Do you remember the first time you experienced the power of DNAWORKS's work?
I do. On Wednesday, November 8th, 2023, I was sitting at the Emerson Paramount Center surrounded by several hundred people. We were there for the Boston premiere of The Real James Bond…Was Dominican, a DNAWORKS production. Each audience member had received two postcards and a clothespin as we entered the theater.
I was intrigued.
What happened after the lights were dimmed was . . . magical. Percussionist Jonathan Gómez—a fellow Colombian who attended the same university I did in Bogotá—dove into the opening sounds of the score. Then, Christopher Rivas entered the stage and started sharing his story. We did end up using the clothespin and the postcards during the performance, but I won’t tell you anything else because I hope you’ll see this production in person soon!
What I can tell you is that being there was an experience like no other. I had watched videos of the production, attended a preview of the show earlier that day, and read Christopher’s book Brown Enough (which I loved). But nothing had prepared me for this live performance. Christopher drew us into his world, connected with each one of us, and made us part of his story. The performance flowed organically into our community storycircle. This experience changed my life.
As an artist from Colombia, I identified with many aspects of Christopher’s story. But most importantly, as folks shared their reactions to what we had just experienced together, I felt connected to everyone around me—regardless of our backgrounds—in a way I had never experienced before. I understood in a more profound way how all our personal stories intersect.
That is the power of DNAWORKS. Together, we have created a space where folks from a plurality of backgrounds feel welcome. We have built a national and international community of artists, activists, community stakeholders, participatory audiences, and supporters that engages the power of the arts to bring people together and catalyze dialogue and healing.
I joined the DNAWORKS family a few months ago. And from the very beginning I felt a deep connection to this community. As I sat at the Paramount in Boston, I felt proud of all we accomplished together in 2023 and excited about our plans for 2024 and beyond.
2023 started with our Shelter in Place exhibit at Tarrant County College. Shelter in Place is an immersive environment created by DNAWORKS Co-Founders Daniel Banks and Adam W. McKinney that deconstructs elements of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot to inquire into the effects of anti-Black racial violence and historical trauma, and the possibilities of liberation through art and ritual. During the exhibit, we invite participants to respond to the question “How do we heal?” as part of their experience.
In March, Adam was appointed Artistic Director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (congratulations, Adam!). Since DNAWORKS has always thrived on shared leadership and collaboration, Co-Founder Daniel Banks invited three exceptional artists to join him as Co-Curators—I will tell you more about the Co-Curators in the following pages.
In May, Daniel and Adam traveled to Toronto to lead the Mapping Our Stories Art Party as part of the Hamapah art installation they created for Toronto’s Fentster Gallery. Based on our production HaMapah/The Map, the installation was on view from February to July. As part of the activities in Toronto, there was a screening of HaMapah/The Map Dance-on-Film. This year, the film won awards at the Berlin Shorts Award, Paris International Short Film Festival, and LGBTQ Unbordered International Film Festival.
DNAWORKS Executive Director Andrés Franco.
Christopher Rivas at the Paramount in Boston.
Shelter in Place installation.
HaMapah art installation.
The summer took us to Berlin, Germany, for a developmental residency of The Secret Sharer— a transdisciplinary production based on Joseph Conrad’s 1909 novella. We started developing The Secret Sharer in 2018 in response to an increase in both hate crimes and the visibility of LGBTQQ2SPIAA+ youth suicides worldwide. Five years later, in the face of current legislation and the threats of lessening rights, the need for Queer-normative spaces for LGBTQ2SPIAA+ community building and healing is as important as ever.
Our Berlin residency was the first time DNAWORKS visited Germany. We have now presented programs in 39 states and 18 countries, from Azerbaijan and Benin to Rwanda and South Africa.
In August, we announced our new leadership team. Troy Lambert, Sarita Ocón, and Seema Sueko joined Daniel Banks as Co-Curators of DNAWORKS. Thanks to our expanded team, we have deep relations in Hawaii, California, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. And I joined the organization as the first-ever Executive Director. DNAWORKS is now a multi-site, multidisciplinary arts organization with a national and international reach. We are here today thanks to you, and I know we will continue bringing people together through the arts, changing their lives.
September and October were busy months for our Co-Curators. Seema visited Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., where she directed the world premiere of Pearl Cleage’s Something Moving: A Meditation on Maynard, a play about Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor. Sarita was part of the cast of American Mariachi by José Cruz and directed by the inspiring KJ Sanchez at Alley Theatre in Houston. Troy continued researching and writing MEM, a trilogy of illustrated horror novels about Black nomadic space pirates. And Daniel visited Boston—his hometown—to mount The Real James Bond . . . Was Dominican.
Throughout the year, Daniel and Adam conducted workshops, led programming, and spoke on panels—as a team and individually. They visited several universities and institutions, including Northwestern, MIT, Reed College, Texas A&M, the University of Texas at Austin, the International Coalition for Sites of Conscience, and the Dallas Truth, Reconciliation and Healing Commission. Through these workshops and talks, DNAWORKS brings a plurality of communities and constituencies together, and shares the knowledge and resources we have developed during the last 17 years.
As you can see, 2023 brought many reasons to celebrate. And the celebration continues. In January 2024, DNAWORKS turns 18! Thanks to the support of our community, we have grown exponentially in the last three years. And with the addition of the new Co-Curators, we are poised to expand and deepen our impact in the new year.
You will be excited to hear our plans for 2024. Here are some of the highlights:
We will bring a new production to DNAWORKS. We The Messiah is a Hip Hop and social justice reimagining of Handel’s Messiah. This production features award-winning Hip Hop Artist Darian Dauchan and multi-Grammy-nominated violinist Curtis Stewart and will be directed by Daniel Banks. We will announce the premiere dates and location for We The Messiah in early 2024. What a great way to start our 18th Anniversary Celebration!
2024 will also see the premiere of The Secret Sharer. Our motto at DNAWORKS is “Slow life, slow art.” Thanks to your support, we have been working on The Secret Sharer since 2018 and are thrilled to be approaching the final stages of development.
We are excited to offer our support to our Co-Curators and their projects. Seema Sueko will be working on Song of the Exile, a collaboration with Native Hawaiian novelist Kiana Davenport and Filipino/Swedish American composer and sound designer André Pluess. Troy Lambert will continue writing MEM, his Afrofuturist horror novel trilogy. And Daniel Banks will be putting the finishing touches on We The Messiah and The Secret Sharer.
2023 was a banner year for DNAWORKS. And we are starting 2024 energized and excited about our new projects.
In the current political climate in the U.S. and abroad, our work catalyzing dialogue and healing through the arts is as urgent as it has ever been. Thank you for making our work possible.
The Secret Sharer clockwise from top left: Daniel Banks, Ken Norris, Kwesi Johnson, Adam W. McKinney, Giovanni Ortega, and Papi Salgado.
Clockwise from top left DNAWORKS Co-Curators Seema Sueko, Sarita Ocón, Troy Lambert, ED Andrés Franco, and Co-Founder and Co-Curator Daniel Banks.
Daniel Banks and Adam W. McKinney webinar.
We the Messiah poster.
P.S. To celebrate our 18th Anniversary, the DuBose Family Foundation has offered a $10,000 match. Any donation made before January 31, 2024, can be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000. You can double the impact of your contribution by donating today. And thank you to all the generous donors who have already contributed to the campaign!