Alumna brings innovative ideas to Brooklyn community development corporation, NPR
Making change in communication and the arts is both a passion and profession for Dr. Indira Etwaroo ’94.
In January, Etwaroo was named executive director for the Center for Arts and Culture (CAC) at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration, a historic community development corporation in Brooklyn, N.Y. As executive director, a position created especially for Etwaroo, she oversees and directs the iconic Billy Holiday Theater, Youth Arts Academy, Skylight Gallery and Restoration Plaza’s Presenting Program that presents mostly music. CAC’s mission is to present, promote and preserve the artistic legacy of the African Diaspora
and further the artistic development of the community.
“My job is to bring all of these already successful arts-related endeavors under one umbrella and reimagine them from a multi-disciplinary point of view,” said Etwaroo.
And by leveraging the extraordinary energy now happening in Brooklyn, we can expand Restoration’s institutional identity, clearly defining the role that arts and culture play in advancing its mission and position in Brooklyn’s broader cultural landscape and beyond.”
Prior to CAC, Etwaroo was executive producer and of a new National Public Radio project called NPR Presents that creates a “live storytelling experience” by bringing together national and local news coverage, music, poetry and visual projections on a selected topic. NPR Presents programs start out as live events and are then available for download on the NPR website.
For example, “NPR Presents Water,” an offering from fall 2014, explored how the abundance or scarcity of water shapes lives and communities around the world. “Water” premiered in New Orleans, where the effects of Hurricane Katrina are still being felt, and went on to tour seven other cities, highlighting each location’s nuanced relationship with water.
“Nothing I’ve done in radio is really new per se,” said Etwaroo. “It’s bringing it all together that’s different. A colleague says the show is like living inside of an action docu-drama. That’s my favorite description.”
Prior to NPR presents, Etwaroo was executive director of The Greene Space—the events space of New York Public Radio—where she produced the American radio drama adaptation premiere of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God featuring Phylicia Rashad. She also produced playwright August Wilson’s American Century Cycle, which comprises 10 plays portraying the 20th-century African-American experience.
‘I don’t separate disciplines. To me they all belong together and do the same thing—tell a great story.’
— DR. INDIRA ETWAROO ’94
At NPR, where she will continue to contribute, Etwaroo said, what counts most is the integrity of the work.
“Participants are driven by the mission and not the remuneration. NPR doesn’t have commercial budgets, but it doesn’t hinder us from creating something very special and, I think, important.”
At Longwood, Etwaroo received a bachelor’s degree in classical flute performance. Looking back on her college years, she says two things come to mind: Farmville’s spectacular sunsets and being incredibly busy. In addition to studying flute, Etwaroo danced with the Longwood Company of Dancers and performed in theatrical productions. She cites the dance company’s director Rodney Williams as a mentor, describing him as an extraordinary force in the arts.
“I was constantly in someone’s rehearsal, or in rehearsal room playing the flute. That was my college experience, and it kept me out of trouble. I was a free spirit. In hindsight, I could have gotten into a lot of mischief otherwise.”
In 2003, Etwaroo, who grew up in Newport News, spent a year in Ethiopia as a Fulbright scholar, collecting stories from displaced Somali women. At the time, the Iraqi War had just started, she recalled, and anti-American sentiment in horn of Africa was high, but it didn’t present a problem for her.
“I blended in by the way I looked, and I was able to make my way around the city and towns. The women’s stories were heart-wrenching, but what always shone through was their extraordinary resilience.”
Professionally, Etwaroo wears many hats: producer, director and reporter. She has a Ph.D. in cultural studies with a concentration in dance, a Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies, and a master’s degree in dance education, all from Temple University in Philadelphia.
“I don’t separate disciplines. To me they all belong together and do the same thing—tell a great story. That’s what I’m doing in journalism. Never impose lines that don’t exist, and certainly don’t create them.” This is advice she regularly shares with young people, including her 12-year-old daughter, Zenzele, and a new daughter, Krysten, 18, from her recent marriage to actor Jerome Preston Bates.
“My career has sort of unfolded on its own,” Etwaroo said. “Initially, I thought I’d be a public school principal. But people encouraged me to communicate, to tell important stories. What I’ve found that’s important is to keep moving forward. Be brave, and try the next thing.”
By: Patrick Folliard