VANTILE E. WHITFIELD
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Vantile Emmanuel Whitfield was born on September 8th 1930 in Washington D.C. He was the only son of Theodore Roosevelt Whitfield and Lugene Ellen Green. He has two daughters and a son (Elizabeth, Bellina and Lance).
Vantile E. Whitfield excelled artistically — he was a director, teacher, playwright, set designer, and was the founding director of the Expansion Arts Program at the National Endowment of the Arts (“NEA”).
Vantile E. Whitfield
After graduation from Howard University in 1957, with a Bachelor of Arts in Theater and Design, he obtained a Masters in Film Production from UCLA and began his career in the arts. While he wanted to work in the film industry, he turned to the theatre as the medium for his artistic expression because Hollywood was not receptive to African Americans in the early ’60s. Over the succeeding years, he became the founding producing artistic director of the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles (P.A.SL.A.), co-founder (with Frank Silvera) of the American Theatre of Being, founding Artistic Director of Studio West, and co-founder (with Robert Hooks) in Washington, D.C. of the D.C. Black Repertory Company. Through his work in these theatres, he taught and influenced many African Americans who are working in the industry today.
Vantile had written, produced, and directed numerous theatrical works. In 1963, he designed the sets, lights, and costumes for James Baldwin’s The Amen Corner, becoming the first African American production designer to work on Broadway.
Listed below is some of the critically acclaimed work he has had a hand in:
Changes — written and directed by Vantile Whitfield
“The originality lies in the attitude, a swift, almost uninvolved shorthand of developments that narrows into explosive moments.”
–The Washington Post
“Changes, was written by the director, Vantile Whitfield, it was moody and triumphant, in turn. It was story telling, polemic theater at its best.” –The Washington Afro-American
“Beautiful black knockout – terrific! Alive and exciting, ‘Changes’ exudes the pith of the Black American challenge: The struggle for identity, for name and history, the torture of repression, the soul of rhythm and blues, the anger of response, the exultation and celebration of life — however, hapless.”
–The First Folio of the Performing Arts
East of Jordan — directed by Vantile Whitfield
“East of Jordan is an unqualified success of every level and Director, Vantile Whitfield has flushed out the characters from Walker’s fibre to an amazing degree.” –The Hollywood Reporter
“Van Whitfield’s circumspect direction in vigorous, clever, sometimes beautiful, always sympathetic." –Los Angeles Free Press
Don’t Leave Go My Hand — directed by Vantile Whitfield
“Vantile Whitfield has directed this cry of the damned with a clear recognition of its visual and vocal horrors.” –Washington Star News
“Most of all, however, it benefits from Whitfield’s Direction and the close work with his actors. The artistry of his project is always in evidence.” –The Los Angeles Times
“Almost any show that comes under the Direction of Vantile Whitfield is bound to look good. It’s a sure thing that Whitfield will get the most from what a script has to offer and, in some instances, make it look good when it’s not." –Daily Variety
Vantile Whitfield also has expressed his talents in television. In the late ’60’s, he directed “Watts Rhythm and Blues Festival” and “Watts Gospel Festival” for KCET-TV in Los Angeles. This assignment led to his admission to the Directors’ Guild of America. He conceived, produced, and co-hosted “From the Inside Out” on Channel 11 in Los Angeles and directed the “Third Bill Cosby Special” for NBC network in 1971.
While Vantile is very well known for his own artistic work, perhaps his most significant contributions have resulted from his work as an arts administrator — through which he made it possible for many African American artists and arts’ organizations to receive funding to support their works. In 1971, at the National Endowment of the Arts, he became the founding director of a program he named the Expansion Arts Program. This program was designed to support community-based organizations’ efforts to express themselves through the arts. Michael Straight in his biography, Nancy Hanks An Intimate Portrait The Creation of a National Commitment to the Arts, states that:
Black nationalists and separatists who had looked on government as the enemy came to Washington to meet Whitfield. He in turn traveled through ghetto areas, searching for them… [He] formed his own advisory panel to assess the applications he helped to bring in.
Strait makes clear that Hanks, who had selected Whitfield, personally supported his efforts and trusted his judgment. Under Whitfield’s leadership and during his seven year tenure, he was responsible for making over $47 million in grants to these organizations.
After leaving the NEA, Whitfield continued to support arts organizations by providing arts services as the chief operating officer of Arts Media Service, Inc. In addition, he continued his own work as an artist and a teacher of artists — directing productions in Washington D.C. at the Rep, Inc., in Chicago at ETA Theater, and in other cities.
He has received numerous awards and honors — among them, the NAACP Image Award in 1969; Los Angeles Drama Critics Award in 1970; the ETA Creative Arts Foundation Citation in 1992 as one of the “Epic Men of the 20th Century”; a Jeff Citation in Chicago for his original adaptation of the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks in Among All This You Stand Like a Fine Brownstone, a production that he also directed at the ETA Theater in Chicago; and an AUDELCO Pioneer Award in New York City in 1996.