Pageant of the Masters Honors Harlem Renaissance in Upcoming Production, “Art Colony: In the Company of Artists”

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Masterpieces by African American Artists Aaron Douglas, Augusta Savage, and More to be Re-Created as “Living Pictures” in 2023 Performance

Image of “The Harp (Lift Every Voice and Sing)” by Augusta Savage at the World’s Fair in the courtyard of the Contemporary Arts Building, 1939. Photo Courtesy of the New York Public Library 

This summer, the Pageant of the Masters celebrates 90 years of tableaux vivants, or living pictures, with the production Art Colony: In the Company of Artists. Audiences can expect a diverse theatrical celebration of artists from around the world who have embraced communities where they could live and work and take inspiration from one another. One of the art colonies featured in this year’s pageant is New York’s Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement that celebrated art and African American culture in the 1920s and 30s.

“The Harlem Renaissance was painting and sculptures, but it was also poetry, politics, and literature. A time of freedom of expression for people of color previously unknown in America,” said Diane Challis Davy, Pageant of the Masters Director. “African American art and art by women have been under-represented in the history of American Art. I’m pleased we can present the Harlem Renaissance and other important art colonies of the US and the world.”

The Harlem Renaissance is considered a golden age in African American culture, manifesting in literature, music, stage performance, and art. The era is widely known in pop culture for its nightclubs and music: Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway of the Cotton Club, and Bessie Smith, to name a few. Lesser known to many are the painters and sculptors associated with the movement. The Pageant of the Masters hopes to shine a light on sculptors Meta Warrick Fuller and Augusta Savage, and painters Archibald Motley and Aaron Douglas.

Kicking off act two, audiences will see the work of these artists come to life on stage, including the signature 16-foot sculpture “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by Harlem Renaissance artist, activist, and educator Augusta Savage; as well as, “Song of the Towers,” which is part of a four-mural collection series by Aaron Douglas. Douglas felt that jazz was a significant contribution of African American culture to the world. Meta V.W. Fuller’s bronze statue “Emancipation” and Archibald Motley’s extraordinary painting “Holy Rollers” will also be highlighted during the Harlem Renaissance art colony portion of the show.

“All four of these works of art are new to our stage. I especially admire Aaron Douglas’ style; his colorful silhouette paintings and murals depicting Black history,” added Challis Davy. “I have selected uplifting musical pieces to complement the four tableaux. Jazz, spirituals, and gospel will be represented, along with a song that’s considered an anthem -‘ Lift Every Voice and Sing!'”

Presented under Laguna Beach’s starry-summer night sky, the 2023 Pageant of the Masters will also feature live, original music and narration, dazzling theatrical illusions, and some surprises, all presented in the 2,600-seat amphitheater of the Irvine Bowl.

The art colony established in Laguna Beach in the early 20th century was the primary inspiration for the 2023 theme. “We’re excited about the theme, ‘Art Colony,’ because Laguna Beach was really put on the map as such more than 100 years ago,” Challis Davy said. “We don’t acknowledge our local art colony status until the finale of the show, and along the way, we will show other art colonies where artists offered support and inspired one another.”

The Pageant of the Masters is celebrating its 90th anniversary this summer with the production, Art Colony: In the Company of Artists, with performances nightly from July 7 to Sept. 1. Advance tickets are now on sale starting at $35 per person. More information about the Pageant of the Masters and Festival of Arts can be found by following the Festival at @FestivalPageant and by visiting www.foapom.com

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