Holder project

The Geoffrey Holder Project

By Deserae E. del Campo

The Geoffrey Holder Project

By Deserae E. del Campo
Accessing the personal, archival collection of actor, dancer, composer, choreographer, and painter Geoffrey Holder

Throughout his enriched life as a performer and artist, Geoffrey Holder collected hundreds of mementoes, artwork, and keepsakes that could fill a warehouse. And he did—a 1,200-square-foot, climate-controlled warehouse in New Jersey preserved by his son, Léo Holder, to be exact.

“Among his many talents, Holder was an incredible archivist,” says Art and Art History Professor Erica Moiah James. “He literally had warehouses where he kept all of his collections, costumes, papers, videos, and of course his artwork. He had such a complete life and knew that his life could teach others.”

Now, with the help of a $200,000 Mellon Foundation grant and the determination of Professor James, Geoffrey Holder’s creative world will be available to scholars and the public through a new digital platform and print publication focusing on Holder’s life and his artistic influences.

“I’m interested in African diasporic arts, which doesn’t include only people of African descent but people who engage within that imaginary,” says James. “We know as scholars that accessibility to archival information is very limited in the Caribbean, so when it came to accessing Holder’s art and personal collection, we wanted to think about different ways in which we could deliver African diaspora scholarship to transform the conversation about Holder’s work as a multi-modal, interdisciplinary artist.” 

Geoffrey Holder was a man of tremendous talent. Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Holder embodied the life of an artist who displayed an artistic awakening as a Caribbean creative within the African diaspora and global black arts movement.

Holder, who starred on Broadway and created dance pieces for companies like the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, also starred in Hollywood films like “Live and Let Die” and “Annie.” In 1974, he won a Tony Award for best director and costume designer for the original Broadway production of “The Wiz.”

James, with the Holder family and researcher, Dr. Daniela Fifi, will organize the archive by making the items from Holder’s collection accessible to scholars and the public. The collection will be administered under the University of Miami’s Center for Global Black Studies.

“The aim is to give a fresh and critical perspective into Holder’s life as an artist, dancer, and performer for not only scholars interested in his work but for students here at UM who can learn a great deal about perseverance and the capacity of art to transform lives and perhaps the world,” says James.