If the words “multiple choice” bring up unpleasant memories of tests in school, you might want to head down to the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art this Saturday afternoon for a very different experience.
Dance, drama, music and snippets of StoryCorps interviews that were taped at the museum earlier this month will become part of the museum’s current exhibit, “Multiple Choice: Perspectives on the Spelman College Collection.”
“TellTales: A StoryCorps Partnership Culminating Performance” is the first event of its kind to be presented at the museum, which is dedicated to the experiences of women of the African diaspora. It’s the brainchild of Makeba Dixon-Hill, curator of education. She interviewed visual artist Daniel Hoover for StoryCorps in 2010 and found it to be a transformative experience; when she joined the museum in November of last year, she decided to reconnect with the oral history program to tell stories that relate to the collection.
StoryCorps spent last Saturday at the museum and recorded about 20 stories. Dixon-Hill is hopeful that at least three of them will air on WABE-FM radio.
She and the museum’s graduate assistant, Ayana Cofer, decided to thank the participants and engage the wider community in “Multiple Choice” by bringing together a group of performing artists to interact with and reflect on the work. The result is TellTales.
Cofer, who like Dixon-Hill is a Spelman graduate, is the producer of TellTales. “It’s like giving birth,” she says. “I’m pushing and pushing and hoping to see a wonderful creation at the end.”
Cofer is a dancer and the lead performer with the An Ka Fo Drum and Dance Institute and the NALO Movement. Those Atlanta-based companies will perform along with two of Cofer’s dance students from the Kipp Vision Academy. Each group will perform original vignettes based on the recorded stories and the diverse works in the exhibit.
The NALO Movement piece involves the image of a quilt and a conversation between a grandmother and her grandchild. It will take place in front of one of the exhibit’s video installations.
An Ka Fo (“let’s play” in the West African Mandinka language) will perform “Fula Fare,” a movement piece based on the way women carry babies on their backs, trying to keep them steady as they walk. (The group recorded the music and song for this performance because of concern that the vibrations from live drums might damage the artworks.)
Bringing performing artists into a museum often makes curators nervous. “We told the performers they need to respect the visual art pieces,” says Cofer. “We also want to make sure the works are both honest and appropriate” for the space and the college.
“Multiple Choice” had an unusual genesis. The museum invited students, faculty, staffers, Friends of the Museum, alumnae and others to select objects from the permanent collection for display and to explain why. The pieces touch on a multitude of subjects, including abortion, the exploitation of black women and just plain heartbreak. Says Dixon-Hill: “This is definitely not a PG Disney experience.”
She wants to do more multimedia events at the museum and is committed to “interconnecting and collaborating” with the community, skills she honed while working at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
In fact, Dixon-Hill has already initiated another new project, dubbed Black Box. It will use the museum as “a site for play, dialogue and creative risk-taking that encourages dancers, designers, musicians, playwrights, scholars and visual artists” to share works-in-progress based on the art and culture of the African diaspora.
The first Black Box event took place in October and featured dj lynnée denise. The second is scheduled for May 1 at 6:30 p.m. with award-winning actor and playwright James Ijames in his nonlinear movement suite “FRoNTiN: The Post Soul Cake Walk.”
See a photo of Ayana Cofer and Makeba Dixon-Hill together here.