Step Afrika! Founder C. Brian Williams is one of the artists featured in “Monuments: Creative Forces,” at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md. (Courtesy Photo)
By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
There’s nothing like the sting of a pandemic to understand the key role art plays in communities, culture, society and the world. Through their new outdoor exhibit, “Monuments: Creative Forces” Strathmore is honoring local artists who are major contributors to the D.M.V.’s artistic landscape- including C. Brian Williams, founder of Step Afrika!.
In a more than 30-minute conversation streamed on Facebook Live, Williams spoke to the AFRO about his career, the importance of step to the American cultural canon and the honor of being included in “Monuments” at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md. With passion behind each word, Williams kept it real, honored the tradition of step and brainstormed on how to continue making art despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“What we’ve had to do is just shift- like everybody else. Start working remotely as much as possible. I’m proud to say we’ve been able to keep all of our artists,” Williams said. “Step Afrika is the largest employer of full time African American artists in this region. We provide more full time work to African American artists than anyone else in the city- any other arts organization. And we’ve worked hard to keep them engaged, and most importantly employed… so that we can still create for our community.”
Step Afrika! has been creating art communities nationally and internationally since 1994. Inspired by his exposure to the step tradition as an Alpha Phi Alpha at Howard University and the Gumboot Dance of Southern Africa post grad, Williams uses Step Afrika! to showcase the rich traditions of movement, dance, storytelling and resilience in the Black community and African Diaspora.
“It’s just been this journey of creating an organization, a dance company, an arts organization, that first and foremost serves the community, while also celebrating untold histories and stories from within our culture. So we’re very aggressive about telling the story about African American culture and history all over the world. We’ve been to over 60 countries. It’s just been a wonderful journey and the community- the D.C. community in particular- has been right there with us throughout. And Maryland and Virginia- the D.M.V.,” the entrepreneur added.
After more than 25 years of contributing to the local, national and global arts community, Williams was honored as one of five artists in “Monuments: Creative Forces,” at Strathmore, provided by the Embassy of Australia. On their 16-acre property, “Monuments: Creative Forces,” offers a campus-wide outdoor art installation by Australian artist Craig Walsh. The exhibition features moving, dimensional video portraits of local artists such as Williams, on towering trees that allows for nature to transform into animated sculptural monuments.
“I really enjoyed looking at the other “Monuments,” not necessarily myself,” Williams told the AFRO. The way they were able to project the faces onto these living entities- the trees- and the different perspectives that you get from angles as you walk through the park and seeing it from across the way, or being close up. For me I was humbled and very excited to be there.”
“I really enjoyed all the other great artists that they celebrate and honor this way, because these are artists that are doing the work everyday, and so often we don’t get to celebrate our artists- our community of artists- who really bring this great programming to the stage for us. So for Strathmore to do that is wonderful and it’s just a special and really unique night out. I’ve never done anything like it, and I’ve done a lot of things,” Williams said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still spreading, Strathmore has created rules and provisions for audiences to see the larger than life monuments safely.
“People should sign up quickly because they’re still being very safe in terms of how many people are allowed to participate. You have to wear your mask, which is good,” Williams told the AFRO.
For more information on “Monuments: Creative Forces” visit https://www.strathmore.org/events-and-tickets/monuments.