“I definitely work from a place of excitement and possibility,” says James, associate curator of contemporary art at the Guggenheim. As the museum’s first Black curator, she is currently organizing the exhibition “Off the Record,” which opens this spring. “The museum has an opportunity to acquire work by Black artists on a very high level. And once additional voices are brought in, what are new ways that we can see histories that we thought we’ve known for so long?”
Jo Ellen Pellman
“I hope that seeing The Prom will get people excited for when they can go back to live theater,” says Pellman, who stars in the film as a high-schooler who wants to take her girlfriend to the senior dance. It’s a breakout role for the 25-year-old actor from Cincinnati. First a Broadway production in 2018, the musical got the Ryan Murphy treatment with its Netflix adaptation, out now. “I hope it will inspire them to keep the live-entertainment industry afloat.” Pellman, in turn, was inspired to further advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. After filming, she co-founded The Unruly Hearts initiative alongside her co-star Ariana DeBose.
“For me, it’s a weird scrambled omelet of everything I see in my life,” Nuna, a 21-year-old R&B singer based in New Jersey, says of her musical inspiration. The artist dropped her “damn Right” single last fall—a sarcastic “So what?” anthem that quickly hit a nerve. “Even in the grocery store, if I see packaging that I like, I’ll take from that. I see myself as a vessel, taking things that I love and putting them through my own lens.” Louis Vuitton shirt; louisvuitton.com.
When people were clanging cookery each night at 7 p.m. in the streets of New York City to cheer on essential workers, Brown, a Brooklyn-based artist, was making her appreciation known with pencil and paper. She sketched Black women employees of hospitals, schools, and more. “I want them to feel this,” she says. “I want to make sure that they see themselves. That’s what it is for me. That’s where I find joy.”
“I was cobbling together a living for a really long time in order to sustain a creative life,” says Owusu, whose striking debut memoir, Aftershocks, is out this month and chronicles a tumultuous youth spent between Ethiopia, England, Italy, and America. “I was a bottle-service girl in a club; I worked as a fact-checker; I was a Coors Light girl, giving out key chains at bodegas.” Owusu, who now works for a nonprofit promoting economic justice, doesn’t see her day job as distinct from her writing: “I’m asking how people interact. What allows people to feel a sense of belonging. Those are questions that I’m asking in my creative life as well.”
“The last time I danced with New York City Ballet in person was last March,” says Nadon, a 19-year-old Boston-born ballerina who, even in the company’s corps, has caught the attention of critics. “I was home in California for most of the summer, just trying to stay in shape in my living room. In August, I came back to New York to be in a piece by Sidra Bell. She started choreographing over Zoom; then we had a couple of in-person sessions, and then we filmed outside Lincoln Center. That was really nice—to get to come home to Lincoln Center.”