Living Objects Festival & Symposium 

Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut celebrated the rich world of African American puppetry in the United States with a four-day series of performances, presentations, discussions, film screenings, and workshops on February 7 to 10, 2019 in Hartford and Storrs.

Activities for the Living Objects: African American Puppetry Festival and Symposium took place in various venues on UConn’s Storrs campus February 8 to 10, with related festival events with UConn Hartford at the Hartford Public Library on Thursday, February 7, 2019, and at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art on Saturday, February 9, 2019.

These events were part of the Ballard Institute exhibition Living Objects: African American Puppetry, on display October 25, 2018 through April 7, 2019, which for the first time brought together historical and contemporary puppets, masks, and performing objects by African American artists and puppeteers. Many of the exhibition's contributors, as well as scholars from around the United States, came together at the festival and symposium to celebrate the past, present, and future of African American puppetry.

Exhibition co-curator Paulette Richards, a teaching artist and Fulbright Scholar, wrote that “since their arrival in the Americas, African people have animated objects in a rich variety of forms and contexts, animating objects to represent their experiences and identity.” The Living Objects: African American Puppetry Festival and Symposium highlighted such work by contemporary African American artists, while also contextualizing the evolution of African American object performance.




Friday, February 8

8 – 9:30pm
Throwing Voice: African American Ventriloquism
UConn’s Doris & Simon Konover Auditorium

Performances by ventriloquists Megan Piphus, David Liebe Hart, and Nate Puppets. 

Saturday, February 9

4 – 5:00pm
Harlem River Drive by Bruce Cannon

UConn's von der Mehden Recital Hall

Marionette performance for family audiences celebrating the history and diversity of the world’s most famous Black community. 

8:30 – 10:00pm
Double Selves: African American Puppets and Puppeteers
UConn's von der Mehden Recital Hall

Featuring A Conversation with Frederick Douglass by Tarish “Jeghetto” Pipkins, The City that Care Forgot by Pandora Gastelum of The Mudlark Puppeteers, Curled by Isaac Bloodworth, Lovely Day by Brad Brewer, and For the Love of Cats and Dogs by Dirk Joseph and String Theory Theater. 

Sunday, February 10

9:30 – 10:30am
Gospel Puppetry
UConn's von der Mehden Recital Hall

Featuring The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Edna Bland, and The Agape Love Train by Rev. Yolanda Sampson. 




Hartford Events


Thursday, February 7

4 – 5:30pm
Puppetry and African American History: Tarish Pipkins and Pandora Gastelum

Center for Contemporary Culture, Hartford Public Library

Tarish "Jeghetto" Pipkins performing A Conversation with Frederick Douglass; and Pandora Gastelum performing The City that Care Forgot. This free event was sponsored by UConn Hartford, Hartford Public Library, and Judith M. Zachs and the Zachs Family Foundation.

Saturday, February 9

10:00am – 1:00pm
Wadsworth Atheneum Second Saturdays for Families

Amistad Center for Art and Culture at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Performances of How the Sun Came to the Sky by Schroeder Cherry; and Paulette Richards’ “STEAM through Puppetry” workshop, led by UConn Puppet Arts students. This event was sponsored by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and Amistad Center for Art and Culture.



Conference Schedule

Download the Conference Schedule PDF


Friday, February 8

1:30 – 2:00pm
Keynote Address
with Living Objects co-curator Paulette Richards, introduced by John Bell (Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry)

2:15 – 3:45pm
Minstrel Performance and the History of the African American Puppet
Moderator: Bart. P. Roccoberton, Jr. (UConn Puppet Arts Program)

Amber West (UCLA): “Blackface Minstrelsy in American Puppetry”

Benjamin Fisler (Harford College): “Black and Blackface in the Performing Puppet: The Jubilee Singers, Ralph Chessé, and the Burdens of... Everything”

Paulette Richards: “It’s Not Easy Being Green”

3:45 – 4:15pm
Miss Lily's Living Objects Tour
With Schroeder Cherry

4:15 – 5:45pm

Puppetry and Community
Moderator: Michael Bradford (UConn Department of Dramatic Arts)

Yolanda Sampson (GO Y.O. Worldwide): “Power Puppets in Portable Pulpits: A Personal Account of Puppet Ministry in the African American Community”

Schroeder Cherry (Schroeder Cherry and His Puppets): “Playing with Puppets from Childhood to Adulthood”

Jonathan Walz (Columbus Museum): “The Marionette Show as a Correlating Activity in the Public Schools”

Lisa Sánchez González (UConn Department of English): “Pura Belpré's Puppetry at the NYPL Children's Rooms: 1921-1944”

Saturday, February 9

9:00 – 10:30am
Afro-Diasporic Storytelling and Culture
Izabela Brochado (Universidade de Brasília): “African Puppetry and Brazilian Mamulengo: Possible Links between Symbolic and Material Representations”

Nehprii Amenii (Khunum Productions): “African Spirituality, Puppetry, and Cultural Erasure”

Susan Fulcher (Matteson Area Public Library District): “Storytelling and Puppetry”


10:45am – 12:15pm
The Means of Production (film screening and discussion)
Featuring films by Tau Bennett, Pierre Bennu, Raymond Carr, Jayden Libran, Paulette Richards, and more


2:00 – 3:30pm
Representations and Appropriations of Blackness
Moderator: Michael Bradford (UConn Department of Drama)

Brad Brewer (The Brewery Troupe): “Creating a Puppet Production for the Smithsonian Institution”

Tarish Pipkins (Jeghetto’s Entertainment)

Valeska Populoh (Maryland Institute College of Art)

Nehprii Amenii (Khunum Productions)

5:30 – 6:30pm
Black::Body::Gesture: From Puppetry to Performance & Design
Dialogue with Gabrielle Civil (CalArts) and Kelly Walters (Parsons School of Design, The New School)

Sunday, February 10

11:00 – 12:30pm
Closing Session: Next Steps 
Moderator: Paulette Richards (Living Objects co-curator)

Panelists: Ra Malika Imhotep (UCLA): “Tar Baby: The Performance of Object”

Al Tony Simon (Inside Change)

Tychist Baker (Inside Change)

Discussant: Valeska Populoh (MICA)



Living Objects: African American Puppetry Festival and Symposium sponsors included: Judith M. Zachs and the Zachs Family Foundation, UConn School of Fine Arts, University of Connecticut Humanities Institute, UConn Africana Studies Institute, the H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center of the University of Connecticut, UConn Hartford, Hartford Public Library, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, the Amistad Center for Art and Culture, and Maryland Institute College of Art.