The Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute (LHPAI) is Seattles longest-lived performing arts venue for programming primarily by and about people of African descent. It is located at 104 17th Avenue South in the Central Area, the traditional heart of the African American and Diaspora community.
Established in 1969, Walter Hundley Jr. and many other civil rights activists purchased the former Chevra Bikur Cholim synagogue building, with federal urban-renewal funds from the Model Cities Program (MCP). The edifice became the home of the “Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center,” and Walter Hundley became its first executive director. The building was initially intended to house Seattles African American theater, Black Arts/West, and a film training center. But renovation delays caused both organizations to look for work space elsewhere.
Although the new city-funded center presented its own arts programming, and rented space to performing arts organizations, it was not classified as a performing arts venue. It was seen as “a recreation center that does not do basketball,” in the words of a center advisory council member. The Parks & Recreation Department administered it with other community centers, starting in 1972.
The center cultivated several local black performers and also attracted out-of-town arts professionals in the 1970s and 1980s. Moving into the late 80s and 1990s, the center added a subscription theater series, while continuing to provide classes such as the youth summer musical program. Recognizing this trend, in 2001 the Parks Department approved a reorganization plan, which included the name change to the “Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center” (LHPAC).
LHPAC also brought in its first artistic director, Jacqueline Moscou, who brought consistent artistic programming to the center beginning in 2002. In her tenure, she has established a wide spectrum of performing arts offerings in film, drama, dance, and literature. Among these was “Death of a Salesman” with an all-black cast in 2005. (This