By Javacia Harris Bowser
For the Birmingham Times
For years, the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater (DJD) at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA) has been a venue for top-notch live performances in theater, dance, music, and more. Last year, however, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the DJD to close its doors to audiences.
On January 29, the DJD stage is alive again with the premier of ArtWorks@TheDJD, a new cutting-edge digital performance series; additional installments will be released on February 5 and 12. The series will feature short-form multimedia content by local artists presented online to virtual audiences across Alabama and beyond.
“Once we were unable to present to live audiences anymore, I had two thoughts: ‘How can we continue our mission to bring art to the community?’ and ‘How can we provide a little bit of help to artists?’” said DJD General Manager John Manzelli.
ArtWorks@TheDJD allows Manzelli and his team to do both. After putting out a call for proposals in September 2020, the DJD team awarded three Birmingham-based artists with grants to produce original works for the series.
ArtWorks@TheDJD will kick off with “Suite for Solo Cello—Alabama Climbs” by Hellen Weberpal, a cellist with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and Cahaba River Strings and an avid rock climber, who combined her two passions for her contribution; she’s composed a piece for solo cello in three movements to be played along with the viewing of three different rock climbs.
Jahman Ariel Hill, an award-winning playwright and poet, will present “Vanderwaal’s Journey,” a Black science fiction short film that blends theatrical performances with poetry and dance while exploring themes of race, safety, and health.
Yolonda “Yogi Dada” Carter has produced a work she calls “GRAFFICA” for the series; this piece combines visual art, dance, poetry, and music while celebrating both African art and graffiti. Each performance will be available for viewing online for one week free of charge thanks to support from Publix Charities, the Birmingham Investment Group, and V94.9 FM radio.
“We were looking for art that we thought spoke to the time and that really represented our community, and we had dozens of excellent proposals,” said Manzelli, adding that he and his team were also looking for work that would be inspirational and interesting.
“The three artists we picked were innovative in the ways they wanted to share their art. Their proposals seemed exceptionally timely, and we thought the artists themselves were impressive people and high-level artists,” he said. “We were looking for people who were the best at what they do.”
Click one of the links below to read the stories about these artists.