The Black Lady Theatre Blossoms using Cooperative Economics
The rehabilitation of The Black Lady Theatre, located at 750 Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights North, is likened to the mythical phoenix bird soaring from a pyre to fly high in the sky. In less than two years, the theater has a glass front with two sets of glass doors; concrete was poured on the vestibule floor which is topped with porcelain tile; renovated the performance stage and audience seating as well as the installation of a new electrical system. Even the murals hung in the vestibule, originally painted by Kinrod Johnson, have been restored by Abdul Baldi to their original brilliance. The revival of The Black Lady Theatre is a testament to the legacy of Judge John Phillips, who was the previous owner of The Black Lady Theatre and Slave One Theatre. The Hardy’s have said many times their diligent work on the theatre is a promise kept to this Civil Court Judge.
On Tuesday, September 19, 2017, this reporter had a sit-down with Omar Hardy and Zulika Bumpus. “At one point, no one wanted to step through the door because it was threatening,” explained Zulika Bumpus, the marketing director. “Now the patrons step through the glass doors and down the steps that lead to the performance space in the mezzanine to watch plays, listen to various musical styles, or be informed about natural health alternatives. A current promotion is for “Jazz & Sip and Paint”. The intent is to make it a regularly scheduled monthly event. Ms. Bumpus plans to develop a number of children’s programs so that there is something that appeals to different age groups.
Consistent grassroots marketing is the key to growing their patron base and business partners. “We’re putting foot to pavement. We aren’t funded by anyone and can’t advertise [in major media],” explained Omar Hardy, who takes on many executive and construction responsibilities. Turning his head toward Bumpus, Hardy explained that “Zulika Bumpus is behind our grassroots marketing. The activity centers on distributing flyers, sending e-mail notices and doing much word-of-mouth”.
“We have over 3,000 e-mail addresses and stretching for more. When people stop in front of the doors, I invite them in, explain what we do and answer their questions. I have each person sign the guest clipboard which rests on the same table as the event postcards,” is how Bumpus describes the audience development strategy. Besides walk-ins, the group sets up booths at such outdoor festivals as the Annual International African Arts Festival.
The Black Lady Theatre has several income streams to keep it afloat. The roof has an 80-person capacity and is rented for soirees. There is art framing and the sale of artwork. Talib Kweli and Yasin Bey rent space on the second floor to operate Black Star Recording Studio and Queen Afua moved her operations into the upper floor of the theater.
This theater is developing into a cultural magnet, particularly for those who are health or socially conscious. Set up in the foyer, visitors can choose from Supa Nova’s “Supa Mega Green Powder”, Kamuni Creek Drinks from The Uptown Juice Bar, Red Pill/Blue Pill’s Seven Heaven Sea Moss drink and from Ali Torain’s Global Nation of Wellness various raw vegan dishes. This offering of foods from various vendors under one roof is a demonstration of cooperative economics. Omar Hardy encourages the trade because he has “an attraction to holistic health”.
The cooperative economics is one source of financing for operations and building upgrade as is the ticket sales. The other source is Byron Wilson, who is a partner and owns Zaiko Energy. Zaiko Energy produces renewable energy. Hardy is eager to achieve “energy sovereignty” by acquiring a 60-kilowatt generator that “has the capacity to power the theater and local area”. Its price tag is about $70,000. The technology involves a combination of solar panels and converting waste to energy.
Reflecting on the accomplishments to date, Hardy stated, “The things occurring at The Black Lady Theatre are plans and musings I’ve had that have come into reality”. In regard to the renewable energy project, Hardy says, “We’ll be producing so much energy that Con Edison will be crediting us”.