Photo by Ruth Morgan

BARBARA ANN TEER

Founder/CEO, National Black Theatre Institute of Action Arts (1968- )

“Theater is a healing arts form that must be located in an energy center… Harlem has that kind of energy.”
           

“Theater is a healing arts form that must be located in an energy center… Harlem has that kind of energy.”

 

If there is anyone born and raised to do what she is doing in Harlem theater, it’s Barbara Ann Teer. “My parents were activists who moved to East St. Louis, Illinois to build a base. They were entrepreneurs who firmly believed that our people could create their own businesses and institutions. I was also influenced by the black cultural traditions of East St. Louis, it being the home of Miles Davis and the base for Katherine Dunham.”

 

It is with that foundation that Barbara, in 1968, founded the National Black Theatre (NBT) with the mission of “building a permanent institution committed to an alternative learning environment in the Harlem community that is designed to develop a new cultural leadership of entrepreneurial artists who will bring dignity, respect and economic viability into the communities in which they live, work and serve.”

 

Of the colleges and arts institutions that she was involved with before founding NBT, Barbara says, “in none of those places did I experience the kind of blackness under which I had been raised, so I moved to Harlem. Theater, to me, is a healing arts form that must be located in an energy center from which vibrations spread all over the world. Harlem has that kind of energy.”

 

True to her entrepreneurial heritage, in 1983 Barbara purchased a 64,000 sq. ft. building on 125th Street and Fifth Avenue. It has been challenging to say the least, but despite a devastating fire and a threat of foreclosure, NBT still owns the building, a space where one can experience innovative, visionary, informative and entertaining theater, challenging forums and other community-oriented activities.

 

One of NBT’s proudest accomplishments, believes Barbara, is the 15 children born to NBT staffers and herself whom they have guided into adulthood. “Our school was called Children’s School for the Development of Intuitive and God-Conscious Art. How do you like that name? They have all grown up to be entrepreneurial artists who are able to assist us in carrying out our mission.”