Inaugural Harlem Arts Festival Organizers Want to Showcase Local Artists

By Jeff Mays on February 6, 2012 4:22pm 

Neal Ludevig, executive director of the Harlem Arts Festival at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park.
Neal Ludevig, executive director of the Harlem Arts Festival at the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater in Marcus Garvey Park.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — When Neal Ludevig promotes the Harlem Arts Festival he's planning for the summer in Marcus Garvey Park, the first response from the people he talks to is usually, "I missed last year's."

It'll be the inaugural event — there was no last year — but Ludevig still sees the positive in the innocuous mix-ups.

"It shows that the desire is there and that this is needed," said Ludevig, executive director, standing in the Richard Rodgers Amphitheater, the festival's main event stage.

Planned for this June, Ludevig and fellow festival founders J.J. El-Far and Chelsea Goding want the festival to be a multi-discpilnary display of art that is relevant to Harlem.

So while dance and theater are taking place on the main stage, artist chats, organizers hope, will be going on elsewhere in the park. Visitors could also check out works for sale along the gallery walk entrance to the park or take their kids to some of the children's programming.

"This is a completely grassroots endeavor that supports Harlem artists. We want to present art that's relevant to the community and get community residents out," said Ludevig, a 24-year-old artist coordinator and agent at Addeo Music International.

El-Far thought of the idea while she saw the amphitheater being renovated. The theater hosts the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival and dance events, but nothing to encompass all of the arts.

"She said they don't have anything like this. We have to do this here," said Ludevig. "The space is gorgeous and this is just another celebration of the park."

To help choose the artists who will perform at what they hope will become an annual festival, the founders have enlisted individuals from several longtime Harlem organizations such as the Apollo, Harlem Stage, Casa Frela Gallery and the Dwyer Cultural Center. Music, dance, theater and the visual arts will all be represented at the festival.

"I know.....award-winning artists in Harlem that don't have a place to play. I want to ensure an accurate representation of what Harlem arts is about," said Ludevig. "We want artists to apply to us and tell us their vision."

The Richard Rodgers Amphitheater.
The Richard Rodgers Amphitheater.
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DNAInfo/Jeff Mays

The focus will be on unsung artists.

"If we have a choice between Alvin Ailey and a no-name dance group we want the no-name group because we want them to benefit from the exposure," said Ludevig.

The group is also working with Harlem Park to Park, a local business alliance, to create a business incentive program that will lure festival visitors to local establishments such as restaurants and galleries.

The festival is a two-day affair scheduled for June 29 and June 30. Ludevig said the group is still trying to raise funds and has opened a Kickstarter account and plans to hold a gala fundraiser next month.

Ludevig, El-Far, the founding co-artistic director of Hybrid Theater Works, and Goding, an education associate at New York City Center, are all relatively new Harlem transplants. They see the festival as bridging the gap between Harlem's strong artistic legacy and its artistic future.

"I want new people to learn about the wonderful history here, experience it and embrace the older generation because they made Harlem what it is," he said. "We want to be a part of keeping that legacy going."

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