‘The First Twenty’ surveys the first 20 years of the 21st century through art

‘The First Twenty’ surveys the first 20 years of the 21st century through art
Michael Mwenso in "Michael Mwenso Honors George Floyd." Photo Credit: Oluwaseye Olusa.

ALL ARTS Artistic Director James King introduces “The First Twenty,” which continues on ALL ARTS Sept. 7

As the new artistic director of ALL ARTS, it is my pleasure to announce the launch of our newest initiative “The First Twenty.” I have arrived at this point in time following a long and varied career in the arts, which introduced me to the concept of contemplating and investigating contemporary society and its challenges through alternative lenses.

The path I have traveled has been that of one who has sought inclusion, enlightenment and social justice, with art as my North Star. “The First Twenty” invites you along for a similar journey: to witness the impact unity of purpose and spirit has on communities and America at-large through the lens of art and culture.

As we begin our 12–18-month journey, the question to be considered is: “What has occurred in the first two decades of the 21st century that has caused a shift in the collective American consciousness, and how has that changed American culture and art?”

[Watch a preview for “The First Twenty”]

Our guides will be artists working across all disciplines in the fine, visual, performance and literary arts. With them, we will explore events that have caused a shift in the collective consciousness of our time. Each artist has employed their creative expression to create a stop along our journey that is a reflection of their personal insights, discoveries and hopes in response to a particular incident or moment in these first 20 years of the 21st century.

First up is “Michael Mwenso Honors George Floyd,” a powerful concert homage featuring some of today’s greatest Black artists, which debuted on May 25, the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s killing. With his international roots and inspiration from American music legends, Michael Mwenso is the perfect artist to launch ALL ARTS’ “The First Twenty” initiative.

[Scroll down below to find the most up-to-date schedule of works included in “The First Twenty,” which continues Sept. 7 with “The First Twenty: Afterwards.”]

Future artists featured along the way include playwright Enda Walsh (in partnership with Irish Arts Center), photographer Jeremy Dennis (a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation), National Black Theatre, poet Samira Sadeque and the Ma-Yi Theater Company.

Poet Samira Sadeque. Photo Credit: Tejeshwar Gurram.
Poet Samira Sadeque. Photo Credit: Tejeshwar Gurram.

There will also be a curated playlist of related public media content, editorial pieces from thought leaders and opportunities for you to share your reflections.

Our journey of discovery and contemplation began May 25 and continues into the fall and beyond. Be sure to check back for schedule updates as the series rolls out. We hope you’ll join us as we reflect upon “The First Twenty.”

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To welcome the initiative into the world, we are pleased to present the poem “A New American Sky” by Samira Sadeque, who keenly captures the spirit of “The First Twenty.” We will be sharing Sadeque’s work throughout the initiative.

A schedule of the programs included in “The First Twenty” this fall can be found below.

Remember, you can find us streaming nationwide on the ALL ARTS app and allarts.org, and in the New York Metro area on the ALL ARTS TV channel.

“A New American Sky” by Samira Sadeque

In the year 2020, in a year of deaths,
in a year of invisible numbers, in the mouth
of May, time came to a halt for nine minutes
& 29 seconds.

In these minutes, an entire lifetime birthed:
a call for a mother, a fight for a breath, a bystander’s
lens: creating one droplet to the next ocean,
one moment to the next revolution
sparking off a whole new sky

Today we stand here, beneath it, as it shines upon us
the stories the moments the poems
celebrating the journey of native lands and new languages,
the flowering of identities new and old, a space, a home
for the artists, the poets, the muses whose voices gave life
to all the years that brought us here, giving us a hundred
different, a hundred new ways to tell our truth.

Today, we invite you to witness this constellation of voices
spread across the new sky, making America’s backbone, so join us
through Fall & Spring, through summer of resistance and summer of rebirth,

join us as we watch & nurture each vertebra
creating this country’s backbone, shaking
it into consciousness, reaching for its stars
join us as we witness
the making of a new
American sky


Schedule for “The First Twenty”

Sept. 7

“The First Twenty: Afterwards”

[Watch a preview for “The First Twenty: Afterwards”]

Written and directed by Enda Walsh, an award-winning playwright from North Dublin (“Lazarus,” in collaboration with David Bowie; “Sing Street”) in partnership with Irish Arts Center, “Afterwards” asks the question, “From now on, everything will be different — but how?”

The 15-minute monologue, sensitively performed by New York-based Irish actor Sarah Street (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”), is an emotional look at how we absorb our past and how — even when our own memories become fragmented — the past is neither bad nor good, but utterly part of us.

Based in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, Irish Arts Center is a national and international home for the Irish and Irish American community, the evolving global Diaspora and culturally engaged citizens from anywhere and everywhere.

[Premieres on the ALL ARTS broadcast channel Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. Eastern.]

Oct. 11

“The First Twenty: Ma’s House”

Jeremy Dennis is a contemporary fine art photographer and member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation whose work explores Indigenous identity, assimilation and tradition.

In this verité short doc, he discusses the evolution of Native American art and building Ma’s House & BIPOC Art Studio, an artist retreat and communal art space on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton, N.Y., that will provide a safe space for free creativity and healing. The center, which will include a residency for BIPOC artists, an art studio and a library, will host an array of art and history-based programs for tribe members and the broader local community.

[Premieres on the ALL ARTS broadcast channel Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. Eastern.]

Nov. 9

“The First Twenty: 20 Years of Asian American Playwriting”

Created by Ralph Peña, producing artistic director of the Ma-Yi Theater Company, this 30-minute documentary film showcases the evolution of the Asian American playwright over the last 20 years, taking a close look at the shift in how Asian American plays are broadly perceived, as well as the widening scope of subjects tackled by Asian American writers that move far beyond identity politics.

Interviewees include theater luminaries: Tony, OBIE and Grammy Award winner and Pulitzer Prize in Drama Finalist David Henry Hwang (“M. Butterfly,” “Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida,” “Tarzan,” the Broadway musical); playwright, director and filmmaker Young Jean Lee — winner of the Guggenheim Fellowship, two OBIE Awards and a PEN Literary Award — who was the first Asian American female playwright to have a play produced on Broadway; playwright Mike Lew (“tiny father,” “Teenage Dick”), a Guggenheim Fellow and Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence at Ma-Yi; playwright Rehana Lew Mirza (“A People’s Guide to History in the Time of Here and Now,” “Soldier X”), a Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence at Ma-Yi; playwright Lauren Yee (“Cambodian Rock Band,” “The Great Leap”); and playwright and director Chay Yew (“Porcelain,” “A Language of Their Own”).

[Premieres on ALL ARTS Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. Eastern.]

Stream Anytime

“The First Twenty: Michael Mwenso Honors George Floyd”

“The First Twenty” launched in May on ALL ARTS with “Michael Mwenso Honors George Floyd,” a powerful concert homage featuring some of today’s greatest Black artists, on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s killing.


About the Series

Curated by James King, the initiative invites artists from diverse and traditionally underrepresented communities to create original content that reflects their insights, discoveries and hopes after the quantum shifts of the last 20 years. “The First Twenty” provides artists across multiple disciplines the opportunity to share their lived experiences, including how the creation and consumption of art has changed.

Additional new programming is planned for 2022. The works will be augmented by a curated playlist of related public media content on the ALL ARTS app and website.


“The First Twenty” continues on ALL ARTS Sept. 7 and will be available on broadcast, online and our free streaming app.

Top Image: Michael Mwenso in "Michael Mwenso Honors George Floyd." Photo Credit: Oluwaseye Olusa.