ALBUQUERQUE—After waiting for over 12 years, the African American Performing Arts Center and Exhibit Hall will officially open its doors on Saturday, June 9, 2007, at Expo New Mexico.   State Representative Sheryl Williams Stapleton, District 19, who sponsored legislation that funded the project, says:  “This is truly a great day in New Mexico and a great day for African American performing arts and visual arts.”

The day will begin with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10:00 a.m. followed by a building dedication ceremony at 10:30 a.m.  There will be statewide entertainment in the new Performing Arts Hall from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.  The day will culminate with the off-Broadway production of “3 Mo’ Divas,” a theatrical musical production by producer and writer Marion Caffrey.  Visitors will also be able to enjoy the South African Human Rights Exhibit on display in the Exhibit Hall.  The 23,000 square-foot facility cost $4.3 million.  It was designed by SMPC Architects; Innerspace Systems was the contractor on the project.

Wording of the legislative bill states:  “Through literature, fine art, modern dance and music, storytelling, poetry and prose, painting, sculpture, movement and song, we link our future to our past.  The African-American Performing Arts Center and Exhibit Hall will join other culturally unique facilities that celebrate New Mexico’s rich and diverse heritage.  The Center and Exhibit Hall are designed to help educate the public of the history and contributions African Americans have made in New Mexico…and to actualize a vision for a place where people of all ages throughout the state can visit, study, work, perform, and celebrate the contributions and significance of African Americans in New Mexico.  The Performing Arts Center will be used for music, theatre, special presentations, and dance performances.  The Exhibit Hall will house permanent and traveling art exhibits, as well as provide public education programs on the history, culture, and arts of people of African descent.”

It’s fitting that the new center will open during the month of June when the African-American community celebrates “Juneteenth” - the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. This was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863.   Juneteenth today, celebrates African-American freedom while encouraging self-development and respect for all cultures.