UT organization Front and Center works to foster inclusivity in performing arts

Catherine Cardenas

When Briana Releford was recruited to join a performing arts organization called Front and Center in 2017, the group was almost inactive. Since then, she has become president of the organization and has watched the group grow from only eight members to 50 who perform regularly for the community.

Front and Center is a primarily Black performing arts organization created to support Black talent on campus. Releford, corporate communications and communication leadership junior, said the organization participates in spoken word poetry and musical talents but primarily focuses on different styles of dance. 

The organization puts on a spring show every year to perform and showcase its talents. At last year’s show, the group performed a majorette piece, a staple dance in Southern Black college culture, Releford said.

“We did a majorette piece, which is super huge for the Black community,” said Paris Vincent, radio-television-film junior and vice president of Front and Center. “We’re obviously at a (predominantly white institution), and so a lot of these things about the (historically Black college and university) experience we essentially don’t get to be a part of.”

Vincent said the feedback they received from the Black community on the majorette piece has allowed them to push the boundaries of their organization. 

“People were calling it ‘HBCUT.’ I think it’s really important because I don’t know where else, if we didn’t have this org, we could push to see something like that on this campus,” Vincent said.

Releford said an important aspect of the group’s creative process is giving the choreographers the freedom to make their own stylistic choices. 

“I like that (Front and Center) gives me my own creative freedom to put on whatever show I want,” Releford said. “It just really gives (the choreographers) a space to explore their own artistry. It gives them a space to create.”

Front and Center also aims to create an inclusive space. Vincent said seeing a group of Black women come together and support each other is inspiring. 

“We primarily have Black women in the org, so to see a group of those types of people all coming together and being really excited to work toward a show and perform — that’s my favorite thing about it,” Vincent said. 

Johari Weaver, sustainability studies and geography sophomore, said the group has allowed her to find comfort in her college experience by incorporating aspects of a historically Black college and university to UT. 

“At HBCUs, you always see Black talent,” Weaver said. “When you come to a university that’s predominantly white, you just feel kind of outside. Outside of everything that’s going on. When you have organizations such as Front and Center and you’re interested in dance or performing in some type of form and (you see) people of the same color or minority background as you, you just feel like, ‘OK, I’m gonna be OK.’”

Vincent said the support that Front and Center receives from the Black community on campus is inspiring. 

“Our community really shows out for us,” Vincent said. “It shows that we’ve really been able to create a space that actually has significance and impact and can actually be supported.”