While the physical space that housed the Baobab Cultural Center closed July 30, the question becomes how to continue to bring people together.
“We’re exploring how we can carry out our mission, given current restraints and the given the overall shift that was happening anyway,” said co-founder Dr. Cheryl Kodjo. “It could be that we deliver pieces online, it could be that we go to our different audiences. We’re not sure yet.”
Kodjo didn’t have a timeframe for reinventing Baobab, which she and Dr. Moka Lantum founded in 2005 to share their collection of African art and the influence of the culture.
They announced in late July that the center at 728 University Ave. would close. She said that in the days since, many people have expressed sadness.
“At the same time there was understanding in terms of the current situation of the pandemic,” she said. “I think people also are offering to be helpful with thinking about the next iteration of what the Baobab could look like. I’m touched by that. I’m touched that people responded and I guess it’s maybe at times like these you realize how something like the Baobab has touched people.”
Kodjo said the trend toward digital access of art already was having an effect on the Baobab. Then came the pandemic.
“We had our challenges before COVID, and as with a lot of institutions, it just brought things to a screeching halt for everybody.”
The timing was poignant, given current events and a need for a place for people to talk, share thoughts and promote education and understanding.
“We understand that, for example in the wake of George Floyd, that was a prime time to be able to have a well-mediated conversation,” Kodjo said. “At least having a place where there could be a discussion. Right now, that place cannot be physically at the Baobab, which is our M.O., that’s how we conducted business.”
Kodjo said the Baobab lacked the online infrastructure to hold such a forum.
“Let’s regroup and retool. How would we need to do this, what would it need to look like, what sort of programming would we need, what sort of ancillary things would we need to plan for.”
Kodjo said online discussions may not capture facial expressions, tone of voice or body language as well as being physically with a person.
But virtual is the new space, and she said the Baobab will have to adapt in order to achieve their goal.
“It’s just going to be different,” she said. “For myself, with everything going on this past spring, and this isn’t necessarily Baobab related, it hit me. This is the new normal. This is not going away. It’s forced all of us to look at things creatively and say it’s not going to be the way it was, but how do we move forward?”