LifestyleKennedy Center's Social Impact Director: Marc Bamuthi Joseph

Kennedy Center’s Social Impact Director: Marc Bamuthi Joseph

For artist, writer and culture-maker Marc Bamuthi Joseph, the road to serving as artistic director of social impact at the Kennedy Center, was cultivated through hard work and a passion for exposing diverse audiences to the power of the arts.

Joseph is a first-generation American with parents who hailed from Haiti and settled in Queens, New York, where he was raised. 

A graduate of Morehouse University, Joseph told The Informer he attributes part of his success to education, opportunity and his parents, who he said supported the nurturing of his talent. 

“I feel like the universe opened pathways for me. Part of my privileges were really caring parents that just kind of went with the flow in terms of making sure that my talents were cultivated, or my curiosities were cultivated,” he said. 

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is the artistic director of social impact at the Kennedy Center. (Eden Harris/The Washington Informer)
Joseph drew his attention to modest designations, yet he was chosen for selective prizes such as the Herb Alpert Award for theatre and the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. He was also a 2017 TED Fellow, and his talk exceeded three million views about a Black father’s painful internal reflection on his son’s adulthood.

Furthermore, his composition “The Just and the Blind,” which delved into the issues of racial profiling and the prison-industrial complex, premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2019 to a sold-out audience. 

Much of Joseph’s work and passion is about ensuring all people have access to the arts as practitioners and appreciators. 

“When you invest in little white girls doing ballet, it’s almost organic and intuitive,”Joseph explained. “But when you want to invest in [transgender] young people of color and Asian elders, or when you want to invest in organizations or artists that fit outside of the [norm] there’s always a value proposition that isn’t as organic to the traditional power system. But my vision sees through all of that.”

Joseph opened up to The Informer about what fuels his determination behind his work as a senior leader at the Kennedy Center. 

“The diaspora has a lot to do with my approach here. I’m not afraid of traditional institutions, I’m not intimidated by traditional institutions, and I also understand that the way that we measure success is as much ancestral as it is about present accounting,” Joseph said. “So, I want to make sure that I am accountable to that legacy as well as thinking about anyone following in my footsteps or thinking about this, as a case study of how to progress.” 

The Kennedy Center is currently developing strategies to continue engaging members of the African diaspora, and address the racial challenges faced by Black Americans. 

Joseph touted the success of “The Cartography Project,” which “seeks to use music as both a source of healing and a way to open dialogue about the future of anti-racism,” according to the Kennedy Center website.

Another social impact effort is the Kennedy Center’s Next 50. It is a group of 50 leaders propelling the world toward a more enlightened, inclusive and empathetic state. Yara Shahidi, an actress best known for her work in “Grown-ish,” and Pierce Freelon, a Grammy-nominated artist and former professor of African, African American and Diaspora Studies and Music at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are among the leaders joining this group. 

Freelon said the project he ran, Beat Making Lab, branched off into a State Department cultural diplomacy project called Next Level. That program teaches diplomacy and conflict resolution skills in countries “like Zimbabwe and really all over the world,” he told The Informer. 

According to Freelon, the Kennedy Center can utilize music to foster unity and advance its mission of social impact in relation to cultural diplomacy initiatives. 

“I think music is the universal language. That’s the cliche, but even more nuanced and specific. I think hip-hop is the universal language of Black culture and particularly the youth around the world.”

The musician and educator added that he hopes to encourage more work with the African diaspora as part of his collaboration with Joseph and the Kennedy Center.

“If I had Marc on the phone and had to make an ask, it would be to find creative ways to leverage hip-hop culture to connect folks around the world who are tethered through Black culture,” Freelon said, considering places like Cape Town, South Africa, Accra, Ghana, Nairobi, Kenya and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “There are so many vibrant cities with groundbreaking creative movements happening around the world.”

Source: Washington Informer

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