Meshella Woods, the interim First Vice President of Palm Coast’s African American Cultural Society, noticed something odd as the AACS’s younger members worked on the “Summer of 1969: Black Culture, Music and Fashion” exhibition that opens at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Those youth began looking at her, a retired interior architectural designer, and other AACS elders differently.
The art exhibition and its numerous related programs are centered around “Summer of Soul,” that 2021 documentary film about the nearly forgotten Harlem Cultural Festival. That series of concerts, which featured Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, the 5th Dimension, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder and many others, became colloquially known as the “Black Woodstock” – even though it predated the more famous Woodstock by several months in the summer of 1969.
“By the youth getting deeply involved in the ‘Summer of 1969’ project, it kind of makes them look at older people differently because that was our era,” Woods said. “It was like ‘You all dressed like that?’ Or, ‘That music sounds better than today’s!’ By working on the project, they have become more interested in history and culture because of what they’re learning.
“It was a big surprise to them that there would even be anything of interest, or that this happened,” added Woods, who also serves the AACS as curator, grants administrator and as one of the faculty advisors for this summer’s inaugural Exhibition and Events Marketing and Promotions Summer Internship.
The “Summer of Soul” documentary will be shown at 4 p.m. Monday Aug. 14 at the AACS, 4422 U.S. Highway 1 North, Palm Coast. The art exhibition, which runs July 29-Sept. 30, will feature works by Martin Reese, Weldon Ryan, Richlin Burnett-Ryan, Brandon Santiago, doll fashion designer Carmen Nibbs, photographer and documentary filmmaker Duane Fernandez, digital artist Oslyn Bryant, manga artist and digital illustrator Savannah Ryan, photographer Maya Chatman and documentary filmmaker Asacia Morales.
The exhibition’s opening ceremony at 2 p.m. Saturday July 29 will also feature live music by Dante’s Divas of R&B, spoken-word artists and more.
Music historian John Capouya will present his lecture “Florida Soul” at 6 p.m. Wednesday Aug. 9, and “Respect: Soul Music and the Civil Rights Movement in Florida” at 6 p.m. Saturday August 12. Other activities include a youth book festival, an exhibition-concluding ’60s/’70s party, a “Motown and Mo’ ” concert, and more. All events are at the AACS venue and are free. See a detailed calendar listing below.
The seed for the exhibition and related programs was spawned when Blanche Valentine, the administrator of the AACS center, suggested airing “Summer of Soul” during one of the society’s monthly movie nights coordinated by its Cultural Committee, which is led by Imani Kinshasa.
Woods’ role as curator entails the maintenance and acquisition of art, artifacts and historical records for the AACS’s collection, and she also works with the society’s Education and Cultural committees to develop exhibitions, events and learning opportunities. And so she thought the documentary “would fit well as the inspiration for one of our 2023-2024 exhibits,” Woods said.
The Exhibition and Events Marketing and Promotions Summer Internship was built around the exhibit along with AACS regular programming and the Aug. 18-19 book festival. The internship has focused on such skills as marketing, videography, graphic design and curatorial work.
“For some time I envisioned AACS having an internship program that would bring young adults from the local colleges who aspired to be involved with museums or some type of cultural organization either as a career choice or serious interest,” Woods said. “It was what the founders had in mind when they began this organization.”
A Florida Arts and Culture General Program Support Grant and the Flagler Tourism Development Special Event Marketing Grant allowed AACS to recruit students for the inaugural internship program.
The interns include:
* Oslyn Bryant – digital animator/graphic designer, Savannah College of Art and Design and Daytona State College, sophomore. As the lead intern, Bryant developed the program’s guidelines, curriculum and schedule of activities.
* Savannah Ryan – curator/digital illustrator, University of Central Florida, freshman.
* Maya Chatman – photographer, Full Sail University, Winter Park, freshman.
* Asacia Morales – documentary filmmaker, Flagler Palm Coast High School, senior.
* Rodney Roberson – program support, University of Central Florida, senior.
Along with Woods, the internship’s faculty advisors include Keith L. Forest, founder of the nonprofit A Greater Good, an agency that provides marginalized communities with arts and entrepreneurial programming, and founder of Urban ID Media, a creative service agency that fosters corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
The faculty also includes Palm Coast artist and art gallery curator Richlin Burnett-Ryan.
Savannah Ryan, the daughter of Richlin and Weldon Ryan, is the curator of the “Summer of 1969” art exhibition.
“The Harlem Cultural Festival, the event that this exhibit is based on, was kind of blacked out from the media and not a lot of people know about it,” said the 21-year-old Savannah, who will be majoring in art at UCF. “So we’re trying to bring the Harlem Cultural Festival, the knowledge of it, to everyone else.
“The exhibit is basically on the culture of the ’60s: the fashions, the music and the civil rights movement. We will also have photos of historical events as well as artifacts, magazines, etc., and music by Dante’s Divas.”
Also, a “1960s photo shoot” will allow patrons to have their photos taken and used in a mock ’60s magazine that will be available for purchase.
“Usually when I think of the ’60s, I think of the cool and colorful fashions of that era as well as the Black Panther movement, the flower children and the music,” Savannah said. “When I was researching for this exhibit, the fashion really interested me.
“At the exhibit I basically just want the younger and older generations to be brought together and also learn about the Harlem Cultural Festival,” she said. “We don’t want the knowledge of the past to be lost. It’s important for the younger generation to know about this, as well as participate more in our community.”
Woods and her fellow AACS members, including current Education Committee Chair Robert Whiting, are quite aware that the society’s educational programs have assumed greater gravitas given that Florida’s Board of Education recently approved new African American History teaching standards that greatly constrict what can be taught in the classroom, and how.
This after the AACS played a role in encouraging Florida to pass a state law in 1994 that required instruction of African American history in public schools, Woods said.
“So, we are dismayed about the current environment around education in the state of Florida,” she said. “We hope that by providing opportunities to view exhibits such as ours that we are able to bring an understanding around the importance of education in general, for a greater understanding and appreciation of all cultures in America.”
The AACS “has a lot of older members because it was founded 32 years ago,” Woods said. “A lot of people here were young when they started the organization, but they are kind of aging out. And so when younger people come in, it’s sort of like ‘What are they trying to do? What’s going on? No, this is how we do it.’ ”
However, Woods added, the “Summer of 1969” project has seen the elders be “so accepting of these youth. They are so proud of them. They’ve been able to see that these kids know what they’re doing. They are not trying to mess everything up. They are actually taking it in a new direction, and they are bringing our history to light in a different way.
“The exhibition and its supporting events will become an opportunity for young and old alike to discuss the importance of that time in American history and how it impacts life today. They will do it in a way that is enlightening, engaging and fun. So we hope to have a blended audience for this exhibition. We hope to have more young people, because we really need to pass this legacy on.”
Here are details on the “Summer of 1969” exhibit and related programs.
The exhibition and activities are made possible by support from the City of Palm Coast, Florida Arts and Culture, the Flagler Tourism Development Office and VisitFlagler.com.
* Events will be held at the African American Cultural Society, 4422 US Highway 1 North, Palm Coast. Information: 386-447-7030 or aacspalmcoast.org. “The Summer of 1969: Black Culture, Music and Fashion” includes an exhibit and various programs that aim to recreate the experience of the Harlem Cultural Festival, which was featured in the 2021 documentary film “Summer of Soul” by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. See the film trailer here. Exhibit runs July 29-Sept. 30. Activities, all free and all at the AACS, include:
—– Opening ceremony, 2 p.m. Saturday July 29, featuring live music by Dante’s Divas of R&B, spoken-word artists and more.
—– “Florida Soul,” a talk by John Capouya, retired journalism and writing professor at the University of Tampa, and author of the book Florida Soul, 6 p.m. Wednesday Aug. 9. Capouya’s book explores Ray Charles and his first recordings in the 1940s, Miami’s KC & the Sunshine Band, the international hit song and dance phenomenon “The Twist,” Sam & Dave, and other artists.
—– “Respect: Soul Music and the Civil Rights Movement in Florida,” a talk by John Capouya, 6 p.m. Saturday Aug. 12.
—– Screening of the film “Summer of Soul,” 4 p.m. Monday Aug. 14.
—– Youth Book Festival: Make Your Own Story, 3:30-8 p.m. Friday Aug. 18 and noon-5 p.m. Saturday Aug. 19.
Other programming to be arranged includes an open forum and public discussion on “The Summer of 1969” exhibition, a performance of “The Best of Motown and Mo’ ” by the cast of City Lites Inc., and a themed late ’60s/early ’70s party on Sept. 30. See the AACS website for details as they develop.