Public Space Challenge Winner Plans Tribute to Overtown

Written By Josie Gulliksen
September 11, 2015 at 1:48 PM

Public Space Challenge Winner Plans Tribute to Overtown

As a grant writer and independent curator, Joshua Kingston is a staunch supporter of Miami’s arts community. He is currently curator at Miami Mixer and a board member at Life is Art, Inc. He is also one of the winners of Miami Foundation’s Public Space Challenge. He was awarded $7,000 by the Miami Foundation and has an additional $7,000 from another source for this project.

Because the challenge is about creating a sense of place and helping people discover new public spaces, he plans to create an ongoing event called Tribute to Overtown’s Musical History, Late Late Shows that showcases the importance of the community.

“The title Late Late Show is a reference to the Jim Crow days when they would hire performers like Billie Holiday to perform at the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach,” said Mr. Kingston. “She would then have to leave by the midnight curfew so would stop in Overtown and perform impromptu shows, which she did for the citizens in the neighborhood.”

He credits this as the inspiration for his project as well as his love of history, especially Miami’s.

Through the Late Late Shows he plans to showcase the undiscovered historical gem that Overtown is, and remind people that the area was once called The Little Harlem of the South. “It was a really special place, something the highway built in the 1960s and 1970s stripped away because it cut right through the heart of the city,” said Kingston.

To help him put together his series of events he knew he needed a pro, which is when he enlisted Michelle Grant-Murray, head of Miami-Dade College Kendall Campus’ dance department. The well-connected choreographer is a force in the arts community in her own right and just as passionate about spotlighting Overtown to Miami’s residents.

“There are people with incredible stories to tell and they’re not always told from the technical community, so we’re looking at people from all over Miami,” said Grant-Murray. “Because I’m involved in various areas of the community, I’m able to develop work based on the interactions that I have on a daily basis,” Grant-Murray said.

Currently, it is planned as a six-month project featuring some type of monthly event; anything further will depend on funding coming in on a timely basis.

The kick-off event is planned for November 19, which is also Give Miami Day. Kingston strategically planned it on this day as a way of assisting the Black Police Precinct & Courthouse Museum Board “who asked me if proceeds from our kick-off event could benefit them on Give Miami Day,” said Kingston.

At the opening event they’re re-creating the opening of the museum back in 1950, and having the Booker T. Washington Marching Band perform.

After the kick off they envision mash-up events like pairing a traditional jazz musician with a beat boxer, for example. The venues are still being determined, which is where Grant-Murray steps in, given that she’s established relationships with venues in Overtown “because there is so much talent in the area,” she said.

The Overtown Youth Center is one such venue, where workshops will take place and performance pieces will be developed.

“We will be creating the pieces out of the workshops and the people who live in the community, especially the youth who will bring the work to life,” she said. “In particular the center’s dance program, which we also want involved in the parade as well other at performances during the event.”

From his end, Kingston has already coordinated collaboration sessions with musicians, and foresees a long-range goal to perhaps produce a full-range musical about Overtown.“Overtown was the hub of Miami’s history and we owe a huge debt to those who toiled. Miami history would have been totally different had it not been for them,” said Kingston.

Grant-Murrary echoes his sentiment saying “because of the disparity in Overtown, many residents moved to other neighborhoods. But they still carry on their same way of living so it’s very important to tell these stories.”

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