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New Roxbury center will lift up Black and Latino arts and culture

Natalia Madera

A new celebration of culture is coming to town in the form of the Greater Roxbury Arts & Cultural Center, a long-awaited space in Nubian Square that will celebrate Black and Latino culture and art.

The 35,000-square-foot center is currently under development. There are high hopes for it.

“Our mission is to support and present innovative visual arts and humanities that honor the cultural roots of the African diaspora while promoting the Nubian Square neighborhood,” said Taneshia Nash Laird, the center’s chief executive officer.

Although many programs that uplift arts and culture exist in Roxbury, the planned center will be the first physical space in the neighborhood specifically designated for artists and creators of color to interact. Other spaces nearby include Hibernian Hall, which hosts theater performances, and the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists, the home of visual art exhibits.

The Greater Roxbury Arts & Cultural Center Inc. was formed just last year to build the center, whose site will be sandwiched between the Black Market and the Nubian Gallery on Washington Street.

Laird said officials are aiming to raise $35 million for the project. She said the city is expecting to break ground in the fourth quarter of next year, and the center is expected to open in the fall of 2025, if everything goes as planned.

Laird was hired in December to create the vision by the Nubian Square Ascends development team, a real estate project aimed at revitalizing the commercial center of Roxbury.

The team, which is for-profit, was looking to add a nonprofit visual and performing arts center to their campus and is redeveloping the Blair Lot into a community cultural center as well.

Laird, originally from New York, is an arts administrator and entertainment entrepreneur. She was previously president and chief executive of the Newark Symphony Hall.

“When I visited [Massachusetts], I realized that people really wanted to be centered and not erased,” she said. “In popular culture, you don’t see the depiction of Black and brown people in Boston.”

Laird stressed that the center, when opened, would serve the entire Roxbury community and all its diversity, with an emphasis on social justice and economic opportunity.

“We are not a monolith. We are not just one thing,” Laird said. “We all have different ships. That’s why I’m particularly passionate about this.”

Recently, Laird made a pair of announcements about critical partnerships her organization has formed with OrigiNation Inc., a Jamaica Plain dance company, and the Roxbury International Film Festival, the largest event of its kind in New England, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

OrigiNation — which serves Black and Latino youth in Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury — will be the first resident dance company at the planned arts center, Laird’s press release on the announcement said.

That move would make OrigiNation the nation’s first professional Black and Latino youth dance company in residence at a performing arts center designed for the African and Latino diasporas, according to the press release.

Daniel Callahan, a multimedia artist and president of the Roxbury Cultural District’s board of directors, said Roxbury is a “rich cultural and artistic oasis” with a lot of history, both politically and artistically. The arts center will be an opportunity for collaborating and continuing the center’s mission, he said.   

“We’ve found a lot of individual artists in Roxbury, but there’s never a concerted effort for all of them to plug into and work together,” he said.

Abria Smith, a member of the Boston Cultural Council, said there weren’t many cultural programs or centers aimed at supporting the arts in Roxbury when she was growing up. As a member of the council, she said her primary role is approving funding for projects across the city that relate to arts programming.

Smith said there is still work to be done in the city.

“I feel like there’s always a need for more funding and more educational opportunities for the arts,” Smith said. “People need to learn to value artists more.”

art, Black arts, Latino arts, roxbury