Melvin Van Peebles Turns 80 and HARLEMWEEK Attracts Crowds

Portrait of Melvin Van Peebles, circa 1990. Courtesy Photofest.

Harlem Arts Alliance Presents: On the “A” w/Souleo


If you’re in the arts and thinking of calling yourself a Renaissance man or woman, you should review the career of Melvin Van Peebles. Although his classic 1971 film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss,  made him an icon, there is also a plethora of other accomplishments to his credit including being an Air Force pilot, novelist, painter, sculptor, pioneer-rapper, Tony-nominated playwright and more. If you ask Van Peebles how long it’s taken him to do these things, he might jokingly say 39 years. The truth is it’s been an amazing 80 year-long journey, which he celebrated on his birthday “baasssssh” this past Tuesday at Film Forum. Just prior to the occasion, Van Peebles shared that he hopes his legacy will instill confidence in others to pursue their dreams — even if it includes several different ones.

“People think if he can do it I can and that’s the most positive thing to happen,” he says. “I feel so good that I’ve been emulated for our folks. All I wanted to do was show that we could and I did the best that I could.”

One individual that has heeded Van Peebles’ message is Caktuz, with a renaissance man’s resume that covers everything from recording artist to illustrator to web series producer to marketing professional. Caktuz even worked with Van Peebles as he illustrated the graphic novel adaptation of Van Peebles’ film “Confessions of a Ex-Doofus-Itchyfooted Mutha.” Caktuz notes that balancing various roles is a challenge but that understanding how to market oneself can make a difference. “Most artists have a hard time trying to juggle that balance,” he says. “You have to find a way for your fans to respect you for those extra branches on the tree. So I am always aware of where the lines between marketing ploys and true art are drawn.”

There was nothing but real art, culture and excitement during this year’s HARLEMWEEK “Summer in the City” and “Harlem Day” weekend events. Over 60,000 attendees filled the streets of Harlem and enjoyed outdoor live music, regional dance events, college “Step Show” competitions and an outdoor film festival by ImageNation. There were exhibitors and vendors aplenty providing delicious foods, creative arts & crafts, clothing and much more.

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The column, On the “A” w/Souleo, covers the intersection of the arts, culture entertainment and philanthropy in Harlem and beyond and is written by Souleo, founder and president of arts administration company, Souleo Enterprises LLC.

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