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TRIAAC shuts its doors after 15 years

Founder Ketu Oladuwa makes new plans and looks for someone to “assume the mantle”

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


On November 8, the Three Rivers Institute of Afrikan Art & Culture (TRIAAC) brings percussionist Art “Turk” Burton and a host of other jazz greats to town for a pre-Veterans Day Tribute to Veterans at American Legion Post 148.

And that concert might be the last event that TRIAAC hosts for a long, long time. The organization, which has been around in some capacity since 1999, is “shutting its doors,” moving out of their offices on Breckinridge earlier this year and suspending many of the activities the organization has been associated with, like the spoken word and acoustic cafes it often organized and hosted.

Once again, the key word is might — this might be the end of TRIAAC. There’s a string chance that the organization may return sometimes in the near future. But when it does, it will be without its founder Ketu Oladuwa.

Oladuwa is perhaps best known in Fort Wayne for his work with the Three Rivers Jenbe Ensemble, a group that performs and promotes traditional West African music through education. The Three Rivers Jenbe Ensemble was formed in 1990 under the auspices of the Fort Wayne Dance Collective, before becoming a part of TRIAAC (we covered TRIAAC in detail in FWR #133). But Oladuwa’s work as a teacher and artist goes back over four decades, including stints in journalism and New York theater, and he’s been involved in many community-based arts projects. “Some of the best-known and most influential people in the city are creative folk who have their roots in artistic expression,” he says. “Some of the first people I met when I moved to Fort Wayne as a journalist over 30 years ago were poets and musicians who were playing in local bars, in house parties, at the American legion, who were playing downtown.”

In addition to the spoken word acoustic cafes and the Jenbe Ensemble, TRIAAC also organized the Breath of Africa Festival for several years.

But now, after managing TRIAAC for 15 years (the non-profit organization formed in 1999 and incorporated in 2007), Oladuwa simply wants to focus his energies elsewhere. “My son graduates in June, and he’s the last one,” he says. “There will be an empty nest. I’ve been in Fort Wayne for 31 years, and I just need a break.”

If the phrase “need a break” conjures images of some kind of retirement, Oladuwa’s plans sound a heck of a lot more interesting than, say, taking up fishing. “What I’m planning on doing is getting on my motorcycle and traveling across country, stopping at places of historic African-American significance, and tying that history to the current moment,” he says. “It’s really a research retreat that I’m doing. I’ll be blogging about it, and more than likely there will be a book and documentary that comes out. I’m talking to people about all of that now.”

“I’m really a poet and a writer in terms of what I do,” he continues. “That’s my identity. Journalism was something I did because I needed an income. Once the industry went south, went to corporate land, it just didn’t fit me anymore.”

With TRIAAC, Oladuwa was both administrator and artist, a dual role he says he certainly didn’t mind playing. “…but it’s just that ‘administrator’ took over, and I’m trying to re-capture the writer and poet. At 70 years old, it’s time to figure out who I want to be for this next phase of my life.”

Oladuwa says he’s proudest of the relationships that TRIAAC has built in the community, citing the Fort Wayne Dance Collective and the Center for Non-Violence among others. “TRIACC has always been about relationships,” he explains. “We developed organically based on our ability to form these relationships with institutions and individuals. The Three Rivers Jenbe Ensemble… we started working with these kids from middle-school, lower school… we still work with kids that age, but those kids we started working with are adults in their own right now. So TRIAAC was always this community built venture, and I think we were pretty good at that.”

As we said above, TRIAAC will probably continue. “I’m talking to some people about assuming the TRIAAC mantle,” Oladuwa says. “So hopefully, it’ll go on, and continue to host these activities we’ve done, but it’ll just be under ‘new management’.”

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