The Power of Public Archives

Photo credit: Xpressive4ever Dance Inc

There is something very powerful about public archives when they are used by citizens to improve conditions for the next generation.

That’s exactly what Angela Koukoui and her colleagues are doing at Langsdale Library. Angela is using archival material from Langsdale’s Special Collections Department to advocate for arts funding in Baltimore public schools. Her relationship to this topic is in no way theoretical. Now the founder and artistic director of a local nonprofit for city youth, Angela grew up in East Baltimore in the 1980s, where she trained as a dancer through the city’s Cultural Arts Program and went on to study dance at The Baltimore School for the Arts.

According to Ms. Koukoui, “I didn’t go looking for the arts, the arts found me in my own Baltimore City community and embraced me with gifts of opportunities that I never thought I could obtain.”

What drew Angela to Lansdale Library was the rich visual history of the Cultural Arts Program (CAP) documented by the photographer Robert “Breck” Chapman and held in special collections. CAP’s origins trace back to the War on Poverty’s Model Cities Program and the grassroots efforts of parents at Baltimore’s Dunbar High School. The CAP program was the cultural education arm of city services that were delivered to residents through a network of neighborhood centers. In the 1970s and 80s, these programs were conducted through the municipal Urban Services Agency. One of these citywide centers (known as Gallery 409, and later, the Eubie Blake Center) became the performing and visuals arts hub of CAP. When CAP was eliminated from city government in the 1990s, the Eubie Blake Center transitioned to nonprofit status.

In addition to the archival material Angela is using to research the history of Cultural Arts, she’s also conducting interviews with key community leaders, arts instructors, and politicians to further her advocacy efforts. This work is being done to support the Governor’s Leadership Council Task Force on the Arts. “Because of the great gifts instilled in me through the arts, I’ve had the honor to give back to the community that once gave back to me.”

To learn more about Angela’s work, please visit the Xpressive4ever Dance Inc. Facebook page.

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