Margaret Porter of the Harlem Arts Salon, a series which features some of the most celebrated writers, musicians and artists in the world, has thrived in an international community of artists and creatives for decades. In the tradition of A’Lelia Walker before her Porter opens the home she shares with her husband, Quincy Troupe and family to an enthusiastic audience. Many attend over and over again for the exchange of ideas and the great food and drink which has also earned Margaret a loyal following. Reserve in advance, if you want to be assured of a space and value an opportunity for an intimate experience with greats such as Terry McMillan, Derek Walcott, Elizabeth Nunez, Earl Monroe, Hamiet Bluiett, Tyehimba Jess and yes, Toni Morrison—and many more. –Home Slice
When my husband Quincy Troupe and I packed our belongings in California and came back home to Harlem in 2001, a lot had changed but one thing had not, the kind of cultural programming we were accustomed to was nowhere to be found. Reassessing where I was, what I’d done, and the history of Harlem, I decided to establish the Harlem Arts Salon. I opened with an exhibition of works by Mildred Howard and gave Hugh Masekela a book party for his autobiography, Still Grazing. I made home cooked meals and charged an admission. Slowly, but surely, my salons attracted a steady crowd.
We’d been away from the City living in LaJolla , California since 1990 when Quincy accepted a position at the University of California, San Diego. While there, I opened the Porter Randell Gallery which became one of the premiere and most important mainstream contemporary art galleries on the West Coast. An exhibition of the work of Oliver Jackson put our gallery on the map. Not only is Oliver Jackson one of the most phenomenal, gifted, versatile artists working today, he was the favorite artist of Robert Pincus, the San Diego Union-Tribune art critic who gave our exhibition a fantastic review. So did Leah Ollman, the San Diego-based art critic for the Los Angeles Times. We exhibited Elizabeth Murray and probably had the biggest crowd of our entire season. People were literally wrapped around the block vying for an Elizabeth Murray autograph. Bob Holman, her partner, was hustling gigs as the “plain white rapper” while Elizabeth was exercising her chops with her three-dimensional constructed, graffiti inspired canvases at the Paula Cooper Gallery. The San Diego chi-chi crowd really took notice after that. Of course, we had a lot of poetry and music as well. Steve Coleman played and Sophia Wong danced on the program with poet Jayne Cortez. Sherley Anne Williams read there, as did Brad Morrow, Louise Meriwether, Eleanor Antin, David Antin, and Jerry Rothenberg. We introduced Cuban artists Jose Bedia, Arturo Cuenca, and Tomas Esson to town. We introduced the work of Albert Chong, Skunder Boghassian, Grimanesa Amoros, Edouard Duval Carrie and others, including the De la Torre Brothers of Ensenada, Einar and Jamex de la Torre. We showed local greats, Italo Scanga, Ernest Silva, and a slew of the fabulous Bay Area artists. The San Francisco Bay Area is an inexhaustible gold mine of super, super talented artists.
I really discovered my affinity for the literary and visual arts, when I met my husband, Quincy Troupe, in 1977, when he was a mid-career poet and cultural activist at the center of the literary and artistic scene in New York City. Although I’d fancied myself an aspiring actress, by 1977 when I met him, I’d decided I’d better get a “real job,” and had abandoned that pursuit to work full-time at The New York Times, a nine-to-five corporate culture for which I was unsuited temperamentally, I discovered later on. In 1983, we moved across the hall to a larger, corner apartment in Graham Court, where our youngest child, Porter was born.
My friend Monique Clesca a writer and journalist from Haiti asked me in the early 80s to let her use our Graham Court apartment to exhibit the tapestries she collected from the mountain women in Haiti. Little did I know that I had embarked upon the journey that would eventually lead to lifelong work producing cultural events and mounting visual arts exhibitions. I was still very much doing my nine-to-five at The New York Times.
Our friendship with Monique led to Quincy and I maintaining a second home in Petionville, Haiti for over ten years, and a beloved collection of Haitian art and Haitian friends. Monique thought our apartment a perfect gallery space with its high ceilings, spacious rooms and natural light. Much to my astonishment, we sold out the entire show and had a blast of a party doing it. We had lots of champagne and a packed house of artists and writers and art collectors. It was the first time I could remember having had so much fun! Right then and there it occurred to me that since we knew so many artists from St Louis and Haiti, and given Quincy’s glittering Roladex, the overwhelming success of Monique’s tapestry show, and the tons of fun we had in the process that why not do this all the time?
So I began to mount art shows at home on the weekends. It was a fabulous relief from what had become for me the drudgery of corporate life as it unfolded at The Times. I had even gotten Quincy to organize a poetry reading for The Times staff in an effort to share my newfound world of exciting artists and writers who had become my friends and nurturing community.
Quincy continued his poetry workshops and I continued writing poetry, which I had to do to be able to stay in the class. While members of Quincy’s workshop Gerry Wilson, Anasa Jordan, and I (Regina Williams and Brenda Connor-Bey joined New Bones after Gerry died and Anasa moved away), formed New Bones (from Lucille Clifton’s poem that says “we be splendid in new bones”), a loosely formed partnership that produced readings and workshops on the Upper West Side at Mikell’s, a neighborhood bar and jazz club frequented by James Baldwin, whose brother David was the bartender there, Small’s Paradise in Harlem, and at churches and various other venues around New York City.
We produced Nyam, Vertamae Grosvenor’s food opera at St. John the Divine Church with Quincy, Verta, Olu Dara, Amina Baraka, Verta’s daughter, Chandra, Oscar Brown III, and Cheryl Byron. New Bones also produced events at the Ethical Culture Society near Lincoln Center, featuring Toni Morrison and Leon Thomas the At Small’s Paradise in Harlem, we put on shows with Amiri Baraka and Joe Chambers; June Jordan, and Lucille Clifton and Hamiet Bluiett. At Mikell’s, we presented Quincy, Jayne Cortez and Randy Weston, and in Soho, we presented Toni Cade Bambara, the comic David Smyrl, and pianist John Hicks.
Our benefit for Hamiet Bluiett’s wife Ebu, a victim of Lou Gehrig’s disease, was probably the largest and most star-studded event that included music greats Don Pullens, John Hicks, Julius Hemphill, the World Saxophone Quartet, David Peaston, and Oscar Brown III. Avery Brooks was the host; Quincy, Baraka, Calvin Hernton, Thulani Davis the featured writers. Other notable events among our programs were the workshops with Margaret Walker and Derek Walcott. We tried to do on a more regular basis what the Black Roots Festival did annually.
In 1989, I quit my job at the Times. Miles: The Autobiography, the definitive story of Miles Davis that Quincy wrote with that legendary, seminal musician, had just been published and the Peabody Award-winning The Miles Davis Radio Project, which Quincy narrated and co-produced with Steve Rowland had been completed; so had Bill Moyers’ done his Power of the Word feature on Quincy had aired on PBS, Channel Thirteen, that year. James Baldwin: The Legacy came in in 1989.
Those were the days my friends and they lasted through 1990, when Quincy accepted a position at the University of California, San Diego, and we moved to La Jolla, California. A decade later, we were empty-nesters and missed Harlem we’ve been since sharing our home with our friends and community some who make the most extraordinary art with those who love and appreciate their work. I feel that I’ve come full circle, from a time when Toni Morrison wrote literature in my home to me presenting her the grande dame of American letters, Nobel Laureate in my home. Although I cannot rival the lavishness of A’Lelia Walker in my presentation, this event is certainly a bejeweled feather in my silver turban. –Margaret Porter Troupe
Quincy Troupe’s latest include a collection of poetry: Errancities(Coffee House Press 2012 $16) and Earl the Pearl: My Story Earl Monroe with Quincy Troupe. (Rodale Press 2013 $27.99)