Afrikan Poetry Theatre seeks funding after devastating blaze

Afrikan Poetry Theatre seeks funding after devastating blaze
Courtesy of Sekou Branch
By Naeisha Rose

The Afrikan Poetry Theatre may be down a building for the moment due to an electrical fire, but do not count out the Jamaica cultural arts center just yet.

Despite having to cancel the last leg of its Black History Month film series, which was scheduled to take place at its headquarters at 176-03 Jamaica Ave. on Feb. 17, the art center is already in the process of finding funding for next year’s movie showcase along with a host of other programs its provides for free or for a low fee.

The arts center’s theatre director, Sekou Branch, and treasurer, Kerry Edge, met with the Department of Cultural Affairs and members of Queens’ City Council at Borough Hall Monday about securing funding for the 42-year-old establishment for next year’s programs.

“They understand that [Afrikan Poetry Theatre] is very important to the community,” said Branch. “The programs that we do, a lot of people don’t do it in this part of Queens. They sometimes have to go to Manhattan, but here we provide a lot of our programs for 100 percent free.”

Some of the programs that the Afrikan Poetry Theatre offers are open mic nights, jazz shows and art exhibits.

“This is a pillar and it would be a shame if this place didn’t exist because of the fire,” said the theatre director. “With the development going on in Jamaica… they are concerned with maintaining the cultural arts in Queens.”

As the center tries to secure funding for next year, it will close out its film classes at the Museum of the Moving Images in Astoria, and one of the acting instructors for Afrikan Poetry is scouting a new place in Jamaica for the center’s acting classes.

The electrical fire that occurred on Feb. 17 destroyed the second floor of the Afrikan Poetry Theatre, which included a computer lab, office space and film equipment.

Branch is searching for a new office space for Afrikan Poetry Theatre to operate as insurance adjusters and brokers itemize the damage done to the arts center before it can be rebuilt.

After speaking with a fire marshal about the Feb. 17 blaze that destroyed the second floor of the cultural center, Branch surmised from the conversation that the contractors who were supposed to fix the electrical wiring after an earlier fire in 2007 could have done a better job.

“Some work that was done wasn’t the greatest, that is what I’m learning,” said Branch, who is hoping to find a better contractor for the restoration efforts.

As Branch looks ahead to the future he wants to continue the center’s Cultural Immigrant Initiatives program that teaches theatre to ESL learners while directing them in their native language and English.

He wants to go forward with a Coalition of Theatre of Color program, a theatre program that addresses biases among the Black diaspora among Americans, Africans, West Indians and more abroad.

He also wants to do a horror film program.

“I think that it will be fun,” Branch said. “We are going to get professionals in the industry to teach more about lighting, set design and how to do horror makeup.”

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.