Duo launches directory for Black artists in Rhode Island

ROSE WEAVER and Arnell Milhouse have created an interactive online directory for Black artists in Rhode Island. / COURTESY DIRECTORY OF BLACK ARTISTS IN RHODE ISLAND

PROVIDENCE A performer and technology professional have united to design and launch an interactive online directory to help facilitate the business, training and careers of Black artists in Rhode Island.

Rose Weaver, who began her acting career at the Trinity Repertory Company in 1973, and Arnell Milhouse, CEO of CareerDevs Computer Science Institute, created the Directory of Black Artists in Rhode Island. The online directory contains the names and information for over 140 local artists.

Weaver, a veteran of regional theater, off-Broadway, radio, television and film, said the impetus for the directory was that it was needed. “I was constantly hearing that people could not find black artists for this or that,” she said. “I heard that a lot. It affected my career, as well, because people could not find me, and I wasn’t schooled in how to promote myself.” She recently was one of two artists representing Rhode Island in the Kennedy Center’s Arts Across America series.

“I had this idea a few months before my 70th birthday in 2019 that I was going to create a directory, so all Black artists in the state of Rhode Island can be found,” she said, noting that the online directory could be used as a “marketing tool” by the artists. It includes each of the artist’s photo, and biographical, contact, and social media information.

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The directory is phase one of the initiative and will be expanding in the coming months to allow artists to add calendar events and sell tickets to performances. In phase two, Weaver and Milhouse plan on adding a festival component to their program, and professional training sessions. That phase is targeted for launch in 2022.

The duo is in the process of forming a board of directors for the initiative, which Milhouse will chair. They are in discussions with the City of Providence, Arts Culture and Tourism department, the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau, PVDFest, FirstWorks and other organizations regarding their potential participation in the venture.

“We want this to be a united effort,” said Milhouse. “We wanted to be able to create something to show that we could organize and create an event that will add to the fabric of Providence – merge with existing events – and generate revenue. It’s going to be a beautiful thing for the city.”

Weaver said that training from operating her nonprofit organization, Waterspill Junction Inc., which utilizes arts programming to educate, provided her with the experience to guide the initiative. “Years ago, I brought artists together to present wonderful events to the community,” she said.

“She’s already had the experience to put on these amazing events,” said Milhouse. “Now we are bringing them together, packaging them, and creating an interactive directory.” He added that part of his goal with the venture is to be an “entrepreneur in residence for the Black community here in Rhode Island.”

“The Black community coming together behind this – behind Rose’s vision – is phenomenal,” said Milhouse, who noted that the duo will be teaching professional development. “We’re really, really excited. We want to help the artists become better business professionals.”

Weaver said she has tempered her enthusiasm, noting that while the pandemic could impact rollout of the festival, she is grateful for the silver lining of being quarantined, which allowed her time to develop her plan.

“The pandemic got me scared,” said Weaver. “So, I started putting together a piece called, ‘Don’t take the memories with you.’ We are assuming that the pandemic is going to allow us to all be together again. This time gives us time to prepare.”

The pandemic and its toll on human life also made Weaver reflect on her place in society.

“I was wondering what my legacy was here in Providence,” she said. “One of the things that I want to leave as my legacy is this directory. I want to give back by helping the Black artist.”

Weaver said she started thinking recently “about what is important. And I realized, this whole community is important to me, and the Black artists are important to me. I have seen them suffer but put on a good face. So, I just wanted to do something about it.”

Randall Rosenbaum, executive director of the R.I. State Council on the Arts, applauded the new online directory. “This is an important tool designed to increase the visibility of Black artists in the Rhode Island community,” he said. “Rose Weaver is a Rhode Island treasure, and I couldn’t imagine a better person to lead this project. Her involvement will provide more opportunities for the many extraordinary Black artists in our state.”

Stephanie Fortunato, director, City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism, said, “The City of Providence Department of Art, Culture + Tourism is looking forward to working with Rose and her collaborators to strengthen the connections between, and on behalf of, the Black artists highlighted in this directory to find new ways to promote their work to locals and visitors alike, and to celebrate the impacts these artists have made on Providence’s cultural identity and reputation as the creative capital.”

The Directory of Black Artists in Rhode Island can be found at: http://www.blacklivesbiz.com/BlackArtists/RI.

Cassius Shuman is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Shuman@PBN.com.

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