Celebrating National Women’s History Month
by Rochelle Soetan
What do the literary arts, performing arts and visual arts have in common? They all have a voice. These voices tell stories, historical and existing. They take us on journeys of the proverbial and unacquainted. They express to us the significance of culture, communal and segregated. And they illuminate our inner lives with reflection and education, while enriching our emotional world with passion and grace. Carolyn A. Butts, founder and publisher of African Voices, a leading nonprofit arts magazine, has devoted more than 25 years to amplifying these voices through the presentation of fine art and literature by artists of color.
In 1992, with devotion and vision, Carolyn Butts launched African Voices, a Manhattan-based publication that has grown from a community conversation piece to a national Award-winning resource. This year, African Voices celebrates its 25th Anniversary of advocating for the arts in literature, film and art. Its spring issue is due to release late March, to add a contribution from Award-winning novelist, Edwidge Danticat. To make it plain, Carolyn understands the importance the voice of the arts play in our lives and how it helps us make sense of our world. For 25 years, African Voices has been building bridges, telling stories, broadening the ethnic experience and enabling us to imagine what has been unimaginable.
In 1997, Carolyn was inspired by a short film “Underground Voices” that she co-produced in 1996 with Reg E. Gaines, the Tony-nominated writer of “Bring In ‘Da Noise, Bring In ‘Da Funk”. This inspiration led to the founding of the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series (www.reelsisters.org), an annual Brooklyn-based festival that highlights opportunities for women of color in the film industry. It was then that she realized only one percent of directing roles were given to African American women in Hollywood. Now gratified by her own efforts, little did she know that twenty-years later, women of color would be producing more films and have a greater presence in the film industry overall. And twenty-years later, this October (2017) Reel Sisters will celebrate its 20th Anniversary in Brooklyn. Real progress for Reel Sisters, and real change. Editor Chris Gore lists Reel Sisters under the categories of Best Black Film Festivals and Best Film Festivals for Women in the Ultimate Film Festival Guide.
Over the years, some of Carolyn’s accomplishments include, but are not limited to:
- 2015 Recipient of the Louis Reyes Rivera Excellence Award for Educator Artists
- 2013 Recipient of the Living History Award from Long Island University (LIU)
- 2010 American Library Association’s Zora Neale Hurston Award to African Voices for partnering with the Brooklyn Public Library to organize book discussions and events around Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God
- The National Endowment for the Arts awarded African Voices a Big Read grant to promote the reading of Ms. Hurston’s Novel
- 2010 Magazine Recipient of the African American Literary Awards’ African American Best Literary Magazine Award
- Served as Assistant Press Secretary to former New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall
- Served as Press Aide to former Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger
- Former reporter for The New York Post
- Featured in Ms. Magazine’s October/November 2001 Issue “Women to Watch” column for Outstanding Achievements
- 2001 Ageis Society’s African American Achievement Award
- 2000 NAACP’s Women Making History Award
- 1999 The Network Journal’s 40 Under 40 Award
While we acknowledge many unsung heroines of the past who have been leaders and agents of change in and throughout communities nationwide, Carolyn Butts is a front-runner of the present, blazing trails through collaboration, culture and community. Weaved through the threads of great literature, films and visual art, African Voices and Reel Sisters have become an integral part of society’s fabric and an indispensable voice in the arts community.
Exposure and education is the primary blueprint of Reel Sisters of the Diaspora, thus encouraging newly developed partnerships with POWFest in Oregon and Citizen Jane Film Festival in Columbia, Missouri, in an effort to develop qualities of responsible citizenship and create ongoing opportunities for women in film. Carolyn Butts participated in POWFest’s Creating and Maintaining Safe Spaces for Women’s Voices panel in Portland, Oregon earlier this month (March 2017). Through these types of collaborative efforts with committed women-owned organizations, Reel Sisters mission will continue to grow stronger to keep the voice of young writers and artists alive.
Carolyn A. Butts is connected and committed to excellence and to creating a platform of programs that heighten awareness, lift the spirit and nurture the soul of artists everywhere. Her dedication to public service and the arts has made her one of this year’s most notable trailblazers. Some of her forthcoming goals include initiating inter-generational programs, expanding the Board of Directors, Storytelling in Harlem, and providing more writing and creative workshops such as the current AV Spring Paint and Sip, a fun-filled meditative celebration of spring, art, networking and books. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/african-voices-spring-paint-sip-gathering-tickets-31503829803
Reel Sisters Awards Ceremony 2016 Highlights (Cathy Hughes Tribute): https://reelsisters2.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/awards-ceremony-highlights/
Reel Sisters on ABC TV’s HERE AND NOW: http://abc7ny.com/society/here-and-now-on-october-9th-2016–part-6/1544689/
Reel Sisters – Amsterdam News: http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2016/oct/20/reel-sisters-kicks-film-fest/
Reel Sisters on Centric’s BET: http://www.centrictv.com/videos/entertainment/2015/designed-for-reel-sisters.html
Centric Partnership: http://shadowandact.com/2016/08/18/19th-reel-sisters-announces-new-centric-partnership-for-women-filmmakers-of-color/
National Endowment for the Arts – Arts Blog Feature 2016: https://www.arts.gov/art-works/2016/diversifying-film-spotlight-reel-sisters
Reel Sisters Journal 2016 link: https://issuu.com/africanvoicesmag/docs/singles
love and light for your Tuesday!
To read more features of
Blazing Trails Women of the Present Series:
Vicki L. Ward/March 15, 2016
Kimberly Fogg/March 8, 2016
Dr. Marita Golden/March 1, 2016
Annette Boxley-Drew/March 31, 2015
Dr. Yvette Butler/March 25, 2015
Blanche A. Williams, M.S./March 17, 2015
Betty Entzminger/March 10, 2015