue Accelerator Programs in Germany, Brazil and France. She was a coach to local and regional U.S. news publishers for three Facebook Local News Accelerator Programs in the U.S.
Yasmin is actively involved in the news media industry and is a frequent speaker at industry events worldwide. She serves on the Board of Directors of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (U.K.) and The Oceanic Society (U.S.A.). Yasmin’s former Board appointments include: President, International News Media Association (INMA); Director, Alliance for Audited Media; Vice Chair, Times Square Alliance; and New York Advisory Committee Chair, The News Literacy Project.
Yasmin received the 2015 Folio Top Women in Media Industry Leadership Award and the 2010 International News Media Association Silver Shovel Award for Career Achievement. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science degree in Applied Statistics from Villanova University.
In her spare time, Yasmin is an avid international traveler and amateur photographer. She has photographed all seven continents and over 50 countries. She is a passionate supporter of wildlife and environmental conservation.
TaRon Patton is an accomplished arts executive who currently serves as the Co-Founder of The African American Museum of the Performing Arts. She successfully served as Executive Director for Congo Square Theatre where she increased foundation, corporate and individual giving to over $750,000 and produced the new work Twisted Melodies which toured Chicago, Baltimore, Washington DC and the Apollo Theater in New York in 2019.
TaRon has been an ensemble member of Congo Square Theatre for 20 years where she received over 13 Black Theater Alliance Awards and three Joseph Jeff nominations for her performances. Theatre credits include Meet Vera Stark (Goodman Theatre), Hot L Baltimore (Steppenwolf Theatre Company); King Hedley II (Congo Square Theatre), and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (Goodman Theatre). In 2005, she performed in The Bluest Eye at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company which toured to New York City at the New Victory Theater. She made her directorial debut at The Apollo Theatre in 2006 at the Hip Hop Festival with Deep Azure by Chadwick Boseman, and shared the stage with the legendary Anthony Chisholm in the production St. James Infirmary directed by the Founder of The African American Museum of the Performing Arts, Harry Lennix. Television credits include The Chi, Empire, Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, Chicago Med, Chicago Justice.
In July 2019, TaRon created GLP PRODUCTIONS, INC. where she served as executive producer for the Pan African featured short film ROAD TO FREEDOM, the pilot for MISTY TANNER and the world premiere of “N”. TaRon just recently returned to the stage in Her Honor Mayor Byrne at Lookingglass Theater which just aired as a Radio Play on WBEZ. Her directing credits include Saturday Night, Sunday Morning (Steppenwolf Garage Rep), Bulrusher and Nativity Tribute (Congo Square Theatre).
She is currently the Associate Director for Gospel Colonus at the Court Theatre scheduled to premiere in 2021.
In 2001 TaRon Patton launched the summer education program for the University of Michigan then returned to Chicago as a professor at Kennedy King College. In 2004 she served as an after-school teaching artist for Court Theater at Dunbar HS, South Shore HS, and Kenwood Academy.
Harris Warsaw is Senior Vice President of North America Sales, Sending Technology Solutions for Pitney Bowes. Harris brings over 40 years of global leadership expertise in sales, marketing, and customer knowledge to his current position.
Before joining Pitney Bowes, Harris was Vice President, US North Enterprise Region and Mid-Market for IBM, Mr. Warsaw had executive responsibility for implementing and executing IBM’s sales strategy and coverage model in New York, New Jersey and New England. In this capacity, Mr. Warsaw devoted his time and expertise to lead IBM in delivering Cloud, Analytics, Mobile and Social business solutions to clients through direct and channel sales in one of IBM’s largest growth markets.
Previously, as Vice President, Marketing and Strategy Global Sales and Distribution, Mr. Warsaw had global executive responsibility for marketing and strategy, including industry, midmarket, ibm.com and Business Partner organizations. In addition Mr. Warsaw provided business direction to the Asia-Pacific, Americas, and Europe-Middle East (EMEA) teams. He focused on aligning IBM’s marketing efforts to support the sales force and lead several cross-company marketing initiatives, including IBM’s go-to-market efforts for e-business on demand. Under Mr. Warsaw’s leadership, Global S&D became a more tightly integrated and effective marketing execution organization to bring forward the breadth and depth of IBM’s portfolio to its industry customers and to the marketplace.
Since Mr. Warsaw began his career at IBM in 1973 he has held a number of prominent executive sales and marketing management positions. His assignments have included Vice President Marketing EMEA, Vice President of Marketing, General Business and Vice President responsible for eServer Sales in the South East Region of the United States. Mr. Warsaw has also served as Trading Area General Manager responsible for all IBM’s business in Georgia, USA, and Vice President of Small and Medium Business, US Southern Region.
Q & A WITH HARRY LENNIX AND TARON PATTON
How would you add to this description: “I want to find a means to archive the collective history of Black Americans in the performing arts. There is no institution that celebrates or houses that. And that is what the African American Museum of Performing Arts will do.” “You might think of it,” Lennix went on, “as the Black version of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.”
Harry Lennix: The mission of AAMPA is to preserve and perpetuate the definitive cultural achievements of Black America in the Performing Arts. The term I have used to define those cultural achievements is “Black Diasporic Aesthetics.” The ultimate goal is to systemize the collection and propagation of the living arts created from the spiritual wellspring of the rightful heirs of the American Dream.
How would you ad to this description, if at all: The two-theater complex will house (among others) the Congo Square Theatre Company and a new, nationally focused museum dedicated to Black contributions to the performing arts. Everything from dance to film to music to theater.
Harry Lennix: The Lillian Marcie Center itself can be thought of as a community center. It is a projection of the collective imagination of a people. It will be akin to a lighthouse in the miasma of politics, strife, and social despair. Like the people who created the art forms housed within its walls, it will be intimate, foundational, curative. A self-contained ecosystem of the humanities, designed for the unique purpose of celebrating the creators of the artistic expressions native to the American experiment. The technology with be state of the art, but will remain in an auxiliary system to the arts. It will be an incubator for emerging arts.
Other possible funding sources?
Harry Lennix: The project the was one of the first recipients of a loan from the new Chicago Community Loan Fun. Fifth Third Bank participated in a press conference to herald its involvement in the redevelopment of Bronzeville. The physical building, has already been acquired. And a nonprofit entity has been created for the museum and operations. What remains is to raise much of the money for both the physical museum and the redevelopment into two performance spaces (a 320-seat mainstage and a 100-seat black box).
Has Covid impacted your plans and vision?
Harry Lennix: Covid has inspired us to think out in front of actual development. Modular seating is something we will do, giving audiences a sense of safety they will need to get the most out of the exhibitions. Moreover, we want to be able to offer edifying and entertaining presentations virtually.
What is the overall timetable for Lilian Marcie and AAMPA?
Harry Lennix: We are planning to break ground on the development in the 3rd quarter of the current year, earlier if possible. We are deep in conversations with the neighborhood leadership and the Department of Planning.
Who are your partners?
Harry Lennix: Keith Giles, Mike Wordlaw, Aaron Giles. With input from David Waite and Brian Giles.
What role is the city playing in the project’s development?
Harry Lennix: Currently discussing financial support through many city, state, and governmental programs.
How would you add to this description, if at all: AAMPA is set to launch as a free-standing non-profit entity, albeit virtually, in January.
TaRon Patton: The plan is to feature interactive exhibits, and focus heavily on first-person testimony from artist nationally about the importance of the mission of AAMPA to preserve the legacy of black performance art from the perspective of African American performing artists. The first virtual AAMPA exhibit schedule to launch in October 2021 — a tribute to the late actor Anthony Chisholm.
How is AAMPA different from Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand, Florida, and, to some degree, both the DuSable Museum of African American History and the Chicago History Museum?
TaRon Patton: The difference is the focus on the perspective of the African American performing artists. To date, no one in this country has asked us what we think is black excellence or who we think should be memorialized in any of the present institutions or what things are important enough to us that we want handed down as the legacy for African American artists in the future. We have a great opportunity to re-educate the world on the significant contributions of black performing artists in the American landscape or arts and culture. Our exhibits will be more interactive than most museums. Our goal is to make visiting AAMPA an artistic experience for our patrons, so we are exploring innovative technology to create these virtual and permanent exhibitions.
What is the history of the building that will house the Center?
TaRon Patton: This building located at 4343 S. Cottage Grove is the original distribution warehouse for Marshall Field. The original elevator and stalls for the horses are still present. The building was eventually sold to Ezra McCann, a retired fireman who was committed to selling it to an advocate of the black community dedicated to continuing the legacy of greatness for the South side community of Bronzville. In 2018, Michael Wordlaw and TaRon Patton met with Ezra and presented him with the plans for The Lillian Marcie Center. LMC purchased the building in 2019, and the building is currently under construction. AAMPA will be the 1st community partner for The Lillian Marcie Center to assist in programming for this professional production house on the South side.
What is the historical importance of building it on the South Side? What is Bronzeville? Why did you choose this location?
TaRon Patton: James Gentry, a theater editor for the Chicago Bee suggested the name “Bronzeville.” He said that African Americans’ skin color was closer to bronze than black. The name was popularized by the Chicago Defender, a black newspaper with nationwide circulation. Millions of African Americans left the agricultural South for the industrial north during the Great Migration. If they came to Chicago, then they almost certainly settled in the area of the Bronzeville neighborhood. We chose Bronzeville because of the richness of historical greatness!
In its heyday, from the 1910s to the 1940s, Bronzeville rivaled Harlem as the cultural and political capital of African America. Harry and I are both South side natives, so we want to rejuvenate that spirit!
What do you see as the project’s educational components?
TaRon Patton: The conservatory will be centered around educating the future leaders in black performance art. Currently students are being taught to strive to work for non- black institutions to achieve success, so we want to educate them about the contributions of black performing artist and institutions that exist in their own culture. We plan to collaborate with other artistic institutions to create an incubator for talented upcoming African American artists to make sure that when they graduate from the AAMPA conservatory, they are prepared and have already had a level of professional success to launch them into the professional workforce of arts and culture.
How will you select AAMPA exhibits?
TaRon Patton: We really need to hear from black performers to assist with our plans to create exhibits. It is very important that we get complete buy in from the artistic community. We do not want to guess on what WE think they want, so we have launched a nationwide conversation entitle SETTING OUR OWN TABLE which launched on MLK Day in January 2021. This will give them an opportunity to tell us what they want, and how they want to be represented in the museum.
What role will artists play in that selection?
TaRon Patton: Once we have the lists of ideas from the African American artistic community, we will find ways to incorporate the artists in the creation of these exhibits. This will include employment with an adequate wage, national exposure, and archiving their achievements for prosperity.
What is the meaning behind “Setting Our Own Table?”
TaRon Patton: There is a story behind the metaphor of Setting Our Own Table. I don’t remember if it was Shirley Chisholm who said, “If they don’t let you sit at the table, bring your own chair.” So, the idea here is that we are setting our own table and we choose who sits there. It’s a very empowering statement, particularly for Black artists who are not invited to the table, but often steered where others want them in the name of Black art.
Tell me about Black Movie Trivia Night.
TaRon Patton: We launched our first fundraising event on January 28th entitled Black Movie Trivia Night. It was a lot of fun and we hosted about 16 teams! The winners of the event were the H Town Allstars and they won a autographed 16 X 24 canvas of Harry Lennix.
“The Lillian Marcie Theatre – A Conversation with Harry Lennix” – Chicago Now
“CCLF and Chicago TREND Debut $5 Million Investment from Fifth Third Bank” – Chicago Community Loan Fund