The Board of Directors of Hi-ARTS — an urban arts incubator that provides a safe space for artists to develop their work and currently celebrating its 20th anniversary — announced this week the appointment of Aaron L. McKinney as executive director.
McKinney is the organization’s third executive director, and brings more than two decades of experience in the arts sector including positions at world-renowned institutions such as 651 ARTS, the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and Sankofa.org. McKinney has been serving as Interim Executive Director of Hi-ARTS since April when former Executive Director Dr. Raymond Codrington assumed the role of president and CEO of Weeksville Heritage Center.
Born in Greenville, SC, McKinney obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Performance from Florida A&M University and Master of Fine Arts in Theatre Management from California Institute of the Arts.
He has held various management positions throughout his career from small community theaters including Tallahassee Little Theatre in Florida to large regional theaters like Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles. Among the projects he has produced are the Off-Broadway debut of Theatre Evolution’s The Contract, a drama addressing the intersection of spirituality and sexuality, and the development phase of the musical Lunatic Sun about the effects of consumerism and gentrification. He served as the inaugural producer in residence of #LoveHustle, an artist-led performance and dialogue series that captures the tensions of pursuing one’s dreams as an artist.
Under his guidance as General Manager since October 2016, Hi-ARTS has increased its annual operating budget by more than $200,000, among other achievements.
To accommodate its growing staff and to usher in new opportunities for artists to create and present work, Hi-ARTS is moving into a larger space at its longtime home, El Barrio’s Artspace PS109, later this year.
“We are thrilled to officially welcome Aaron L. McKinney as our executive director. He has a vision to deepen and expand artist relationships, as well as build local and national partnerships, to take Hi-ARTS to the next level,” said Hi-ARTS Board Chair Constance Mortell.
Hi-ARTS is the only institution in New York City, and one of the few in the country, exclusively dedicated to supporting and developing Hip-Hop and theurban aesthetic.
OTP caught up with a very busy Mr. McKinney, earlier this week, for a brief Q&A.
OTP: What’s your view on Hip Hop coming into its own as “High Art”?
Aaron McKinney: I don’t necessarily subscribe to this hierarchy of art. Art is about experience and if one who experiences the art will have something they can take away from such experience.
I hope that after witnessing work at Hi-ARTS, that people are able to identify with or see themselves in the art and walk away feeling seen. Since the inception of Hip Hop, it has been about expression, storytelling and creativity. As long as that continues to remain, then Hip Hop is right where it needs to be! Hip Hop is already “its own”. We are just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up and appreciate the contributions of the art form.
OTP: Share your view on how the art form will evolve from its own historic roots?
Aaron McKinney: We have already seen how the art form has evolved from the foundation of DJing, MCing, graffiti and b-boying which were the original elements of Hip Hop. Just as the art form has evolved, so has Hi-ARTS as an organization that was founded as the Hip Hop Theater Festival. Now we include hip hop and other forms dedicated to the urban aesthetic in our mission.
Who knows what the future holds as far as how far and wide the work we do will reach? What is most important is that those that have been historically excluded, those who haven’t felt seen or didn’t feel “refined” enough to be on a stage will continue to see their faces and stories represented through our work.
OTP: What are you taking with you from your previous experience(s) to this new position?
Aaron McKinney: We are all a culmination of our experiences. Each experience is leading up to this moment so I carry all of that with me into this current work. I have learned many lessons working with various artists and institutions over my career. Keeping those lessons and applying them to how I continue to support artists and artmaking in this position will continue to be in the forefront of my daily practice. I am here to support the art and art making process.
Hi-ARTS provides a safe space for artists to develop their work. It is the only institution in New York City, and one of the few in the country, exclusively dedicated to supporting and developing Hip-Hop and the urban aesthetic.