The National Black Theater (NBT) announced today that it has begun construction of the long-awaited, state-of-the-art, permanent home for the venerable Harlem institution at the intersection of 125th Street and Fifth Avenue. The 21-story project is being developed in partnership with LMXD and RAY. In addition to NBT’s multi-story spaces, plans include 222 mixed-income residential units and substantial commercial space along 125th Street, as well as a multi-purpose living room open to the community. This project will ensure that New York City’s longest-running black theater continues to serve as a vital resource for artists and entrepreneurs and for the production of works that are rooted in the imagination of contemporary black voices and challenge the mainstream.
National Black Theater CEO Sade Lythcott praised her mother’s wisdom. “It takes vision and a visionary like my mother, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer to see into the future and what might be possible today. The purchase of this city block in the 80’s ensured that the National Black Theater and black artists from around the world could experience what home is really like. She understood the catalytic power of connecting arts and culture with property to ensure an enduring presence in the ever-changing landscape of our community.”
Designed by Frida Escobedo Architects and Handel Architects, the new project is particularly notable for being the first to take advantage of the City’s Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) Bonus, specifically designed by Inez E. Dickens, former member of the New York City Council. A first of its kind, this VPA authorizes the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) and the Department of Urban Planning to work with a local arts advisory board as part of a major 2008 rededication to drive revitalization and support cultural growth for Harlem-based organizations consistent with mixed-income development along historic 125th Street Corridor.
“DR. Teer firmly believed that NBT could serve as a model for black liberation in the service of human transformation,” said NBT CEO Michael Lythcott for a dream for artists to live, work and serve in their own communities; a promise and commitment to our community for more than half a century that Harlem will remain the cultural capital of the Black World.”
NBT was founded in 1968 by Dr. Founded by an award-winning artist, director, entrepreneur and advocate for the Black Arts movement, Teer broke boundaries from day one to become the first revenue-generating Black Arts complex in the country. later added to the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture and awarded a special Obie Award.
“The National Black Theater is an oasis; a place where the black experience is rewoven, retold and reinvented as the source of our redemption and collective healing,” said NBT Board Member Van Jones. “I speak for the entire Board when I say we couldn’t be more excited to begin advancing Dr. See Barbara Ann Teer on this momentous occasion to lay the foundation for the theater of the future. It will ensure that black artists and makers continue to have a home rooted in our redemption and liberation. A place where black stories and storytellers can continue to make a difference.”
In the decades that followed, theater became a major cultural anchor, presenting authentic, intersectional stories about the Black experience, written and told by transformative voices that helped erase inaccuracies about African American cultural identity. Led by CEO Sade Lythcott and Executive Artistic Director Jonathan McCrory, NBT has maintained the integrity of its mission while helping to reshape a more inclusive American theater field by providing color artists with an artistically rigorous and culturally sensitive space to experiment, develop and create was offered to present new work.
Meanwhile, during construction, NBT’s Beyond Walls initiative will continue to highlight black narratives in myriad ways: outdoors, online, and in partnership with peers like the Apollo Theater, the New York Philharmonic, the New York Theater Workshop, and The Public Theater – the latter two of which are currently running performances of Dreaming Zenzile and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Fat Ham, respectively.
“This moment is a moment of reclamation as groundbreaking occurs at our historic site, a new home that NBT will claim. NBT is similarly breaking new creative ground as we share locally, nationally and internationally the principles and theory of change that have made National Black Theater so special and unique,” explains Jonathan McCrory.
“The National Black Theater was born out of and for the revolution – revolution in culture, theater and the arts. This space has been and continues to be home to intentional innovation, radical imagination and a deep and tender concern for the community it reflects, inspires and serves,” said Board Member Cleo Wade, Co-Chair of Capital Campaign. “Today we are breaking new ground for groundbreaking ideas that will be an eternal gift for generations to come.”
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