The founder of the twenty-one-year-old Elegba Folklore Society in Richmond, Va., Janine Yvette Bell is a multifaceted African Diaspora culture and heritage professional. Elegba, from the Yoruba cosmology of West Africa, is an Orisa or intercessor who opens the roads, bringing clarity out of confusion. The Elegba Folklore Society is a year-round, lively celebration of African and African American culture.
As its administrative and artistic director, Bell manages the entire full-service cultural arts and education organization that specializes in festivals, events, performing, teaching, visual arts presentations and cultural history tours. A visionary who knows where she wants to take the Elegba Folklore Society, she insures its quality through her own strong leadership abilities and through ongoing relationships with specialists in the field. "Because I recognize the importance of art as a business and as an educational tool, I am committed to building an organization that withstands the test of time," says Bell.
The Elegba Folklore Society has received the distinction of being Richmond’s Cultural Ambassador, an honor bestowed by the city, where Bell is a member of the Richmond Center Stage Resident Company Association and an appointee to the Mayor’s Tourism Commission. A former member of the steering committee of the Richmond Folk Festival and board of directors of the Alliance for the Performing Arts, she represents the Society as a founding member of CultureWorks, where she was selected to Richmond’s Cultural Plan Task Force. The UNC-Chapel Hill graduate has also served on the city’s Landmark Theatre Study Commission and as a mentor for youth seeking career guidance in the arts professions.
Certified by New York’s Kennedy Center, her exceptional work with the Elegba Folklore Society has also been recognized by other cultural centers and organizations including the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Dance Africa, New York’s Mandela Cultural Center, Women in Theatre, Nubian Village Academy and Writers’ Block International. Under Bell's leadership the society has received the coveted Teresa Pollak Prize for Excellence in the Arts, Baltimore’s Mayor’s Citation for Excellence in Community Service, the Defender of the Year Award and the Balafon West African Dance Company’s Legacy Award.
In addition to daily operations, Bell develops and directs the Elegba Folklore Society's three major annual festivals: 'Juneteenth: A Freedom Celebration', 'Down Home Family Reunion' and 'Capital City Kwanzaa'. She also creates and guides cultural history tours as a solo interpreter and sometimes with an artistic ensemble. Among tours she conducts is the Richmond Slave Trail that she helped the city to put in place. When doing this tour, participants get to experience a slave reenactment and learn about some of the many black heritage sites in Richmond. Bell is also in charge of the Elegba Society’s Cultural Center where she curates, mounts and markets art exhibitions throughout the year. Corollary programming at the center includes gallery tours, art-making classes, invited performances, discussion groups and receptions.
A dancer, folklorist and cultural historian wrapped all in one, she creates repertoire, provides artistic direction and leads performances in concerts and dance theatre throughout a multi-state region and internationally. She has performed African dance professionally since 1981 and has studied dance and drumming with noted Senegalese artists and Nigerian master drummers, as well as with other artistic greats from Trinidad, New Guinea, Ghana and Cote D'Ivoire. "Participating in dance and cultural performances in Senegal, Europe and Cuba, and artist retreats in places like Jamaica have allowed me to broaden my worldviews and cultural connections," says Bell.
An advocate for blending culture, heritage and art in education, she collaborates with schools and educational institutions to promote multicultural awareness. As the representative of the Elegba Folklore Society’s, she has also served as artist-in-residence in schools, in after-school and summer programs and at universities. Because she is committed to art education, she has worked with the Governance Committee of the Arts Council of Richmond's Partners in the Arts, an arts-in-education initiative, and as an adjunct professor in department of dramatic arts and dance at the University of Mary Washington.
In addition to all of her artistic and administrative abilities, Bell is also skilled in the field of communications. Her primary focus as a communications specialist is public relations, promotions and media, but she also delivers equally as well doing profiles, proposals, critiques and travel writing – domestically and internationally. Having been called “very persuasive” by Virginia’s former governor, the Honorable Timothy M. Kaine, Bell’s style and command of language gets the message across whether written or oral. Never tiring, she continuously designs and executes PR and promotional campaigns for the Elegba Folklore Society, and has landed numerous front page and cover stories for newspapers and magazines, and also features for television and radio.
In addition to her degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Bell has done graduate work there as a Carnegie-Mellon Fellow. She has also done post-graduate study at Sangamon University in Illinois and John Tyler Community College in Virginia. For more information on Bell and the Elegba Folklore Society, visit www.efsinc.org.