By Amy Bareham
Cultural and Community Investment Intern
If art is a universal language, then music is a dialect of compelling strength and influence.
Charlotte organization A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas speaks this dialect fluently, creating spaces for the celebration of performing arts, specifically those steeped in African-American culture.
Founded in 2006, A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas is championed by executive director Tyrone Jefferson and program director Toni Tupponce, both of whom are gifted musicians with a passion for exposing the heritage of their ancestors.
Recent recipients of a Knight Foundation supported Cultural Innovation Grant from ASC, the organization is endeavoring to marry Charlotte’s rhythms with its own beat, dispelling any myths surrounding its purpose.
Said Tupponce, “I want the Charlotte community to know that A Sign of the Times is so much more than a band…while we were born as a big band in Charlotte focused on the music of the African Diaspora, we have evolved into a nonprofit organization that serves the community by keeping…the people of the African diaspora alive through music, dance and spoken word.”
A Sign of the Times provides a variety of programming like its annual Bridging Musical Worlds concert on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which takes place in the historic Excelsior Club and commemorates African-American history through a partnership with the Charlotte Symphony String Quartet.
These performances are “artistic avenues available…to tell the story of our people,” Tupponce explained. “And understand when we say ‘our people’ that crosses all kinds of color lines and ethnicities.
“Because when we start speaking of people from the African Diaspora you’re talking about everybody from Kenya to Puerto Rico to Brazil to Costa Rica to Charlotte…and all places in between.”
So what does grant funding mean for A Sign of the Times’ rich cultural tones?
“It says that the work of a small, really two person nonprofit …with a board of directors now…matters and…is of value to our community,” shared Tupponce. “And then finally it means that we have the opportunity to really step up all that we are and can be in…hoping to institutionalize A Sign of the Times of the Carolinas.
“This innovation grant helps us in terms of the resources to get that kind of thing done and to solidify the work of our board of directors in the future.”
Tupponce is most excited about the passion she sees in her board, noticeable at their first retreat which was possible through the grant as well. With plans to form a strategic growth plan and revisit their mission statement, Tupponce is certain that increased areas of leadership and leadership development are coming.
“When the board is more engaged and clear on what their roles are, then the kinds of programs that come out of that will increase,” she said.
Ralph Ellison wrote in his jazz infused classic Invisible Man, “If only all the contradictory voices shouting inside my head would calm down and sing a song in unison, whatever it was I wouldn’t care as long as they sang without dissonance.”
Tupponce recognizes the myriad of voices vying for our attention and seeks to unify them, thereby honoring life in all its syncopation. The Knight Foundation and ASC are the instruments enabling A Sign of the Times to do just that.