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Online Fall Puppet Forum: “The Renaissance of African American Object Performance”

October 22 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

Curtis Entrepreneur Low Down Blues photo David Moss

For its second online installment of the 2020 Fall Puppet Forum Series, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut will host “The Renaissance of African American Object Performance” with noted puppeteers, artists, scholars Edna Bland, Paulette Richards, Schroeder Cherry, and Anwar Floyd-Pruitt on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. ET. This forum will take place on Facebook Live (facebook.com/BallardInstitute/) and will be available afterwards on Facebook and the Ballard Institute YouTube Channel (youtube.com/channel/UC3VSthEDnYS6ZjOwzT1DnTg).

African American puppetry and object performance is in a state of rapid and profound change. As the organizers of this Puppet Forum describe it, African American puppeteers are “part of a movement rediscovering the art of puppetry,” while at the same time the world of puppetry is discovering African American puppeteers. The Ballard Institute’s “Renaissance of African American Object Performance” Puppet Forum will bring together four prominent figures of the African American puppet revival to discuss how they are working to change the nature of puppetry in the U.S., and how American puppetry is beginning to recognize the work of Black puppeteers. The forum will also mark the release of the Ballard Institute’s Living Objects: African American Puppetry online catalogue of images, artist biographies, video documentation, and over twenty new essays, scripts, and interviews about African American puppetry, based on the Ballard Institute’s 2018-2019 exhibition, symposium, and festival of the same name. Moderated by educator, teaching artist and puppeteer Edna Bland, this forum is co-sponsored by the UConn Department of Art and Art History (art.uconn.edu/).

Moderator Edna Bland is an educator, teaching artist, puppeteer and arts integration specialist who honed her knowledge and skills at such prestigious institutions as The Kennedy Center’s VSA and CETA programs, Lincoln Center Education’s Teaching Artist program at the Juilliard School, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. Prior to becoming an educator, Edna worked in the entertainment industry at such organizations as the New York Emmy Awards and Sony Music Entertainment. As a puppeteer, she was mentored by the late Caroll Spinney (“Big Bird”) and Dr. Loretta Long (“Susan”) from Sesame Street, and was a touring puppeteer in Jane Henson’s Nativity. Her work has been exhibited at the Ballard Institute as part of the Living Objects: African American Puppetry exhibition, and as part of the South Florida Puppetry Guild exhibit at the Miramar Arts and Cultural Center. She has an M.F.A degree in Entertainment Creative Writing, and an M.S. degree in Entertainment Business from Full Sail University; a B.S. degree in Organizational Management from Nyack University, and an A.A.S. degree in Music Business from Five Towns College. 

Dr. Paulette Richards is an independent researcher and teaching artist who uses animatronic puppetry to introduce K-12 students to basic robotics concepts.  She has taught animatronic puppetry workshops at Decatur Makers, the Dekalb County Public Library, the Center for Puppetry Arts, and the Puppeteers of America 2017 National Festival.  She served as co-curator with Dr. John Bell of the Ballard Institute and Museum’s Living Objects: African American Puppetry exhibit and was recently elected to the board of UNIMA-USA, the U.S. chapter of the Union International de la Marionnette. “The Black Lives Matter movement,” she writes, “has made my research feel urgent and relevant for the first time in my life because I see puppet theater and object performance as a powerful mode of resistance to the objectification of Black bodies.” Richards is completing two essays, about blackface material characters and the ritual functions of white supremacy; and a community of African American doll collectors. She is currently planning an exhibition of African American puppetry that should open at the Center for Puppetry Arts in the fall of 2021, and researching a book on object performance in the Black Atlantic.

Dr. Schroeder Cherry began making art and playing with puppets as a child in Washington, D.C. Over time he incorporated his childhood pastime into his thirty years of professional museum work. Dr. Cherry has held positions at museums across the U.S., including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Maryland Historical Society. At The Lila Wallace Funds in New York he was a program officer for museums and arts organizations, and between 2002 and 2010 he served on staff at the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, D.C., first as Deputy Director for Museums and later as Counselor to the Director. Cherry earned a bachelor of arts in painting and puppetry from the University of Michigan; a masters degree in Museum Education from The George Washington University; and a doctorate in museum education from Columbia University. He has travelled nationally and internationally to speak on learning in museums. Cherry currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland.

Anwar Floyd-Pruitt is an interdisciplinary artist from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, focusing on puppetry, self-portraiture, and community art. A 2020 MFA graduate of UW-Madison, Floyd-Pruitt also earned a BA in psychology from Harvard University and a BFA in sculpture from UW-Milwaukee. In addition to teaching puppetry workshops, Floyd-Pruitt produces and performs a family-friendly, hip-hop singalong called Hip Hop Puppet Party, which was awarded a Madison Arts Commission Blink Grant. Last winter, he was invited to participate in Roots of the Spirit-Imagine Puppets at ArtServe in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where he displayed a collection of puppets made with youth from the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center. Anwar is the winner of the 2020 Russell and Paula Panczenko MFA Prize at the Chazen Museum of Art, where his first solo exhibition, Supernova: Charlotte & Gene’s Radical Imagination Station, opens this fall. Most recently, Floyd-Pruitt installed an abstract sculptural wildflower garden outdoors, as part of Wormfarm Institute’s Fermentation Fest.

For more information and to learn about other online programming, visit bimp.uconn.edu or email bimp@uconn.edu.


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