Danielle Brown is an artist whose work makes Brooklyn a better place. As a teaching artist, performer, and a Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) Community Arts Grants recipient, Danielle works with BAC in a multitude of ways to share her talents with communities across the borough. Read on to find out how Danielle’s multi-faceted artistic approach brings together music, dance, writing, and more.
Danielle is a musician and scholar whose work focuses on the music of the Caribbean and the intersection of music, spirituality, and healing. Since 2014, her publishing and production company, My People Tell Stories, has provided workshops, seminars, performances, and resources aimed at encouraging people of color and other historically marginalized groups to share their own stories. Her book, East of Flatbush, North of Love, is an ethnographic memoir about community, music, and growing up in East Flatbush. We recently asked Danielle about her work with BAC and what she has coming down the pipeline.
How did you first get involved with BAC?
I first became involved with BAC after receiving a grant from the Brooklyn Arts Fund to launch my project My Music, My Culture: The Caribbean Diaspora in Brooklyn, a musical adaptation of my book East of Flatbush, North of Love: An Ethnography of Home.
Your work is so multi-faceted, how would you describe your artistic practice?
My artistic practice is essentially about using the arts—whether music, dance, or literature—to educate people about something. Teaching or educating has always been a part of my artistic practice and is an integral function of my work. Directly or indirectly, music can be used to teach an array of topics—from food to psychology—and so I want to use music to get people to think, and to think especially about how they can make themselves and/or the world in which they live better.
Why is it important for you to engage with the community in your work?
My middle school’s motto is “To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required.” My high school’s motto is “Non Sibi,” a Latin phrase meaning “Not for Self.” So I grew up with this expectation that if you learned something that could benefit others, particularly those in your community, it was your responsibility to share.
Through the work you’ve done with BAC, how many different neighborhoods or communities of Brooklyn have you been able to work with?
I’ve worked mostly in Central Brooklyn (East Flatbush, Flatbush, and Canarsie) as well as Bay Ridge.
You also work as a teaching artist with senior citizens in Brooklyn. How did you develop the curriculum for these SU-CASA residencies with BAC?
As I was developing the curriculum for my residencies on Cuban rueda de casino, I knew that I wanted seniors to not only learn some basic dance moves, but also more about Cuban culture. Using the body of knowledge that I had acquired over the years, I chose a number of steps suitable to teach during the period of the residency. Because the moves in rueda de casino have specific names, I decided to use those names as an opportunity to teach a little about Cuban culture. For example, one move is called a “fly,” short for “fly ball”—baseball is popular in Cuba. Also, many of the moves have Spanish names, so seniors would also be learning a little Spanish as they learned the dance. Lastly, I decided that our final project would include a sampling of Cuban food, as one of the best and easiest ways to be introduced to a culture is through food.
This summer, you helped provide programmatic support for the Brooklyn Folk Arts & Artists Series co-presented by BAC’s Folk Arts program and the Brooklyn Public Library. What was it like working with folk artists in local libraries?
The BFAA Series was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet artists and learn from them. As an artist, I always take inspiration from other artists. It was great seeing libraries used as spaces to promote artists while simultaneously providing engaging programs for the community.
How has your own art practice evolved over the past few years? What goals do you have for it in the future?
Over the years, I’ve started to figure out how to synthesize my many interests in a cohesive way.
I have enough goals for this lifetime and the next! This past summer (2018), I launched my Caribbean Music Pedagogy Workshop, a professional development workshop for music educators and others interested in learning how to develop curricula on Caribbean music using a Caribbean framework, as opposed to a Eurocentric approach. I will continue developing that and I can see it becoming one of my signature programs. I also still teach dance, now joined by my husband Mario Cepero Rodríguez, a dance instructor from Cuba. We will be offering programs to youth, adults, and seniors. I’m working on another book project, and will be starting a writing workshop series next year. I continue developing my music, and I am working on a performance for February 2019.
Sounds busy, so thanks for taking the time to catch up with us, Danielle! We’re blown away with how much an individual artist like Danielle can accomplish. Multiply that work by the hundreds of artists in BAC’s roster, and you can see the impact our work can have, across the borough.
During this season of giving, we hope we can count on your generosity so we can continue to sustain Brooklyn’s artists where they live and work. We know that when artists succeed, Brooklyn’s communities flourish. You can be a part of that effort today.
Between now and December 31, 2018, your donation to Brooklyn Arts Council will be matched dollar for dollar by BAC’s Board of directors – doubling the impact of your giving. If you can, please consider making a gift here.