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I'm Nicole "Cole" Asong Nfonoyim-Hara, founder of Griot Arts. Griot Arts officially launched in 2024. But its roots have been almost a decade in the making. It's the culmination of dreams and late night soulful porch-talks with other Black  women I've known, loved, and worked alongside during my time in Rochester--many of whom have since moved away, having struggled to feel safe, welcome, and truly seen in this community. In those talks we dreamed up a space of sanctuary,  joy, community, and ease. 


My decision to start Griot was shaped by these conversations over the years and by continuing to ask myself  "what is the healing work I aspire to do?". It's a question I first came across in the the writings of Iwai, Khan and DasGupta on "abolition medicine." But it's also a question that Black womanist writers and artists have been asking for decades. It's a question about radical imagination, about possibilities for healing and liberation. Okay, you may be thinking: that's cute, but what does an arts hub have to do with all that? 

Thriving as a Black or Brown person in the United States is an act of radical imagination and a daily practice of creative living. Practices of imagination and creativity have been at the core of survival and resilience for generations. The arts fuel and express that radical imagination and allows us to build new futures together. We need new futures now more than ever. In 2020, an article published by MPR’s Art Hounds stated, “Artists are both at the forefront of change and critical to the preservation of culture. Often their work involves envisioning new ways of being in the world. As the Twin Cities wrestles with the police killing of George Floyd, structural racism and community devastation, artists will be crucial in articulating a path forward.

What brave paths can artists and community members in Rochester help articulate? What new futures and spaces can we imagine that are rooted in honoring and centering Black life, joy, history, futures, spaces, and culture? Griot Arts offers up these questions and aims to cultivate fertile ground for the myriad expressions in response.

In June 2023, I was part of the amazing cast of The Rochester Rep's historic production of A Raisin in the Sun directed by Sha Cage and E.G. Bailey. Our very first public performance was for a community preview. The small, intimate theater was full of an audience of Black community members. It was incredibly powerful. In backstage whispers and in excited dressing room chatter, many of us started talking about what it would look like to have more arts experiences like that one, what it would mean to us and our community. As a writer and an artist, I have always believed that the healing and restorative power of art is more than just a notion. I started Griot as a love letter to the Black and Brown community in Rochester because we deserve to be reflected, centered, and empowered in the arts and cultural life of our growing city.

The beautiful thing about Griot Arts  is that it's been part of this practice of dream-sharing from the beginning. One of the first people I reached out to to get Griot off the ground was Tierney Parker. Tierney has been a dream-keeper with me as I've been growing Griot. 


Tierney Parker

Tierney Parker aka @mixiemadness is serving rich, layered, raw, deeply personal, and unapologetic work grounded in her experiences as a biracial and bisexual woman navigating her individuality and struggles. Tierney strives to make art that opens up space for uncomfortable conversations to take place. And we are here for all.of. it. and for Tierney's growing body of work in the community.

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