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Women’s History Month – Honoring a Legacy

by: Adazeke Lynn Beville
April 12, 2015

March 8th, International Women’s Day has its roots in early 1900’s world and American History.  Women’s History Month is a result and has placed well-earned Honors upon the works and memories of very distinguished female leaders.  The legacy began with highlighting early women’s issues like Abolition of Slavery, Suffrage, Fair Labor Policies and eventually progress in Human Rights.  Some of these issues remain or have morphed into rally for current quests for progress or equality.

In continuation of contributions to humanity and society, several women have distinguished themselves highly.  Among these are such icons as Robin Bell-Stevens, Executive Director of Jazz Mobile, a Harlem based institution of learning and entertainment.  She has held this position since 2003.  Ms. Bell-Stevens informs us Jazz Mobile was founded in 1964 by Jazz Pianist and Educator, Dr. Billy Taylor and his associate, Daphne Arnstein.  Jazz Mobile provides entertainment hopefuls with free and affordable music education, primarily at Harlem based school buildings.  World class musicians, those headed for fame and students of Jazz are all supported by this institution that grew out of Dr. Taylor’s early efforts to educate America through TV programming in the 1950’s.

It has been through his work that we’ve learned of the evolution of the Original American art form with its tributary elements such as Blues, BeBop, Straight Ahead, Latin, Afro-Cuban and Modern Jazz, among others.
Jazz Mobile is celebrating its 50th Anniversary and continuing its long term of Summer Park and Neighborhood showcase entertainment.  Grant’s Tomb and Marcus Garvey Park concerts are staple events for showcasing Jazz Masters.  The Central Park Great Hill show, 1st Saturday in August is another staple.  Others in Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island also prevail.  One can check the Jazz Mobile web site for calendar and hi-lights.  The program has large- scale corporate, political and community support and new campaigns of individual support are under development.
Ms. Bell-Stevens, widely and affectionately known, has an impressive history of being submerged in music and events production.  Her father, Dr. Aaron Bell emerged as a Jazz Bassist, after being educated at Xavier University in New Orleans, playing with the US Navy Band during World War II and eventually with such notables as Clark Terry, Andy Kirk, Billy Taylor and Duke Ellington.  Earning Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees, he eventually came to teach at Essex County College, where he united students with musicians and musical prosperity.

Raised among and influenced by such celebrity, Robin was inspired to promote evolving projects.  She produced events at the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, events featuring her Dad and events for vocalists.  She served as Director of Public Relations and Special Events for the Jackie Robinson Foundation.  In her tenure there, she produced the “Afternoon of Jazz” festivals that became widely popular, launching the Summer season of Jazz in the tri-state area.  Just prior to Jazz Mobile tenure, Ms. Bell-Stevens served as Director of Marketing and Creative Services at Jazz At Lincoln Center.  She also created and produced a nine day Jazz Festival in Dakar, Senegal.  Her sharing of Jazz history is engaging, as it informs on the early trajectories of celebrity entertainers as well as major Jazz institutions and projects.

Other services provided by this talented, energetic lady have included: President of NY Coalition of 100 Black Women, Vice-President of the Louis Armstrong Education Fund, Advisory Board of Columbia University Jazz Studies, Charter Board of Women’s Committee on Central Park Conservancy.  Multiple awards from groups such as Jazz Journalists, National Black Theatre, International Women of Jazz and Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, have been conferred upon her.

Debra Vanderburg Spencer has distinguished herself highly as a museum-trained Curator and Art Historian.  Specializing in Management and Policy issues related to visual arts, she advises institutions and private clients on the management of their collections.  Current clients include NY Foundation for the Arts, Harlem Headquarters of the William J. Clinton Foundation, Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists/Museum of Fine Arts: Boston and Rockefeller Galleries at the Interchurch Center of NY.

Ms Spencer speaks and writes on contemporary art issues for foreign and domestic interests such as the China Federation of Literary and Arts Circles, Revisiting American Art, Hale Woodruff and the Amistad Murals and The Increasing Impact of Caribbean Art and Culture.

An expert on African American art as well as contemporary African Art/Artists, she has been Curator of more than sixty exhibitions, showing works of one hundred, eighty national and international artists.  She Co-curated six annual exhibitions on African and African-American Art for the Museum of Fine Arts-Boston.  Ms. Spencer has recently been Guest Curator for NY City (borough specific exhibits) highlighting the diversity of NY City.  She is noted for Makush: A Celebration of Ethiopian Art, exhibition, exhibits at The Paley Center for Media and the Katonah Museum of Art in Westchester Co.  Her management experience includes being Director of Special Projects, NY State Council on the Arts and Exhibitions Manager at the Schomburg Center of the NY Public Library.

After completing two Fellowships in Arts Management with the National Endowment for the Arts, the US Congress commissioned her to manage a nationwide competition to select a sculptor for a Martin L. King Jr. memorial bust that occupies the Capitol Rotunda.  Ms. Spencer was also selected by a Presidential Committee on Arts and Humanities to direct a comprehensive inventory and assessment of the art/holdings installed in Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  An exhibition of selected works traveled to five regional museums in America.
In New York, Ms. Spencer presided over the Cinque Gallery, a space founded for emerging artists, by Romare Bearden and Norman Lewis.  She served as a peer panelist, judging portfolios for funding assignments to institutions like National Endowment for the Arts, NY State Council on the Arts and Harlem’s 125th St. Business Improvement District.  She has been consultant to the Hale Woodruff Estate, the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Florida Endowment for Humanities.

When asked about her primary beliefs around producing/preserving art, she informs us the primary purpose of visual art is to document history.  She states African American artists have preserved collective history and experiences through their art.  She cites the imagery of artists such as Eldzier Cortor, Hughie Lee-Smith.  To quote her: “Their images are grounded in urban settings to be read against the background of The Great Migration of 1916-1970…The movement of people provided their backdrop.”

Ms. Spencer also cites the importance of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which have been repositories of Black art, dating back to the 1800’s.  Early Black artists: Joshua Johnston, Edmonia Lewis, Henry O. Tanner, Robert S. Duncanson and more contemporary: Jacob Lawrence, William H. Johnson, Elizabeth Catlett and Romare Bearden are documented in these collections.  She states these collections provide a vital part of America’s artistic heritage and are resources for reassessing America’s history and culture.
Ms. Spencer earned a Master’s Degree at Harvard Univ. School of Education, with adjunct studies at MIT (Film History and Technology).  Art History was studied at Harvard Extension Studies and Western Michigan University.
Her awards include academic scholarships, Harvard University, Internship at the Smithsonian, Certificate of Recognition; African American Museums Association.  She is a member of the American Alliance of Museums and the International Council on Museums.

Sandra Trim-Da Costa is a unique example of a woman fully dedicated to building Brands and developing talent.
Ms. Trim-Da Costa is an International Entertainment Marketing Consultant and General Manager of DIOS Music/BulLion Entertainment, with tenure in several corporate entities in the music industry.  She has contributed to the marketing and career development for artists such as George Benson, Diana Krall, Dr. John, Ramsey Lewis, Maysa and others at GRP (MCA/Universal).  She was instrumental in the marketing and development of artists at CBS Records/Sony Music, including legendary icons such as Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Earth Wind and Fire and Harry Connick Jr.  Others whose careers she helped launch have been TS Monk, Teddy Pendergrass, LaBelle, and Marvin Gaye.  On Def Jam label, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Alyson Williams have been helped by Ms. Trim-Da Costa.
BulLion Entertainment is an independent talent firm representing a variety of musical artists.  The company works with new comers and high profile recording artists, facilitates business in music and recording industries and provides an extensive variety of orientations for young people.

Ms. Trim-Da Costa serves as Chief Operating Officer of The BulLion Foundation, founded by her son Anre Da Costa.  The Foundation provides an extensive array of services and supplies to under-served people, specifically, youth.
BulLion partners with schools, school districts, residential facilities for children and adults and special needs schools for at-risk populations.  Collaborations have ocurred in both the United States and abroard.  BulLion Foundation focuses on well-being for youth by creating learning around “Success in Education”, “Career Orientation”and “New-age Awareness of Health and Nutrition”.  Middle and High School-aged students are oriented, through workshop and presentations to careers in entertainment.  They learn about Performance, Producing, Management, Executive roles and Promotion.  Youth learn to build portfolios, via Internships, career clinics, mentoring and coaching by visiting artists and professionals.  These specialists come from corporate, sports and entertainment industries.  Activities and learning are generated by Ms. Trim- Da Costa and her son’s commitment to bringing knowledge of “Access” to the “next generation”.  In this way, they empower youth with confidence, validation and self-determination to build futures.
Ms. Trim-Da Costa’s community service has included appointments to Boards such as CACE International, Jazz Mobile and Graham-Windham Children Services.  Awards conferred have been many, including “Partners-In-Education”(NY City Public Schools), CEBA Award for excellence in advertising as well as awards from the Black Business and Professional Women and the YMCA.

Another lady of exceptional distinction is Sherry B. Bronfman, New Yorker who hails originally from Chicago, and is a veteran of both worlds of visual and performing arts.  A mother of three adult children, and powerful advocate of visual artists, she serves on the Friends of Education Committee at the Museum of Modern Art (also known as MOMA).  This committee functions to reach out to, purchase and install to MOMA’s collection, fine art produced by African Americans and Artists of color.  Additional functions of this committee include visiting and viewing at art studios, organizing Artist Talks, educating museum curators and the public at large about lesser known art and artists.

The Friends of Education Committee also makes its work and discoveries known to collectors and Arts programs in colleges.  This helps forward into the art world, visibility of world class artists who might otherwise languish in obscurity.  Ms. Bronfman names Derek Adams, Micheline Thomas, Clifford Owens, David Harwood, Xavier Simmons, Carrie Mae Weems as some examples of African-American Artists and Zenale Muhole as an example of a (South) African artist MOMA has helped to give visibility to.  She mentions the Jack Tilton Gallery and the Peg Alston Gallery as partners in this effort.

Ms Bronfman is a veteran of Movie and Broadway Musical fame.  She appeared in the cast of the original Shaft movie, the cast of Hello Dolly with Cab Calloway and Pearl Bailey, and in TV commercial ads.  She pursued the value of visual art via self-education and believes art is what helps us explore insight to the Self and gain historical and cultural respect for others.  She also believes art adds a stabilizing effect to the human experience.

A veteran of community service, Ms Bronfman served as a Founding Member of The Children’s Museum of Manhattan, Board Member of: Museum for African Art, National Urban League and the Temple of Understanding.  She served in the Publishing Certificate Program at City College of N.Y. and twenty years as a volunteer to the Schomburg Library & Cultural Center, a Harlem based research, arts and literary branch of the NY Library.

Ms. Bronfman reports the Museum of Modern Art honored America’s historically iconic artist Elizabeth Catlett before her passing.  The Friends of Education Committee is dedicated to exposing 150,000 school children to free visits, and to building a therapeutic experience of art to Alzheimer’s patients.

MOMA will launch a Jazz Interlude event on April 8th 2015, during which Ms. Bronfman will be honored, along with Vernon Jordan, Julie Mehretu (artist), and the Ford Foundation.  That event will introduce a Jacob Lawrence Retrospective and a Gordon Parks exhibit.  Jazz Interlude is co-sponsored with George Wein, founder of the JVC Jazz Festivals.

Ruth Clark has distinguished herself among the ranks of historical nobility, born and raised in Harlem.  Like other notable women from her neighborhood, she has dedicated herself to progress and community.

Ruth informs us she was the first Black woman to build a successful Staffing service in the industries of Banking and Finance.  She screened and placed workers in careers as Brokers, Bankers and related roles, developing a unique and well patronized business in the 1970’s.  CHASE Bank and Goldman Sachs were among her clients, and she learned the workings of world banking.  Ms Clark speaks of having gained trust and credibility among high stakes economic cultures.  The sensitive field of matching employees with financial career entry, while meeting demands for diversity defined her challenge and she welcomed it.  She describes those times as demanding aggressiveness in order to maintain presence in the field.

By 2009, economic crisis in Banking caused the market for her services to drop and she eventually phased out of this.  Ms. Clark had also developed a Not-for-Profit enterprise, where-in she raised dollars to insure educational success for K-12th grade students in Independent (IS) Schools.  She served on the Board of the March of Dimes, raising dollars and acquiring equipment for the Neo-natal Unit of Harlem Hospital.  Her work inspired healthy discounts as well as resentment when profits were lost in this humanitarian effort.  Saving babies and a Doctor’s encouragement inspired her to persevere.  “Do good works, regardless of any attempts to stop you.”  This has been her mantra.
Ms. Clark has done adjunct lecturing for Hunter College, currently serves as Vice President on a Community Advisory Board of Renaissance Health Net which supports community needs under the Health & Hospitals Corporation.

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