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Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute

Theme: Arts & Culture

Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute has been a venue for Black performing arts in the Central Area since the 1970s. From its humble beginnings as a community center, Langston Hughes has been the home of innovative performances, films, and educational programs celebrating global Black excellence.

The building was originally home to the congregation of Chevra Bikur Cholim, who settled in the Central Area in 1915 and commissioned architect Marcus Priteca to build their synagogue, using a design that was emblematic of most American orthodox synagogues at the time. The congregation sold the building to the City of Seattle in 1969 after relocating to the Seward Park neighborhood.

With funds from the federal Model Cities Program, a government initiative for urban renewal, the former synagogue was revamped into the Yesler-Atlantic Community Center, offering a remarkable array of free and low-cost activities administered by Seattle’s Parks and Recreation Department. Classes for children and adults ranged from language instruction to writing, theater, and arts and crafts, reflecting the community’s Black and Asian cultures.

The 1970s saw an increase in the Black population in Seattle, especially in the Central Area. Given this demographic shift, the Parks board of commissioners proposed the name of the center be changed. After soliciting suggestions, the board agreed on renaming the community center Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center in 1974.

A more formal performing arts program developed over the next three decades. Langston Hughes gave the Paul Robeson Community Theater Group an in-house residency starting in 1980. African dance, language, and music classes were in high demand. Hip hop classes and performances became a staple starting in the late 1980s. In 2003, Langston Hughes launched an African American film festival, which remains a major annual program today.

In 2010, the building received a long-awaited renovation. Management of the building was transferred to the city’s Office of Arts and Culture three years later. A final name change also took place in 2013: Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (LHPAI).

Housed at LHPAI, and created to lift and advance the mission of LHPAI as a hub for African American arts, the nonprofit LANGSTON leads arts programming for innovative film, music, dance, and theater. Other tenants at LHPAI include the Central District Forum for Arts & Ideas and the Historic Central Area Arts & Cultural District.

Images

The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.

Photo courtesy of KUOW Radio.

The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Weekly.

The Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center in November 1989.

Photo courtesy of the University of Washington.

Steve Sneed during the renovation of the Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center in 1993.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of History & Industry.

Shirley Parker performing at Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center in 1982.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of History & Industry.

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