The venerable Kennedy Center (aka the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts) is really stepping up its commitment to black and hip hop artistry and culture. Yesterday, the Center announced that Simone Eccleston, the Director of Programming at Harlem Stage, would be its first-ever Director of Hip Hop Culture starting on March 13.
As the director, Eccleston will lead efforts to highlight hip hop culture and other aspects of American and international culture and music affiliated with hip hop with an emphasis on community engagement. In a statement, she said:
With the Kennedy Center serving as the preeminent home for our nation's arts and culture, the creation of a programmatic platform for hip-hop culture is deeply significant…It is also an important catalyst for community building, activism and empowerment.
Eccleston’s appointment is the latest effort by the Kennedy Center to incorporate hip hop and black culture into its programming. Back in 2015, Kendrick Lamar performed at the Center backed by the 96-piece National Symphony Orchestra in an iconic and otherworldly convergence of hip hop and classical cultures. Last year, the Center named founding Tribe Called Quest rapper and producer Q-Tip as the Artistic Director for Hip Hop Culture. In a time when black people in this country as well as the arts face threats by the Trump administration, seeing the Kennedy Center acknowledge the significance of black artistry and hip hop is powerful and encouraging.