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Sixty years before ballet dancer and media darling Misty Copeland changed the face of the American Ballet Theatre when she became the company’s first African American female principal dancer, Arthur Mitchell broke the dance world color barrier when he was selected by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein to join the New York City Ballet. Mitchell remained with the company for 15 years, becoming one of its principal dancers in 1962. He went on to co-found the Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) with Karel Shook in 1969 and propelled the dance company to international success.

In a tribute to his career as a dance pioneer, icon, and national treasure, Columbia University acquired Mitchell’s archives and will honor the 60th anniversary of him joining the New York City Ballet with a two-day symposium, including a film chronicling Mitchell’s life and career, a conversation with Mitchell and reflections from his former New York City Ballet colleagues, Dance Theatre of Harlem artists, dance critics, and scholars. The events, part of the Arthur Mitchell Project (AMP), began on October 26 and will continue on October 27 on the Columbia campus.

According to the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s web site, Mitchell founded the AMP with support from the Ford Foundation to further his legacy. The AMP’s first initiative brought the Arthur Mitchell archive to the prestigious Rare Books and Manuscript Library at Columbia University and continues to develop companion programming. The AMP develops programs that build partnerships between Harlem and Columbia University with the goal of promoting diversity in the arts and works closely with the School of American Ballet on their diversity initiative.

The symposium is presented in collaboration with IRAAS, Center for Science and Society, Barnard Dance Department, the School of the Arts, Community Outreach and Education, Center for Law & Culture, and the Barnard Department of Africana Studies.

Mitchell, a self-described “political activist through dance,” was inspired to found the Dance Theatre of Harlem by the Civil Rights movement, “the message of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his own determination to provide young people in the Harlem community the opportunity to positively transform their lives.” He began the organization with 30 students and a company of two professional dancers and grew it into the first permanently established African American ballet company in the United States.

For more information on the Arthur Mitchell Project Symposium, visit here.

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