The National Black Arts Festival held its annual gala to culminate its four-day summer festival with “A Ruby Evening” tribute to the legendary actress and activist Ruby Dee on July 14, at the St Regis Hotel in Atlanta. The new NBAF Executive Director Dr. Michael Simanga said that Davis was selected because the NBAF strives to honor individuals in the arts who stepped outside of the norm and made societal contributions that extended beyond their talents. “In a way we really feel that it’s our responsibility to both honor those who opened the doors for us, and also to connect today’s audience and many young people to the traditions and standards of these great artists that not only accomplished things in their fields as artists but also stood for human rights and civil rights. Their standards were very high artistically and socially,” said Simanga. Simanga applauded Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee’s activism in support of the Freedom Riders, women’s rights and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dee was unable to attend the gala for health reasons, but sent her granddaughter, Ihsaana Muhammad, to represent on her behalf. The event showcased Dee’s pioneering work as a leading actress in Hollywood, as well as an upcoming documentary titled “Life Essentials with Ruby Dee,” created and directed by her filmmaker grandson Muta’Ali Muhammad. Muhammad said that he started the documentary two years ago when Davis felt she was ready to share her and Ossie Davis’ story of love, art and activism with the world. Muhammad also shared that Davis turns 90 in October and that they plan to release the 30-minute version of the documentary on her upcoming birthday in New York. The full documentary will be released in 2013. The NABF also presented Dee with jewelry and also a handcrafted, one-of-a-kind doll made by local designer Angela Ferguson, owner of CreAtiques, who has donated her unique dolls to NABF for the past three years. Ferguson, who has created several other celebrity cloth dolls including one of Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle, said that the doll is dressed in a burgundy and black taffeta skirt that resembles the famous Marilyn Monroe flowing white dress to symbolize Dee’s youthful spirit. I wanted to give her the youth and exuberance that she has now,” said Ferguson. Simanga noted that the NBAF and arts have helped to make Atlanta a great city and that public support of the arts in Fulton County has been tremendous. Fulton County, he said, is the largest funder of the arts in the state of Georgia. To have a “vibrant cultural life” is essential and is what makes Atlanta an attractive place to live and bring businesses, Simanga said. “It’s also important to understand the value of the arts beyond the entertainment value and that is the arts is also an economic stimulant and generator for a community,” said Simanga. “When we do the National Black Arts festival in the summer, it brings people from all over the region into hotels, restaurants. They use public transportation – they spend money with vendors. It’s not just the internal value but it’s also the economic value and it helps to contribute to the creative economy, which is a huge part of the economy of this city and this region.” The NBAF hosts year-round arts education events and programs. Its summer arts festival brings thousands of people to Atlanta each year.
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