Podcast | The afterlives of Seattle’s groundbreaking Black Arts/West theater

Though the Madrona theater closed in 1980, several artists trace their current work to its heyday.

A street sign, a building and a playbill

Top left: A street sign in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood designating the block that was once home to Black Arts/West in honor of the theater’s founder, Douglas Q. Barnett. (Chloe Collyer for Crosscut) Right: A playbill for a production of J.E. Franklin’s “Black Girl” at Black Arts/West. (Courtesy of Al Doggett) Bottom left: A 1978 image of the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) Building, which housed Black Arts/West's predecessor. (University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, SOC4866)

When Douglas Barnett opened Black Arts/West in 1969, there was nothing else like it. The theater's mission was to "Educate, Enlighten, and Entertain" by making accessible theater for and about Black people. That required appealing to the Black people living in the neighborhood and then bringing professional actors, directors and dancers to Seattle to hold workshops and help community members of all ages hone their craft.

Black Arts/West closed in 1980 after operating for about 10 years in Madrona, at 3406 East Union Street. Those leading the theater when it closed say its decline was due to both a loss of interest in Black theater in the community and a subsequent loss of federal funding.

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Yet, over 40 years later, the theater’s legacy of bringing professional Black theater to Seattle lives on, largely through several artists who were uplifted by the work of Black Arts/West.

For this episode of the Black Arts Legacies Podcast, host Brooklyn Jamerson-Flowers talks to several artists who were involved with Black Arts/West and who have been dancing, acting and making art ever since.

Check out the rest of the Black Arts Legacies project, including artist profiles, photography and videos. 


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