Rebecca Huang

A rich rhythm of drums, played by members of the New Haven community, greeted all visitors of the Stetson Library on Wednesday for a celebration of Black History Month.

The drum circle, which occurs on a monthly basis, coincided with the library’s exhibition on Visual Literacy as the third segment of a four-part series for Black History Month. The exhibition offered spaces for local black artists and creators to showcase their work to the larger New Haven community. The Visual Literacy Exhibition celebrated African American culture and artists and gave vendors an opportunity to share their work with others and bring it into a larger conversation about black history.

“One of the things I want to achieve for the artists is the recognition of their work that’s out there,” Peticia Adger, who organized the event, told the News in an interview. “They spend so much time on their art and it’s not really appreciated only because they have not been able to brand themselves or market themselves.”

Adger organized the exhibition in collaboration with the Stetson branch under her non-profit organization, Urban Grants 4 Us. Adger founded the nonprofit in order to uplift grassroot organizations in the inner city who typically receive little outside recognition or support. In addition to showcasing their work, Adger offers the vendors a grant writing course, where local creators learn how to effectively find and write grants to help them in their ventures.

This week’s drum circle was populated by works painted by Katro Storm, a New Haven artist who integrates abstract painting with figurative portraits. His displayed collection, “21 Paintings in 21 Days” was a selection from his broader project of the same name. The drum circle dynamized the exhibit, giving a force of life and a musical element to the celebration of visual art.

“The drumming is so close to the heart — with the rhythm, the pace, there’s really something relaxing and soothing that feels so resonating,” Fabian Menges, a Staff Researcher for the Yale Physics Department, said in an interview with the News about taking part in the community drumming.

Among the many booths in the exhibition was Lauren Simone Publishing House, a publishing company started in 2016. Created by two sisters, Olivia Lauren John and Alyssa Simone John, the mission of the company is to introduce and celebrate diversity in authors and illustrators. Melissa-Sue John, mother of Olivia Lauren and Alyssa Simone and Chief Executive Officer of Lauren Simone Publishing, cited the continual absence of minority main characters in children’s literature as the impetus for beginning the business.

“I was complaining to my daughter and …  she said ‘stop complaining, mom! Do something about it,’ and we wrote our first books together,” John said. Today, Lauren Simone Publishing has released over twelve books, all written by people of color and illustrated by children.

Another artist showcased at the event was Rodney Dabney, a photographer active in the New Haven area. Dabney has worked as a photographer for Toni Harp, the former mayor of the city, as well as John Alston Jr, New Haven’s Fire Chief. Dabney hopes to use the event to reach out again to a younger audience and share his love of photography with others.

The exhibition also featured Millennials Making Boss Moves, a group of black female entrepreneurs who design African jewelry, garments and wellness products including natural hair and skin care; Dolls of Beautiful Shades, a company that produces dolls of color; Shaunda Halloway, a New Haven painter and printmaker, and many more.

Adger hopes that the event can provide a stepping stone for black artists and creators in New Haven. Art exhibitions often serve to promote cultural awareness and spark dialogue about collective experiences, providing a valuable portal into the past. She chose to host the event during Black History Month because it is a “time of the year where you can feel like you can be proud of your heritage and the people that got you to where you are now.”

Organizational Management, the final segment of the Black History Month series, will take place on February 29 from 10a.m. to 4p.m.

Rebecca Huang | r.huang@yale.edu