The following article was written by Dennis Moody, one of Harlem Arts Festival’s newest board members.
“Last year in late May I was feeling anxious about asking my wife a simple question. You see, I had been talking to the founding members of the Harlem Arts Festival for several weeks and I was excited to attend my first event to learn more. The problem was that the event happened to fall on my wife’s 30th birthday. The event was an Ubuntu themed group exhibition at La Maison d’Art at 259 West 132nd street. For those that don’t know, Ubuntu is an African based philosophy which translates to “I am because we are.”
Knowing I married a very supportive and wonderful woman, when I asked her if we could go to the gallery and get dinner over the weekend instead she didn’t hesitate to say yes. On the day of the exhibition, we took a cab uptown to Harlem, and while I thought she would enjoy herself, there was still a part of me that was nervous. I only knew two people who would be attending this event, and I get social anxiety when I don’t know many people.
We entered the gallery called La Maison d’Art and were greeted by a friendly staff. The event included some delicious hors d’oeuvres and refreshing beverages. All of my nervousness/anxiety was erased with one small, simple gesture. When introducing my wife to the Executive Director, Neal Ludevig, one of the two people I knew, my wife went to extend her hand to greet him. That handshake never happened though. Instead, she was embraced with a warm hug which is symbolic of the way the Harlem Arts Festival organization treats their artists, board members, volunteers and the community they serve. They welcome people in with open arms looking to embrace the artistic culture of a community which can often be overlooked.
After speaking with Neal, we walked out to the courtyard of the gallery and got ourselves a glass of wine. We re-entered the gallery prepared to admire the art hanging on the wall from various artists. It was a remarkable experience. Not only were there so many interesting, beautiful, thoughtful pieces of art on the wall, but they all had their own unique style much like the artists themselves. The best part about the whole experience was that not only did we get to appreciate the art, the artists themselves were there to speak with and to provide context to what inspired them to create their work the way that they did.
The exhibition featured many artists, including Shannon Berry, Cathleen Campbell, D. Myntia Daniels, Lisa DuBois. Laura Gadson, Élan HiArt, Lance Johnson, Cherry K, Tiffany Latrice, Zulu King “Slone.” We spoke with many of the artists, including the Graffiti Hall of Famer Zulu King “Slone” who live painted this car which was donated by Zipcar for the Harlem Arts Festival in 2015.
We had so many great conversations with the artists, other members/volunteers from HAF, and with the people attending the event. My wife and I stayed until the end. We decided since it was getting late, and we live all the way on Long Island, that we would treat ourselves to an Uber home. As soon as we got into the Uber my wife turned to me and said “I had the best time tonight. It was one of the best birthday’s I ever had. Thank you so much for bringing me here.” The smile on her face said it all and I felt the same way. We both left the gallery that night with an incredibly warm feeling and smiles ear-to-ear. We had so much fun and it was way better than dinner could have been, even if it was at the fanciest of restaurants.
When I was first talking to the founding members about joining and supporting HAF, I debated internally whether I would have enough time for it. You see, I am a controller at a family office, I manage a website about the Buffalo Bills for FanSided.com, I am an audio host who talks Buffalo Bills fantasy football for an app called Rotogab, and I am the treasurer of an entrepreneurs group. On top of that, I am the youngest of 10 kids and have 25 nieces and nephews, so I’m constantly heading to family events for birthdays, baptisms, graduations, etc. I wasn’t sure if I could make time for anything else in my life. However, after attending the gallery that night, it left no doubt in my mind whatsoever. I needed to be involved in this organization and I would find a way to make the time to get involved.
I am proud to now call myself a board member of the Harlem Arts Festival, an organization that inspires, embraces and serves an overlooked community. As I attend future events, I look forward to seeing others who are attending HAF events for the first time leave with that same warm feeling that my wife and I had at our first event. It’s practically impossible not to leave one of their events feeling better than when you entered after speaking with and interacting with such inspiring, uplifting and caring people all night.”