An Initiative Dedicated to Celebrating Blackness, in February and Beyond
Black History Month Florence is an initiative dedicated to celebrating Blackness and Black history. Its work focuses on artistic and academic creation, curation, and promotion in Florence, across Italy, and someday, throughout Europe. Every February, the month recognized internationally as Black History Month, BHMF puts together a digital program showcasing different exhibitions and events centered on African and African Diasporic culture and history. This February, the program features events in Florence, Rome, Bologna, and Turin, as well as virtual events.
Black History Month Florence was created in 2016 by artists Justin Randolph Thompson and Andre Halyard. Thompson and Halyard are both Black and both originally from the United States, but as of 2016, they had already spent a considerable amount of time in Italy. Active in the local worlds of art and academia, they were bothered by a severe lack of space for Black art, voices, and general visibility. While Black people have been in Italy since Roman times, there was (and still is) mainstream neglect for Black history and Black culture in Italy. BHMF’s mission became not only to acknowledge Blackness in Italy, but to celebrate it.
In a 2016 promotional video for the first edition of BHMF, Thompson describes the initiative’s mission: “BHMF was created to think a little bit about how we can broaden our understanding of the cultures that come from the African Diaspora that are present in the city of Florence and have had a history within the context of Italy for centuries,” he says. “And to really rethink the significance of that in a time when a lot of media are pointing to very specific moments of immigration as the foundation of African presence here. We wanted to create a framework for allowing people to see somehow a unity amongst these different cultures within the city of Florence.”
With the help of journalist and educator Andre Salvatore Mi, Thompson and Halyard brought 16 organizations onboard, including NYU Florence, Villa Romana, Museo Marino Marini, and Auditorium Flog. The first program featured 20 different events held throughout the month of February. Events included art exhibitions, film showings, workshops, conferences, concerts, and performances.
“We were also interested in creating an alternative strategy to cultural production that involves creating a framework for a broad range of institutions and venues to utilize their own programming, viewing public, and mission statements to contribute to a discussion of Blackness,” Thompson continues in the promotional video. “So unified under this umbrella of Black history, we were able to group audiences and settings that are distinct, and ultimately quite separate, fostering a fluid collaboration and cross-cultural conversations.”
Shortly after the first edition was completed, cultural activist Janine Gaëlle Dieudji joined the BHMF team as co-director and vice president. With her help, BHMF gathered more partner organizations and continued to grow. In 2017, the February program jumped from 20 events to 50. Since then, each edition of BHMF has featured around 60 events. In 2018, BHMF started the process of extending its reach to Bologna. In 2020, Black History Month Bologna was born. BHMF also has stimulated other organizers to create their own platforms; as a result, there are BHMF offshoots in Turin and Rome.
As of 2022, BHMF has a permanent facility in Florence at the Santa Reparata International School of Art, as well as eight research platforms. Its permanent facility, named The Recovery Plan, is a cultural center that hosts art events, lectures, workshops, and more year-round. The Recovery Plan also curates pop-up locations. In 2019, it occupied a space in Biagiotti Progetto Arte in Florence, and in 2020 at Museo MA*GA in Gallerate. In 2022, a pop-up started at the Italian Institute of Culture in Paris. Each pop-up location follows the mission of inspiring cross-cultural conversation and engagement through art and research.
Currently, BHMF is working on reframing its identity and name from “Black History Month Florence” to “Black History Fuori le Mura” (Black History Outside the Walls). Thompson calls this shift “a way of opening.” Not only does it extend the conversation and focus beyond Florence, it represents the fact that the initiative is active year-round.
“Black History Month is equivalent to our festival,” says Thompson. “It’s when we get the most visibility. Having The Recovery Plan allows visibility for all of the years we’ve put into this.”
Outside of the program, BHMF’s work includes artistic, cultural, and didactic curation and promotion, as well as helping external organizations utilize their existing resources to foster conversations around and celebrations of Blackness.
BHMF is organized by the Associazione Culturale BHMF, a registered non-profit in Italy. As such, BHMF relies on donations to make its work possible. To contribute to BHMF, visit www.blackhistorymonthflorence.com. For those looking to get involved with BHMF, visit the contact page on their website or reference the information section at the end of this edition’s program.