Taking Our Place Centerstage: The African Diaspora in Harmony

Taking Our Place Centerstage is an organizational commitment through which the Ordway, in collaboration with communities of color in the Twin Cities, maintains a continuing partnership of creative programming, education, and entertainment for all.

In 2010, the Ordway with SoulTouch Productions, launched Taking Our Place Centerstage (TOPC) to deepen relationships and explore the rich artistic traditions within the African and African-American communities. Initial work was funded by The Saint Paul Foundation and the F.R. Bigelow Foundation, which allowed for Ordway staff, in collaboration with Robin Hickman of SoulTouch, to develop and implement a community access program designed to authentically engage African American communities.

The partnership has enabled the development of new and unique programming. These include:


Annual cultural celebrations that engage leadership from communities of color working in collaboration with Ordway staff

Máscaras y Milagros: Mexican Arts In Minnesota

Through the leadership of Mary Ann Quiroz and the Máscaras y Milagros Community Council, Target® and the Mexican Consulate, more than 13,000 Minnesotans attended 33 events in 18 days, connected to the public performances by Lila Downs, Delfos Danza Contemporánea and Poncho Sanchez and His Latin Jazz Band. Máscaras y Milagros included lectures, master classes, performances, receptions and an art exhibition, all with the goal of enriching and stimulating artistic programming that celebrates Mexican and Mexican-American identity and artistic expression.

Mascaras y Milagros 2 Photo by Bredka Foto Mascaras y Milagros 1 Photo by Amy Miller


Taking Our Place Centerstage: The African Diaspora in Harmony

Taking Our Place Centerstage:  The African Diaspora in Harmony was developed to explore the rich cultural heritage of artistic expression within the African Diaspora and found enthusiastic support through the Mardag Foundation. As an enhancement to the WMD series and part of Taking Our Place Centerstage, The African Diaspora in Harmony journey included a variety of exciting workshops, master classes, lectures, cultural conversations, performances and the announcement of a fine Art Exhibit, titled Movement, Sound and Memory.  The work led by Program Coordinator Leah Nelson and TOPC founder Robin Hickman, engaged more than 50,000 Minnesotans in programming that connected and included Rennie Harris Puremovement, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Maria de Barros, the Gerswhin’s Porgy and Bess, including an advance visit with choreographer Ronald K. Brown, and Step Afrika!

African Diaspora in Harmony 2 photo by Natalie Kennedy African Diaspora in Harmony 1 photo by Sherine Onukwuwe

Raíces y Sueños: the Artistry of Cuba

As enhancements to the live performances the Ordway presented a series of community engagement activities with the goal of opening new doors into Cuban culture for artists and audiences alike.. The Ordway connected with thousands of community members during this celebration of Cuban artistry in Minnesota through performances by Nachito Herrera and his Cuban Orchestra, the Creole Choir of Cuba and CONTRA-TIEMPO. Guided by the Raíces y Sueños Community Advisors, the Ordway partnered with numerous Latin-owned and run businesses and organizations, such as the restaurant Victor’s 1959 Café, the Minnesota Cuba Committee, Midwest Latino Entertainment and Talent Inc., Accentos Inc., and Nueva Imagen Media Group, and Rene Thompson Dance Studios. A visual art exhibit complimented the performances and more than 30,000 engaged in the work.

Raices y Suenos 1 Photos by Patrick Stauffer Raices y Suenos 2 Photo by Jenea Rewertz-Targui

Notes from Asia: Vocabulary of Movement and Sound

Notes from Asia connects four productions in the World Music and Dance season — Dengue Fever, Hanggai, TAIKOPROJECT and SEOP  (honoring Cambodia, Mongolia, South Korea, and Japan) — through connective marketing, community leadership and surrounding programming.  The artists in this series not only honor the traditional forms of those cultures, they’ve also re-conceptualized the sounds and forms to communicate/reflect their dynamic realities as artists practicing today, in their cities, as global citizens, as commentators of “now.”  The community engagement work is being led by community coordinator, Saymoukda Vongsay, working in partnership with Ordway staff and a group of community advisors, who convene to advise on content of pre-show Extras, community-based events, ticket offers, communications and marketing and community outreach with the APIA community.

Notes from Asia 2 photo by Sherine Onukwuwe Notes from Asia 1 photo by Jenea Rewertz-Targui


Out-of-school programming for youth that engages young people as artists and creators, and inspires them to explore careers in performing arts and programming & supports family involvement at live performances.

Young Voices Centerstage

An Arts Programming Partnership between Ordway Center for Performing Arts and Sabathani Community Center in collaboration with WE WIN Institute, Horizons `Youth Program, Step Up and Connections to Independence. Young Voices Centerstage Celebrated the power of live performing arts through artist residencies, community celebrations and live performances at Sabathani Community Center Auditorium and the Ordway! Coordinated by Lisa Brimmer, the program connected touring artist Raul Midón with youth performers and supported families to attend the performance at the Ordway.

Twin Cities Harambee

Twin Cities Harambee formed in the Summer of 2015, partnering LoveWorks Academy for Visual & Performing Arts, Voice of Culture Drum + Dance (VoC), and WE WIN Institute in an Ordway residency.  The project connected more than 60 youth with Twin Cities-based artists and choreographers from June through October thanks to a generous grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board’s Arts Access fund. Harambee is an East African word meaning “pull together.” This group united to explore cultural and artistic learning that is grounded in a positive identification with and knowledge of African and African American cultural traditions.  Led by the artistic team of Leah Nelson, Kenna Cottman, Chad Heslup, and Jamar Smith, the youth performed a collaborative piece onstage prior to the Lula Washington Dance Theatre public performance. The piece was formed by a creative circle of teaching artists in collaboration with the youth and includes composition and choreography in various forms – West African djembe drum and dance, original recorded music, spoken word, and contemporary movement.  

Twin Cities Harambee 1 Photo by Sherine Onukwuwe Twin Cities Harambee 2 Photo by Sherine Onukwuwe

A consistent thread is the economic empowerment of businesses and organizations that are led by people of color, and the paid engagement of artists from racially and culturally diverse communities who not only share their artistic gifts, but who have a voice in the way their work is presented and contextualized. Click here for a list of organizational and business partners

Taking Our Place Centerstage has created the foundation for the Ordway’s current diversity, equity, and inclusion work guided by Dr. Gordon Nakagawa.

The results are significant. In over five years, more than 200,000 community members have been impacted by Taking Our Place Centerstage programs and performances.