Harrison Guy is the Artistic Director of Urban Souls Dance Company, an award winning company that's treading new ground and making its voice heard throughout the community and nationally. Urban Souls' work tackles issues and ideas that push some audiences to new ways of thinking, Harrison's newest work Pink Slip is "about gentrification, and looks at how we enter communities that are already established." Pink Slip will premiere as part of Dance Source Houston's Truck Dances on November 12.
tCAL: What is Urban Souls?
Urban Souls Dance Company is modern company that specializes in exploring African-American, culture, heritage, and expression. During my schooling, I noticed a void in companies presenting work that represents this demographic.
What are the particulars of working with an African-American ensemble?
Currently our ensemble is entirely African-American. But we have had non-black members in the past. Since our works always focus on African-American culture, it takes a special person to not be of the demographic and still want to be part of this mission as a performer.
There are some differences/challenges with our organization as well. There is a well lived issue with equity in the arts. I’ve found that culturally specific organizations experience many challenges due to the lack of a honesty and understanding in relation to these equity issues. I often feel that arts communities want to present a narrative that everything is rainbows and flowers in creative communities. And that’s simply not always the case.
How does your social justice mission affect your reception, and dance-making?
It’s a double-edged sword. It’s great because allows people to experience what’s going on the word in a different in a way. We put tough themes in the laps of our audience, but give them the ability to control how, when, and if they engage in the narrative. They have the ability to think about it now, or never. We’ve had people come back years later and say, “Now I get it.”
On the other side, people are often leery of what this experience might be for them. They are nervous of being bashed for not being black, or feeling like they are out of place. I knew this [social justice mission] would be a challenge in the beginning, but I wanted to do something different than abstract work
Was it your goal to be in arts administration/leadership?
During school, I didn’t think far ahead about being in arts leadership. I would have preferred to only be a dancer or choreographer. But you need arts leadership in order for your arts entity to be successful, and I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do that job for me. So I was forced into the role as many creatives are. I didn’t know this was where my career was headed.
Do you still find time to do your own creative work?
I have taken a bit of break to reconsider my personal creative work/practices. As I identify a lack of administrative leadership in the black dance community in Houston. I see that as a great opportunity for me. This means I may not able to do as much with my personal artistic practices. It’s a catch-22: because the company needs the arts leadership part of me. So I’ll do about 20% practice, 80% leadership. It’s a sacrifice.
What is a pressing issue you’ve noticed in the arts community, and what is your response to this?
Aside from the equity discrepancies, the process to apply for grants is problematic. All nonprofit organizations apply in the same way. There’s no consideration for what type of organizations these are, or the diversity in applicants. It’s currently a streamlined, structured process, form one point of view. There needs to be more thought put into types of people and organizations that might be applying to make the funds more accessible.
What do you have you found to be the philosophy of art leaders in our community?
What I’ve learned about arts leaders through my work as a collaborator, is there is a lack of innovation. Often, we continually replay what has already been done. There’s not a lot of risk taking going on. By nature, arts leaders are supposed to be different (more creative) than business leaders. But I don’t generally see creativity infused in their administrative processes. We are also sometimes so focused on the mission of our own organizations that our tunnel vision doesn’t really support collaborative thinking. I think Houston has great potential because it’s a city that is not over saturated. The challenge is taking more risk and filling those voids with new innovative ideas.
You're going to be featured at the upcoming Dance Sourdce Houston Event. Can you tell us more about the event and your new work?
Truck Dances is a very cool concept to be DanceSource Houston’s only fundraising event. We back two U-Haul trucks into the dance studio and perform in the truck boxes. It’s great to be able to support our city’s resource.
Interview was conducted by Jackie Bartling-John