[News] If you thought the Yoshi's situation was bad....act to Save Lorraine Hansberry Theatre

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 25 10:39:29 EDT 2007

You probably saw the Chronicle article about the Lorraine Hansberry 
Theater being asked to leave their theatre space.  KPOO broke this 
story last Tuesday and here's an article I wrote about this situation 
that will be in tomorrow's beyondchron.org.  Sources say that the 
Academy of Art refuses to discuss this situation with members of the 
arts community or African American community leaders.  The school 
needs to hear from Academy of Art College alumni and people in the 
position of recommending students to the Academey of Art 
University.  Since they are a for-profit school, a boycott will hurt 
them in the pocketbook.  Their phone number is (800) 544-2787 and 
their email is : admissions at academyart.edu  the Lorraine Hansberry 
website is lhtsf.org  Pass this on to all the people on your email 
list.  The reaction to the Yoshi's situation indicates that community 
outrage and pressure still can bring about positive results.

Harrison Chastang

by Harrison Chastang

San Francisco African American leaders and Bay Area theatre lovers 
were shocked earlier this week by emails stating that the Lorraine 
Hansberry Theatre could be forced out from its long time home at 620 
Sutter Street. The Lorraine Hansberry, which last year celebrate its 
25th anniversary and has been cited by theatre critics as one of the 
premier African American theatre companies in the United States, 
could lose its performance space because the Academy of Art 
University, the San Francisco for-profit art school (not to be 
confused with the non-profit San Francisco Art Institute) that 
recently purchased the former Julia Morgan designed YMCA building 
that houses the theatre, informed Lorraine Hansberry directors 
Stanley Williams and Quentin Easter on June 5 that their lease would 
not be renewed. Williams and Easter have attempted to negotiate an 
amicable agreement with the Academy of Art University to remain at 
the 620 Sutter theatre space, but sources close to those discussions 
say the University is determined to turn the theatre space into a gym.

News of the possible eviction of the Lorraine Hansberry comes just 
weeks after another Bay Area controversy concerning African Americans 
and the arts.  Management at Oakland's Yoshi's jazz club apologized 
after African Americans jazz fans and musicians complained about 
being excluded from a 10th anniversary CD showcasing live 
performances at Yoshi's that did not feature any African American 
artists.  Black leaders say the possible closure of the Lorraine 
Hansberry would be a much more devastating blow to the Bay Area 
African American arts community than the Yoshi's controversy. The 300 
seat Lorraine Hansberry Theater is one of the largest independent 
theatres in the Bay Area and one of two San Francisco theatres 
devoted exclusively to African American theatre production.   Bay 
Area theater producers are watching the Lorraine Hansberry situation 
closely over concerns they could soon face a similar fate.

Leaders of The City's artistic community say it's ironic that a 
scholastic and artistic institution like the Academy of Art 
University is evicting the Lorraine Hansberry.  Brad Erickson, 
executive director of Theatre Bay Area, a performing arts support 
organization, said while occasional squabbles occur between arts 
organizations in The City, arts and cultural organizations in San 
Francisco usually support each other.  Erickson said he could not 
remember a situation in San Francisco where disagreements between 
arts organizations reached a point to where the survival of a major 
performing arts organization was at stake.

Erickson said The City's performing arts community was "quite 
concerned" about the prospect of the Lorraine Hansberry being forced 
out of its current home.  Erickson said he didn't understand the 
motives behind the Academy of Art's decision not to renew the 
Lorraine Hansberry's lease, and that it was particularly ironic that 
the Academy of Art, an artistic institution,  plans to turn the 
Lorraine Hansberry theatre space into a gym rather than to utilize 
the space for artistic instruction and theatre performances.

Erickson said the key to the Lorraine Hansberry's success has been 
its location in the downtown Union Square theatre district that's 
accessible to tourists and familiar to regular theatre-goers. 
Erickson said that there aren't many downtown theatre spaces and that 
fewer people would attend Lorraine Hansberry productions if the 
theatre moved away from the traditional downtown theatre district. 
Erickson said "it's extremely important that the Lorraine Hansberry 
remain downtown because it's the only African American theatre 
downtown and their presence contributes to the diversity of the 
downtown theatre district."   Erickson said that as an art school, 
the Academy of Art should realize the value of sharing a dorm 
facility with one of the top Black theatre companies in the United 
States. The Academy of Art University doesn't have a theatre program 
but the school does teach acting through its School of Motion 
Pictures & Television department.

San Francisco African American community activist Joe Blue did not 
mince words when he learned about efforts to shut down the Lorraine 
Hansberry. Blue, a former Golden Gate Bridge, Transit, and Highway 
District director said he was insulted and horrified at the prospect 
of the Lorraine Hansberry being evicted from its Union Square 
location.   Blue said that African Americans in The City are "being 
whitewashed from the entire San Francisco scene; our heritage is 
being extremely eclipsed and I am horrified that the Academy of Art 
would even contemplate something of this sort, this is totally 
outrageous and it's just the latest attempt to move African Americans 
out of San Francisco."  Blue speculated that the Academy of Art 
University assumed it would be easy to force out the Lorraine 
Hansberry because of a perception that San Francisco's declining 
African American community no longer has any influence at San 
Francisco City Hall or with The City's movers and shakers.  Blue said 
"the White establishment in San Francisco doesn't fear any Black 
protest these days and there's a view that African Americans are the 
weakest group in The City."  Blue said that "the Academy of Art would 
not try a similar move against any other ethnic group in The City, 
and that efforts to remove the Lorraine Hansberry from its current 
space is a calculated move by the Academy of Art University against 
an African American community that's perceived to be very weak.  Blue 
said the Academy of Art University actions against the Lorraine 
Hansberry Theatre is evidence that "racism is alive and well in San 
Francisco."   Blue also wondered if the Academy of Art officials who 
made the decision to evict the Lorraine Hansberry had any 
consultation with anyone in the African American community or if any 
African Americans are part of the Academy of Art's full time faculty 
or administration.

Blue said efforts to force the Lorraine Hansberry out of its current 
home reflects a move "to eliminate any vestige of Black culture and 
Black influence in San Francisco and represents a methodical approach 
to removing Blacks from this City that was done a generation ago with 
Black housing in San Francisco and is now being done in the San 
Francisco cultural area."

Other arts administrators in The City, including Art Commission 
Director Nancy Gonchar and California Lawyers for the Arts Director 
Alma Robinson said that it would be a tragedy to lose the Lorraine 
Hansberry from the theatre district and both hoped that the 
University would find some way to coexist and cooperate with the 
Lorraine Hansberry at its current theatre location.

The Academy of Art University is the nation's largest private arts 
school established in San Francisco in 1929 by painter Richard S. 
Stephens and his wife Clara Stephens.  The school has been run by a 
Stephens family member throughout its 78 year history and the current 
president, Dr. Elisa Stephens is the granddaughter of the school's 
founder.  The school has approximately 9,000 students spread out in 
more than 30 buildings in the financial district, Civic Center, 
Pacific Heights, and Nob Hill, including 17 former hotels and 
apartment buildings serving as dorms.  The Academy of Art University 
offers degree programs leading to a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Associate 
of Arts, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Architecture and Certificate 
Programs in more than 30 academic areas.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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