The Thelma Hill Performing Arts Center (THPAC) was founded in 1976 in Brooklyn, NY. It has been headquarted in Brooklyn for over 41 years now. THPAC has always had a small footprint organizationally, but has been hugely influential in its programmatic impact and on the career lives of dancers, choreographers and dance companies. It is without a doubt the oldest presenting organization in NYC with a mission to the presenting an preserving the choreographic creations of artist of color.
When THPAC was founded the cultural atmosphere of Brooklyn was quite different. It was a great time for innovation in the field and THPAC played a major role in pushing that forward by presenting such artists as Baba Chuck Davis who would later go on to oversee that great NYC tradition of Dance Africa at BAM every year; Kevin Jeff, Adel Salaam, Fred Benjamin, Al Perryman, Eleo Pomare, Maurice Hines, Clive Thompson, Garth Fagan, Dance Theater of Harlem Work Shop Ensemble, and The Alvin Ailey American Dance Center Workshop just to mention a few. These were all given a stage by THPAC to share and hone their chorographic creations. In later years a new generation of dancers, companies and choreographers would also be given a chance by THPAC to show the world their skills, such as: Ron K. Brown, Urban Bush Women, Marlies Yearby, Gary DeLoatch, Dwight Rhoden, Homer Avila/Edisa Weeks, Reggie Wilson, Virginia Johnson, Rennie Harris, Camille A. Brown, and Kyle Abraham, among a creative dance cloud of numerous others. THPAC has, during the time of its existence not only presented many of the dance greats and near greats, but has also reflected back to the city and the world all the style innovations that to this day continue to impact dance and its audiences. THPAC has long been on the cutting edge of all of this.
The organization’s major accomplishments are: 1) continuing the legacy of dance educator Thelma Hill and Larry Phillips; 2) having assisted in launching the careers of hundreds of choreographers and dancers who have received international acclaim and who now “give back” to the organization and its communities; 3) having forged long standing relationships with stellar artists and dance companies; 3) achieving over four decades of programming while introducing hundreds, of those that attend our programs, to new creations and new dance artists. THPAC's legacy of providing dancers with a forum where they can explore their art and share it with diverse communities is one THPAC cherishes, and one which our audiences are a part. 3) the development of a new innovative program in 1995 entitled “Toenails of Steel and Ruby Red Text” which brought together Black gay choreographers in collaborations with black gay writers. In 1995 this was very much on the cutting edge. 4) Production of new original programming such as: Audre Lorde In Motion – a collaboration between spoken word artists and choreographers using the works of Audre Lorde; A Ramp to Paradise-a dance narrative about the famed underground Black gay dance club the Paradise Garage.
Past 42, the organization now looks back on this great history. A major by product of all this is the presence of a massive of amount of archival material in the form of paper documents, photographs, slides & negatives, and miles of video tape going back to the 1960’s and earlier. This archive will prove to be one of the great future strengths of THPAC and a great blessing to the world at large once it is organized, digitized and structured for present and future generations to benefit from.
THPAC has overcome great challenges to arrive at the mature age of 42. It suffered 3 major organizational deaths- that of Ms. Hill who’s death prompted the name change of the organization, then the death of its founder Larry Philips which ushered in the era of his successor Melvin Davis, who sensing a changing dance scene, refocused the organization so it remained relevant to a new generation of dance artists and audiences. Then, with the unexpected death of Davis in 1995, the organization faced its greatest crisis. This tragedy was near death blow to THPAC but it turned out to be the catalyst for its survival and overcoming attitude. Such a blow has sent many other such like organizations to the dust heap. The question has been asked, “Should an organization continue on after the death of its founder?” In the case of THPAC the answer is 3 times yes. THPAC has and continues to overcome in a fast changing landscape of Brooklyn, NY and the world, and because it did, can and will, we are all culturally better off.