‘Steal Away’ Public Art Exhibition Unveiled In Harlem

Photos: Jon Souza\ArtBridge

Harlem, NY — The National Black Theatre, in partnership with ArtBridge, RAY, and LMXD, is pleased to announce Steal Away, a public art exhibition created by renowned artist Xenobia Bailey. This 500-foot long exhibition is installed on the construction fencing surrounding the future home of the longest-running Black theater in New York City. In addition to NBT’s multi-floor space, the 21-story project, designed by Frida Escobedo Architects and Handel Architects under the direction of Ray, will include 222 units of mixed-income apartments and substantial commercial space along 125th Street. The project is Ray’s flagship location and first foray into building residential spaces that center daily engagement with art and design.

The exhibition is part of City Canvas, an initiative of the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs that transforms the city’s temporary protective structures into platforms for artwork. It will be on display until Q3 2024.

Exhibition photos are here.

The creation of this new commission by Xenobia Bailey articulates a relationship with National Black Theatre that dates back to the 1960s/1970s. It was then that she discovered NBT’s founder, Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, on Ellis Haizlip’s pioneering TV show Soul! Prior to this, Bailey had not seen Black women represented so dynamically in the media, and witnessing this would serve as the impetus for her formal introduction to the NBT ecosystem. Throughout her early career, Bailey attended workshops and courses at the theater that would inform and further develop the artist’s aesthetic. Also, would generate a friendship and mentorship with Dr. Teer. So as a homecoming this new commissioned work draws on Bailey’s vast and accomplished skills as a venerated creative visual artist, her love for people and the influences that guided her along the way. Through this new work, “Steal Away” reflects this long withstanding relationship, commemorates the indigenous caretakers of the land the Munsee Lenape people (NBT’s physical home sits atop of their land), and uplifts archival photographs from NBT’s history and previous productions.

“Harlem is the cultural Mecca, and National Black Theatre is a gateway that sustains culture through storytelling. When I first observed Dr. Teer after moving to New York, I was immediately inspired by her poise, strength, and conviction in beliefs. She was an anomaly that made me feel represented. NBT workshops provoked my imagination and offered resources that would help me fine-tune my aesthetic. ‘Steal Away’ is an open invitation to the community. I want creatives to feel the same outpour of imagination that NBT provided me. What they did to my imagination? I’m still running on that.” Xenobia Bailey, Fine Artist

Hear a two-minute interview with Xenobia discussing this artwork:

Says NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner, Laurie Cumbo: “The incredible National Black Theater and the incomparable Xenobia Bailey are a creative dream team, and I congratulate them both on this remarkable installation,” said Cultural Affairs Commissioner Laurie Cumbo. “City Canvas transforms safety structures like the one surrounding NBT’s future home into platforms for public art, and Bailey’s Steal Away powerfully delivers on the promise of this program by bringing this extraordinary work of art to the streetscape of 125th street.”

“Dr. Teer believed communities that have been pushed to the margins, especially Black communities, should regularly be in the practice of taking up space – with our culture, our art and stories and Xenobia Bailey’s 500 ft mural does just that. We are designing NBT’s new home with Teer’s perspective in mind – as a living land acknowledgment, honoring all that has come before us and as a symbol of the bright future that is yet ahead, forged by the ingenuity and sacrifice of our ancestors.  Commissioning Xenobia to christen our new chapter with her extraordinary work ‘Steal Away’ Is so meaningful as she was a student of Dr. Teer and works in the tradition of our ancestors, using indigenous technology to create her masterful work.  A proud Seattle native, Xenobia’s work metaphorically bridges our nation of Black Artistry from coast to coast. We are grateful to Xenobia Bailey, Commissioner Cumbo, DCLA and Artbridge for helping us wrap our vision like a hug around our new home.“ Sade Lythcott, CEO of National Black Theatre

“The National Black Theatre has since its founding been a haven for the creatives elevating the vibrant Harlem community,” said Laura Rog of LMXD. “While the Theatre undergoes the construction that will enable it to continue providing crucial resources to Harlem creatives and entrepreneurs in perpetuity, Xenobia Bailey’s piece will serve as a reminder of Harlem’s storied history as a home to the arts. We are grateful to our partners at the City and Xenobia for making this piece happen and continuing to enliven the 125th Street corridor.”  

Says ArtBridge Executive Director, Stephen Pierson: “We are thrilled to collaborate with the National Black Theatre and LMXD to showcase this brilliantly site-specific exhibition by Xenobia Bailey. ArtBridge’s goal is not only to beautify the City’s 300+ miles of construction fencing — we want to showcase local artists, while exploring and celebrating themes, cultures, and histories that are specific to the neighborhood of each exhibition.”


Xenobia Bailey’s “Steal Away”, one of three sides.  Photograph by ArtBridge

About City Canvas

City Canvas allows for the installation of large-scale, temporary artwork on protective construction structures — namely construction fences and sheds — throughout the five boroughs. City Canvas is a collaboration between NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, the Office of the Mayor, and the NYC Department of Buildings designed to improve the city’s visual landscape, while giving artists and organizations opportunities to bring their work to public space.

About Xenobia Bailey

Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Xenobia Bailey studied ethno-musicology at the University of Washington, where she became fascinated by the craftsmanship and sounds of the cultures of Africa, Asia, South America, and India. She later studied Industrial Design at Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, New York, where she was introduced to lifestyle possibilities through design. Today, the New York City-based Bailey is best known for eclectic crocheted hats, large-scale mandalas, and tents consisting of colorful concentric circles and repeating patterns. Her designs draw influences from Africa, China, and Native American and Eastern philosophies, with undertones of the domestic aesthetic of her mother and other African American rural and urban homemakers, and of the 1960’s and funk visual aesthetic. Many pieces are connected to her ongoing project Paradise Under Reconstruction in the Aesthetic of Funk.

Bailey has been artist-in-residence at Pittsburgh’s Society for Contemporary Craft, at the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation in New York City. She has exhibited at the Studio Museum of Harlem; the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York City; the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; and the Jersey City Museum. Her work is in the permanent collections at Harlem’s Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and Museum of Art and Design, in New York City, and the Allentown Art Museum, Pennsylvania.

About National Black Theatre

National Black Theatre (NBT) is a Tony and Emmy Award-nominated institution founded in 1968 by the late visionary artist Dr. Barbara Ann Teer. The nation’s first revenue-generating Black arts complex, NBT is the longest-running Black theatre in New York City, one of the oldest theatres founded and consistently operated by a woman of color in the nation, and has been included in the permanent collection of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. NBT’s core mission is to produce transformational theatre that helps to shift the inaccuracies around African Americans’ cultural identity by telling authentic stories of Black lives. As an alternative learning environment, NBT uses theatre arts as a means to educate, enrich, entertain, empower and inform the national conscience around current social issues impacting our communities. Under the leadership of Sade Lythcott, CEO, and Jonathan McCrory, Executive Artistic Director, NBT helps re-shape a more inclusive American theatre field by providing an artistically rigorous and culturally sensitive space for artists of color to experiment, develop and present new work. Working with trailblazing artists from Nona Hendrix to Jeremy O. Harris; helping to launch the careers, most recently, of artists such as Dominique Morisseau, Radha Blank, Mfoniso Udofia, Saheem Ali, Lee Edward Colston II, and Ebony Noelle Golden; and incubating Obie Award-winning companies like The Movement Theatre Company and Harlem9’s 48Hours in Harlem, NBT’s cultural production remains unparalleled. Located in the heart of Harlem, NBT is embarking on a historic major capital redevelopment project that will transform the current property into a 21st-century destination for Black culture through theatre. NBT welcomes more than 90,000 visitors annually; has produced 300+ original works; won 2 Obie awards and 58 AUDELCO Awards; received a CEBA Award of Merit; and has been nominated for multiple Drama Desk awards. NBT is supported by grants from Booth Ferris Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Ford Foundation, New York Community Trust, Shubert Foundation, Howard Gilman Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation, City Council of New York, City of New York Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, and private donations. Visit nationalblacktheatre.org or follow NBT on Facebook (@NationalBlackTheatre) and Twitter/Instagram (@NatBlackTheatre).

About ArtBridge

Founded in 2008 by artist and designer Rodney Durso, ArtBridge empowers emerging artists to transform construction sheds and fencing into a canvas for art. ArtBridge works with communities and artists to develop large-scale exhibitions that represent local narratives and cultures. ArtBridge’s exhibitions have provided prominent public exposure for more than 200 artists, and have covered over 50,000 square feet of public space.  www.art-bridge.org   instagram.com/artbridge

About LMXD

LMXD is the mixed-income development affiliate of L+M Development Partners Inc., one of the nation’s leading builders and developers of affordable housing. Building upon a successful 35-year track record on projects such as Essex Crossing and in New York and Banner Lane in Washington DC, LMXD’s mission is to develop transformative mixed-income, mixed-use projects with a focus on culture, community, and sustainability both within the New York region and across the country.

About Ray

Ray exists to perpetuate art and culture in the built environment. Founder Dasha Zhukova was inspired to apply her work within cultural institutions and public art spaces into a new category of the built environment. Dasha established the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in 2008, seeking to create a space devoted to the discovery and exploration of global art and culture. Her experience at the museum, particularly observing how people interacted with both the art and architecture, was the catalyst for launching Ray.

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