May 19, 2016 — Under its vaulted crescent arches and color-splashed manifolds, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts(MoCADA) celebrated its sixteenth year as a platform for cultural enrichment with its second artfully-curated masquerade ball at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) brick-laden Lepercq Ballroom. Hosted by Tai Beauchamp and Emil Wilbekin, alongside honorary gala chairs, Maxwell, Estelle and Bevy Smith, the assemblage of artists, affiliates, ambassadors collaborated to champion its founding mission, while raising financial support for ongoing programming as well as the development of its new museum in the very borough that nurtured its evolution.
L’Etage caught up with Brooklyn-born and bred Maxwell on the red carpet, whose own art is very much woven into its fabric. “Coming from Brooklyn, New York, from a crazy area, anything could have happened; but it was art, it was books, it was music that made things become more than I thought they would ever become,” explained the singer/songwriter/actor. Reminiscing about his love affair with the arts, “It has always been in my heart and soul since I was a kid.” A product of his environment, Maxwell is an artist in every sense of the word. Speaking on his metamorphosis over the years, he went on to say, “Philanthropy is the most important thing to me right now. You know, getting schools built in Haiti, getting education, getting healthcare for women, these things play a major role in my art because I’m at a point in my life where I can do something and mean something to someone creatively and I can kind of set that off for people and that means a lot to me.”
Draped in a vintage Vanessa William’s number, we also chatted it up with Jilian Hervey, one-half of the duo Lion Babe, about the role the arts have played in her life.
L’Etage: You had an appreciation for the arts from a very early age; to what extent did being the daughter of Vanessa Williams shape that?
Hervey: “She’s an artist herself. My whole family kind of comes from the creative industry, they’re all artists in their own way. It was just the environment I was in; I don’t really know anything else.
L’Etage: NYC, and Brooklyn in particular, has really undergone a sort of renaissance since you first started your career. How would you characterize this trend and what would you venture the future holds for the borough’s emergence as a cultural hub?
Hervey: “It’s exciting because a lot of artists that have really been putting the work in for years are getting bigger platforms because a lot of it is on trend right now, to talk about these issues and concepts that I think a lot of artists have been exploring. Brooklyn is a great environment to explore; it’s very free, it has a lot of history, it has always had a gravitational pull for forward-thinking people and that’s why it’s going to continue to dominate and kind of take over.”
L’Etage: Further elaborating on that, on a more personal level, what Brooklyn institution would you say has played a pivotal role in shaping your success?
Hervey: “I honestly would have to say that BAM has been a huge part of my experience in New York; I’ve come here for dance things, I’ve been in workshops here, I’ve come to see exhibits, there’s always something around here and they just take care of Brooklyn so much.”
The affair, underwritten by Black Enterprise, Cholula Hot Sauce, FOX, Habana Outpost, HBO, JetBlue and Martell Cognac, got underway withDJ MOMA and DJ Rich Knight on the turntables during the VIP cocktail reception that prefaced the evening’s awards. Celebrating those change-makers that have left an enduring imprint on the contemporary African diasporan arts, as well as the larger community in which it thrives, several attendees were honored, including Derrick Adams with the Artist Advocacy Award, The Rockefeller Foundation with the Philanthropic Advocacy Award, and Studio One Eighty Nine Founders Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah with the Social Justice Advocacy Award.Making for a multisensory experience as dynamic as its socially and politically-charged exhibits, R&B artist Bilal took to the stage, followed by live painting by Nigerian visual artist, Laolu Senbanjo. Coinciding with the fundraiser, a Paddle8-moderated online auction went live on May 5th, concluding at event’s end on May 19.th. Notable names that showed up in a display of unwavering solidarity for the cause included Justine Skye, Fab Five Freddy, Legendary Damon, Artist Kehinde Wiley, fashion influencer Nausheen Shah, American fashion designer Charles Harbison and more.
From humble brownstone beginnings to a force within the international community, MoCADA continues to thrive at the intersection of artistry and advocacy. With each program, each exhibition, each initiative emerges a rich visual language that serves as a voice for the muted. For more information or to get involved, please visit mocada.org.