Artist, activist and scholar Joyous Pierce serves as administrative director of programs for the Harlem Arts Alliance. At age 24, she’s giving aspiring artists in Harlem the opportunity to showcase their work to the world.
“It’s a very fulfilling place to be,” she said. “I am truly blessed and I feel like I have a responsibility to the community and to myself.”
A native of Falls Church, Va., and raised on Long Island, Pierce is a choreographer and visual artist herself. She is the great-granddaughter of famed choreographer Billy Pierce, best known for inventing the Black Bottom dance in 1920s.
“His creative spirit has inspired me to be expressive as I am in choreography,” she said. “I’m not a person to be in front of the spotlight, but whenever I hear music or any type of rhythm, I would see movement and dance in my head.”
Pierce later became part of the Alvin Ailey pre-professional program, where she honed her craft. However, while pursuing her degree at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, she decided not to major in dance, but rather in international studies.
“It’s always fascinated me to know why people believe in the systems that they do,” she said. “I was in undergrad as a dance major and took a political science course and switched majors. Being a Black woman on white campus, I witnessed racism and prejudice like I never have before and that really encouraged me to become Africana studies minor.”
Furthering her studies in Africana studies, Pierce earned her master’s degree at the University of London, where she majored in African politics. She later worked for the United Nations.
She began working for the Harlem Art Alliance in 2017. Since she’s been there, she has been part of the major restructuring of the organization, along with serving as liaison with major institutions and meetings with elected officials. She aims to give a voice to artists who might not otherwise get their voices heard as Harlem continues to go through major changes.
“The influx of a different energy and different influences in Harlem are challenging and strengthening the ability for artists of color to be the cornerstone of Harlem,” she said. “I don’t think Harlem is taking it sitting down. We are being affected but we are not taking lightly. There are people who are making sure that our voices will be heard. Harlem is such a vibrant place right now.”
Some of Pierce’s recent projects include the development and launch of Art Joose, a multimedia art discourse platform; a new choreographic work that merges the rhythms of house, hip-hop, classical and soul in a four-part piece that examines the creation of identity framed by racial constructs; and “I thought you’d be there…waiting,” a series of digitally augmented images through the imaginations of former enslaved persons, incorporating the work of Zora Neale Hurston.