Black Arts MKE In the News

Joyful 'Black Nativity' connects birth of Jesus to family life today

Langston Hughes' "Black Nativity" celebrates the birth of Jesus through Black American musical culture. For the eighth consecutive season, a local, intergenerational cast performed this joyful show at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, under the auspices of Black Arts MKE.

Read More

Black Arts MKE Earns Prestigious Award | Ruth Foundation for the Arts announces 2023 Core Grant Recipients

Each year, a relevant theme frames the grant questions. For 2023, organizations were asked:  What can be transformed when we ask what we want to keep, what can we lose, and what we want to grow?  The annual program grants $50,000 in unrestricted, operational support. Applications are reviewed by Ruth Arts alongside a rotating group of readers.

Read More

‘Black Nativity’ Returns with New Talent

Black Nativity, presented by Black Arts MKE, is a celebration of culture and season that is presented by an impressive array of local talent. Each year of the production contains new aspects to the performance, but this eighth year features a new director, which has allowed for a refresh to the beloved classic story. One can expect updated music, new dancers, and more opportunities for performance accessibility from this year’s stunning show. 

Read More


The end of summer is the perfect time to start planning your theater season calendar for the upcoming year. The options feel endless, with Black theater companies across the nation producing a full roster of programming that shouldn’t be missed. Many offer memberships that provide ticket discounts and other perks for the season. Check out the listings below to see what’s playing near your city, and make a plan to travel this fall to add a little theater to your life! 

MKE Black Theatre Festival—Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Expanding this year’s lineup from one week to a three-week-long celebration of Black arts and culture, MKE Black Theatre Festival is presenting two full-length plays: Mud Row, directed by Marti Gobel, and The Meeting, directed by Denzel Taylor, along with workshops, poetry sets and more. Events are taking place at various venues throughout Milwaukee including Marquette University, The Table at Alice’s Garden, Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum and Studio 4A at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through August 27.

Read More

Black Arts MKE, Inc.: Full schedule released and tickets on-sale for the 2023 MKE Black Theatre Festival, August 9-27

A 3-week-long festival featuring free events across the city designed to support Black creatives and two full-production ticketed plays: MUD ROW and THE MEETING

MILWAUKEE (July 18, 2023) – Today the full schedule has been unveiled and tickets are now on-sale for the 2023 MKE Black Theatre Festival, taking place from August 9-27, 2023. Produced by Black Arts MKE, this year’s festival is expanding from one week to a three-week-long celebration of Black arts and culture.

Throughout August, the festival will offer ticketed and free events, including two full-production plays, audition and play development workshops, a Black history presentation, a youth and family night, auditions for Black Nativity, a poetry set, and more. Events will occur at various venues throughout Milwaukee, including Marquette University, The Table at Alice’s Garden, Wisconsin Black Historical Society and Museum, and Studio 4A at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

Read More

Black Arts MKE Announces Theatre Festival Lineup

Black Arts MKE will present the MKE Black Theatre Festival Aug. 9-27. The three-week-long celebration of Black arts and culture will host ticketed and free events at various venues throughout Milwaukee, including two full productions, a play development workshop, an audition master class, poetry set, and more. Tickets will go on sale in June.

Read More

Milwaukee's Ruth Foundation for the Arts gives out $1.25 million in grants. Three local groups are among the recipients.

Launching its second year of giving, Milwaukee-based Ruth Foundation for the Arts has announced $1.25 million in unrestricted Artist Choice grants to 56 arts and cultural organizations around the country, including three based in Milwaukee.

The local recipients are Black Arts MKE, based at the Marcus Performing Arts Center at 929 N. Water St.; Walker's Point Center for the Arts, 839 S. Fifth St.; and Woodland Pattern Book Center, 720 E. Locust St.

Read More

A New Black Girl Fairytale comes to Milwaukee

Black Arts MKE and Bronzeville Arts Ensemble proudly present Zuri’s Crown, a new musical celebrating Black women, their hair, and the power of self-expression and love. Directed by Milwaukee theater legend Sheri Williams Pannell, Zuri’s Crown is an original musical adaptation of the Rapunzel fairytale, where Black hair plays a significant role. The musical follows the story of Zuri, played by Camara Stampley, a young woman coming into her own as she embraces her self-worth and stands up against the forces that seek to diminish it. Through her journey, all theatergoers will be inspired to love and celebrate themselves just as they are.

Read More

Black Arts MKE Explores Harlem Renaissance

Black History Month is a time to celebrate and honor the contributions of African Americans to our society, and Black Arts MKE is doing just that with its new theatrical production, Harlem Renaissance. The play, written by local playwright Malaina Moore, is set inside the legendary Savoy Ballroom in Harlem and brings to life four icons of the era: Ella Fitzgerald, Jacob Lawrence, Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. The play showcases swing, jazz, storytelling, art, and scatting, and is designed to transport young audiences to a pinnacle moment in Black history.

Read More

Bronzeville Arts Ensemble's ZURI'S CROWN Announces Auditions on January 30th

Bronzeville Arts Ensemble artist collective has adapted the classic Rapunzel story into a stage musical. ZURI’S CROWN auditions are set to begin auditions at the Marcus Center on January 30, 2023.  Executive produced by Black Arts MKE, ZURI’S CROWN is presented as part of the World Premier Wisconsin – A state-wide festival celebrating new plays and musicals. 

Read More

Black Arts MKE: Black Nativity by Langston Hughes returns to kick off holiday season in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE (October 18, 2022) – Black Arts MKE’s beloved holiday musical returns for its seventh year with its biggest and best production to date. Black Nativity by Langston Hughes runs one weekend only – December 8-11, 2022, at the Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall, Marcus Center. Set in Milwaukee rather than Bethlehem, this joyous and hopeful re-telling of Hughes’ original 1961 play incorporates poetry, music, and dance from the African diaspora with an all-black, Milwaukee area-based cast.

Read More

Milwaukee's Hip Hop DNA is about beats, rhymes and cross-cultural understanding

For anybody who’s ever flipped out discovering the original song sampled in a hip-hop track, or even for anyone who just enjoys celebrating community and culture, there’s an event for you Saturday night. Hip Hop DNA is back Saturday night October 1, 2022, for the first time since its premiere in 2019.

The performance will feature more than 40 artists at the Marcus Center for the Arts, including at 12-person band, in a live exploration of the different influences that make up hip-hop music. A goal is to uplift communities and cultures that are otherwise misunderstood or underrepresented.

Several dancers, including Karlies Kelley of Panadanza and Deepa Devasena of Philadelphia’s Kathak Dance Collective, have choreographed the family friendly event. It’s presented by Black Arts MKE and funded by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals’ ArtsForward grant.

Read More


Happening this week, the Milwaukee Black Theater Festival returns. The week-long celebration is coming in this year bigger than ever.

Read More - Black Arts MKE Receives TCG THRIVE! Grant

Black Arts MKE will receive its first Threatre Communications Group (TCG) RESPOND grant, part of the THRIVE! Uplifting Theatres of Color program. With support from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, TCG is working in partnership with an advisory circle of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) to provide unrestricted funds for 20 Black threatres, Indigenous theatres, and theatres of color based in the U.S. RESPOND is designed to provide unrestricted funds to theatres to address immediate, time-sensitive challenges that prevent ongoing work with their community.

Read More - The Milwaukee Black Theater Festival Returns Bigger Than Ever with Events Across the City Black Arts MKE presents week-long celebration showcasing our city’s strong and growing Black performing arts and culture scene

MILWAUKEE (June 15, 2022) – Black Arts MKE is proud to present the third annual Milwaukee Black Theater Festival, returning to venues across the city from August 10-14. The week-long celebration of Black arts and culture features free and ticketed events throughout each day, including full-production and staged reading plays, an R&B and Gospel fundraiser concert, spoken word and dance performances, and talk-back and panel discussions. This year’s theme is The Black Family: Generations Speak!, presented by generations of Black artists, includes events for the entire family, acknowledges community challenges, and encourages everyone to come together now to celebrate Black theater, healing, and unity.

Read More - Black Arts MKE Launches New I AM. Masterclass Series with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Principal Dancer James Gilmer for Local Dance Students

Black Arts MKE collaborated with Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. Epsilon Kappa Omega Chapter Sorority to provide a unique week-long summer camp opportunity in dance. I AM. Masterclass will expose local youth to James Gilmer, an accomplished Black artist with the internationally acclaimed African American dance company – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 

Read More

Association of Performing Arts Professionals awards over $2 million to artists and presenters to support reopening of the performing arts industry. Black Arts MKE honored to be named an APAP ArtsForward Grantee with our HIP HOP DNA collaborator Kiran Vedula.

The Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) is pleased to announce that it has awarded $2.065 million from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to artists and presenters through ArtsForward, a new program to support the performing arts field’s safe, vibrant, and equitable reopening and recovery. As venues reopen, tours resume, and audiences reconnect, these grants will fuel collaborations between APAP presenter members and partnering artists/ensembles.

Read More

Broadway World - Black Arts MKE To Receive $100k Grant From The National Endowment For The Arts

Black Arts MKE have been approved to receive an American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to help the arts and cultural sector recover from the pandemic. Black Arts MKE is recommended to receive $100K and may use this funding to save jobs and to fund operations, health and safety supplies, and marketing and promotional efforts to encourage attendance and participation. In total, the NEA will award grants totaling $57,750,000 to 567 arts organizations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC.

Read More

BizTimes - United Way makes initial $1.5 million investment round through its racial equity fund

United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County announced Monday the recipients of a $1.5 million investment round through a Racial Equity Fund established with a donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

The investment will support 11 Black- and brown-led Milwaukee organizations over the next three years.

They include: African American Breastfeeding Network, Artists Working in Education, Asian American Pacific Islander Coalition of Wisconsin, Black Arts MKE, Inc., Black Educators Caucus, CAPITA (City at Peace in the Arts) Productions, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges, Public Allies Wisconsin, Southside Organizing Committee (SOC), Walker’s Point Center for the Arts (WPCA), and Walnut Way Conservation Corps.

Read More

Indaba African Ball Announces Honorees

Seven Milwaukee history-makers will be recognized for their community contributions in a variety of fields at the third annual Indaba African Ball from 5:30 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, February 5.

Being honored this year in the Hall of History Makers will be:

Sheri Williams Pannell,  founding member and artistic director at Bronzeville Arts Ensemble, a director/teaching artist at Black Arts MKE and a founder of the Milwaukee Black Theatre Festival; assistant professor of theatre at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts.

Read More

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration

The MLK Planning Committee is excited to invite you to the annual MCW Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Event on Monday, January 17, 2022, at 4 p.m. This year’s theme will be “See Yourself in MLK’s Legacy of Service: Think Next Gen.”

Attendees will hear stories from MCW students on how they have been inspired by Dr. King’s legacy and hope it will impact their future. We’ll also engage with MCW faculty as they share how the institution is innovating curricula through education in health equity and cultural humility to drive excellence in the future of health care.

This event also will include special guests from Black Arts MKE.

Read More

WTMJ TV Milwaukee - The musical Black Nativity will have you singing, dancing, and clapping

Chances are you have heard the traditional version of 'Joy To The World'. But you haven't truly experienced the song until you've heard it sung by the cast of the Black Nativity. They put their entire soul into their gospel cover of the song.

Black Nativity is a musical playing this weekend at Vogel Hall which is part of the Marcus Performing Arts Center. The show was written by the famous playwright and poet Langston Hughes. It's being performed by the Black Arts MKE cast.

Read More

CarvdnStone - Milwaukee's Black Nativity's Theme is 'For the Culture' to Pay Homage to the Black Community

This winter marks the seventh year Black Arts MKE will host Langston Hughes’ play “Black Nativity”, and this time it has a new theme and new director. Although the pandemic was hard on everyone, it seemed to hit the Black community harder, especially if you mix in the health disparities, racial injustices and more. Milwaukee Black Nativity Director Dimonte Henning understood the toll the pandemic took on us, so through this play he wanted to bring hope and fun back into the Black community.

Read More

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - 'Black Nativity' director Dimonte Henning connects celebration of Jesus' birth to Black life today

Langston Hughes' gospel play "Black Nativity" focuses on the hope-bringing power of the birth of Jesus, even to the poorest among us. But it also offers a director flexibility in connecting that miracle two millennia ago to life today.

Dimonte Henning, director of Black Arts MKE's new production of "Black Nativity" at the Marcus Performing Arts Center, calls the 2021 theme "For the Culture."

Read More

Spectrum News 1 - 'Black Nativity' to highlight Milwaukee talent, puts twist on holiday play

If you're looking for a show to put you in the holiday spirit, a group of Milwaukee creatives is putting on "Black Nativity" by Langston Hughes.

The popular Christmas-themed theater production comes with a twist; it's based in Milwaukee, instead of Bethlehem. It also has all Milwaukee talent. It also features music, dance, and poetry from the African diaspora.

Director Dimonte Henning said the play uses present day life to inspire both young and old, he emphasized that it's important for different cultures to be represented and celebrated, especially during the holidays. Henning said this production is meant to give hope.

Read More

CBS58 - 'It's a message of hope': 'Black Nativity' returns to Marcus Center stage with new music

Even through their masks you can hear and feel the uplifting sounds of this years' Black Nativity cast.

Black Arts MKE's production of legendary playwright and poet Langston Hughes' 1961 stage play opens this week at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. The production runs Thursday through Sunday. 

Read More

Fox6 News Milwaukee - 'Black Nativity' returning to Milwaukee soon: 'Singing joy'

Between worldwide difficulties like the COVID-19 pandemic and local hardships like the Waukesha parade attack, Langston Hughes' "Black Nativity" soon returns to Milwaukee.

Read More - "Black Nativity" returns with a new director and show

Black Arts MKE's show stopping musical will reopen for vaccinated and masked audiences after the long pandemic shutdown. "Black Nativity" by Langston Hughes runs one weekend only.

Read More

Black Nouveau Web Exclusive - Black Nativity by Langston Hughes 2021

Read More

Milwaukee Courier - ‘It’s so joyful’: Black Arts MKE Prepares to Debut Annual “Black Nativity” Production

This year’s theme is ‘for the culture,’ and audience members can expect to see Black cultural references in the choreography, the costumes and more.

Read More – Milwaukee Performing Arts Organizations Require Proof of Vaccination or Negative COVID-19 Test for Audiences

Milwaukee’s performing arts organizations will require COVID-19 vaccinations or proof of negative test within 72 hours of events for all audience members 12 and up attending indoor performances beginning in September.

Read More

MKElifestyle Fine Arts Preview 2021-2022 - Amplifying Voices | Sheri Williams Pannell makes theatre about Black Milwaukee life.

“I see myself as a vessel for truth-telling,” says Sheri Williams Pannell. “I also see myself as an elder who must share knowledge so it’s carried on. “I’m in my 60s and I’m grateful to have reached this time of my life and still have the opportunity to contribute to the arts in our community. I hope that if I’m able to pass on some of what I’ve learned, it will help others go to the next level.”

Read More

WISN – Bronzeville Arts Ensemble Announces 2021 Milwaukee Black Theater Festival

Read More – Black Arts MKE selected for national strategy initiative, grant funding

Black Arts MKE, the Milwaukee nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing availability and quality of African American arts and culture, was awarded a grant from The Black Seed, a national strategic initiative focused on long-term impact of Black theater institutions...

Read More – Black Arts MKE Selected for the Black Seed National Strategic Initiative to Support Equity for Black Theater Institutions

Black Arts MKE has been awarded a generous grant from The Black Seed, a national strategic initiative focused on creating impact and “thrivability” for Black theater institutions. Awarding close to 100 one- or two-year grants up to $150,000, this is the first iteration in a long-term strategy for The Black Seed...

Read More – The Black Seed Unveils Generous Grant Program for Black Theatres. Nearly 100 Black theatres will receive 1- or t-year grants, ranging in sze from $10,000 to $150,000.

BROOKLYN: The Black Seed, a national strategic initiative focused on creating impact and “thrivability” for Black theatre institutions, has announced that close to 100 Black theatres across the country will receive one- or two-year grants ranging from $10,000 to $150,000. This is the first iteration in a long-term strategy for the company...

Read More

United Performing Arts Fund – A Stage For All Podcast (featuring Black Arts MKE, 5:32m) Episode 4: The Cultural Impact of the Arts

UPAF's "A Stage for All" podcast is an engaging exploration of the impact the arts have in our lives and communities. It includes interviews with those who bring the performing arts to local stages, classrooms, community centers and even hospitals. Learn how UPAF Member Groups positively affect Eastern Wisconsin, get to know the locals who bring color to our city and get the latest on the "State of the Arts."...

Read More – UPAF Welcomes Black Arts MKE as Newest Member Group

The United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) announced today that its Board of Directors has approved Black Arts MKE as a Member Group, effective immediately. The organization joins 13 other premiere world class performing arts organizations as a UPAF Member Group.  Since its inception six years ago, Black Arts MKE had received annual grants through the UPAF Affiliate Program...

Read More


About Black Arts MKE

Launched in 2014, Black Arts MKE is a unique arts platform created – at least in part, in response to post-recession research findings that revealed, “Nonprofit arts organizations need an entirely different business model” (The Importance of Being Small, prepared for the Nonprofit Management Fund, April 2012). For many smaller African American arts organizations, the recession made it especially hard to keep doors open and the lights on, unfortunately, and we’ve seen important cultural offerings in Milwaukee shut down.  Black Arts MKE was created to prevent this trend from continuing and to provide a more sustainable, vibrant African American arts and culture scene in our community. 

Black Arts MKE’s mission is to increase the availability and quality of African American arts and culture.  We work with over 100 local artists of color and arts groups to bring arts works by black authors, playwrights, poets, dancers, musicians, and composers.  We provide educational and entertaining culturally relevant arts residencies to hundreds of students each year including a Youth Performing Arts Camp in July. Our musical theater production of Black Nativity by Langston Hughes, is an annual holiday favorite featuring an all-black, MKE-based cast.

We provide administrative back-office support to resident theater group Bronzeville Arts Ensemble to enable its artistic leadership to focus their time and energy on their strengths of creating artistic programming.  Bronzeville Arts Ensemble strives to illuminate the African American experience in America by developing and creating theater while also providing artistic and educational programming opportunities, collaborating with the local and national theatre community, and inspiring healing and positive social change.

Black Arts MKE is a proud Member Group with the United Performing Arts Fund and Resident Group at the Marcus Performing Arts Center.  Black Arts MKE is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation.