Leading in Central MA: Gallery of African Art’s Zach Combs
Monday, January 13, 2014
Combs attended Connecticut College, majoring in Anthropology with a minor in African Studies, and a focus in Elementary Education. He was awarded the prestigious and highly competitive Watson Fellowship, which funds travel and research for a full year outside of the United States to exceptional graduating seniors. Inspired by the drumming he learned about as an undergraduate, Combs chose to live and study in Mali, West Africa for his year abroad.
A Conversation with Zach Combs
SW: How did you become involved with the Gallery of African Art?
ZC: After completing my major in Anthropology with a minor in African Studies at Connecticut College, I was awarded the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship for a year of independent study and travel abroad. My project was to study the “apprenticeship model for African drumming” in Mali, West Africa. There I apprenticed under Master Drummer Ibrahima Sarr, and conducted research on Malian culture in Bamako, the capital of Mali. Almost twenty years later, I heard that a lecture on Mali was being given at the Gallery of African Art, so I attended. Coincidentally, the speaker was a nephew of a musician I work with. I introduced myself to him in his native language, and our conversation caught the attention of Gordon Lankton, the founder of the Gallery. Our relationship grew from there.
SW: For those not familiar with the Gallery of African Art, can you tell a little about it?
ZC: The Gallery of African Art is both a traditional museum and an interactive educational center. The Gallery began with the private collection of retired industrialist and art collector Gordon B. Lankton. It has grown with the donation of several other private collections and includes masks, figures, household items, religious icons, vessels, musical instruments, tools, textiles, and jewelry. This diverse collection is crafted by hand in a variety of mediums including stone, bone, fabric, wood, shells, clay, bronze, beads, raffia, and gourds.
In addition to the collection on display, there are a number of interactive pieces to help immerse visitors into African culture. Ongoing art, music, dance and other participatory programming help us to inspire both an appreciation for African culture and a better understanding of African customs. The Gallery holds drumming and dance classes, group tours, in-school residencies and concerts.
SW: What was your career path prior to this position?
ZC: Since 1993 I have been working to develop a cultural bridge between the United States and West African traditions. I produced an instructional video on djembe music, Mali Djembekan. I also organized and performed in educational presentations, drum workshops, dance classes, and theater performances featuring musicians and dancers from the United States, Mali, and other West African countries. I formed Crocodile River Music & Media LLC, managed musicians, booked world-music productions, and developed educational programs, and corporate leadership events.
SW: What was it about West Africa that made this your passion?
ZC: It started with the music, but almost immediately grew beyond that. The incredible people of Mali really touched me. They are some of the best hosts I have ever been around, really making me feel welcome and part of the “family”. The wonderful art, dance, music and food really cemented it all, and now it’s been over twenty years of being connected with all of this.
SW: The Gallery is active in the community. What partnerships or projects are you working on now?
ZC: I am excited for the opportunity to lead the Gallery of African Art in creating working partnerships with New England schools, Clinton businesses, and community organizations in Central Massachusetts. This fall, we began to launch both outreach and in-gallery programming that will showcase African art, music, and dance. Through a recent grant from the Sun Hill Foundation, an outreach program is now available to 20 area schools. The grant provides matching funds to take schools on an interactive musical journey through Mali, Spain, Brazil and Trinidad, that we call Trinidad 2 Timbuktu. The whole-school assembly performance follows a day of in-school residency with instruction from master drummers, as well as a 1-month installation of pieces from the Gallery’s collection. The grant also will help fund 10 school field trips to the Gallery of African Art.
SW: Who or what has had the greatest influence on your life?
ZC: My grandmother June Lupkay, really made an impact on my life. I spent a lot of time with her when I was growing up, and she taught me the value of treating people well. She would volunteer to drive cancer patients to their chemo appointments, and I would often ride with her. She made sure I learned to treat everyone with respect, no matter their social status. That really served me well when I went to Mali, and has become a core part of who I am now.
SW: Your favorite quote?
ZC: “Dooni Dooni, kononi be nyaga da.” It’s a Malian proverb that translates as, “Little by little, the bird builds it’s nest.” That is exactly how we are approaching it at the Gallery, and so far it has served us well. It also gives our students encouragement to keep working on their drumming, as it’s so easy to play a djembe, but really hard to get proficient at all the techniques and different rhythms.
SW: What is something that few people know about you?
ZC: Most people who know me from the Gallery of African Art might be surprised to know that I am a total golf nut. I play with my dad at least once a week, even when it’s raining or cold. We take a trip together every fall to Mt. Mitchell North Carolina, and play every day for a week.
SW: What is on the drawing board for the museum in 2014?
In February, the Gallery of African Art will partner with Coffeelands World Gifts Espresso Cafe, in downtown Clinton. They will be hosting a series of free performances by notable African musicians in conjunction with lectures/demonstration in the gallery. We are so pleased to have such incredible artists. On February 6, 2014, Yacouba Sissoko, a Kora player from Mali will be performing and on February 20, 2014, guitar player Banning Eyre will be featured. Banning is an NPR contributor and Afropop Senior Editor. Other artists are being scheduled.
We are also planning a show of Ethiopian art for the end of April. Ethiopia is a connection point between the Gallery and the Museum of Russian Icons. We have some recent donations and loans of various Ethiopian artifacts, including Coptic crosses, basketry, wedding dresses, Ethiopian Icons, and other items. This will be the first themed temporary exhibit we are curating, and are very excited to have so much help and support from the local communities in this effort.
I encourage people to call me directly at 978.265.4345 to get involved or to get more information.
GoLocalWorcester presents Leading in Central Ma, a weekly profile of an outstanding community or business leader. Join us every Monday for an inspiring look at the careers and lifestyles of Central Massachusetts’s most influential citizens
Susan D. Wagner is president of Susan Wagner PR, a boutique public relations firm invested in meeting client's goals with integrity and creativity.
If you have suggestions for a profile, please email [email protected].
Related Slideshow: 14 To Watch in Central Mass in 2014
EcoTarium's Cox, who took the helm in 2012, is one to certainly watch in 2014. If you don't know Joe, he helped raise over $26.5 million at his previous post at the Galisano Children's Museum in Florida – and broke attendance projections in the process. If a track record of success is any indicator of a future one, expect to see amazing things at the Ecotarium.
Thanks to a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, EcoTarium will soon house one of the most unique exhibits in the country. A team of researchers led by Robert L. Ryan, professor of landscape architecture and regional planning at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, along with Worcester's Clark University and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, will integrate the science of urban systems into a new "City Science" exhibit.
Next City Manager
With Michael O'Brien's departure from the City Manager post he'd held since 2004 for the private sector, Ed Augustus got tapped from his Director of Communications post at Holy Cross to fill O'Brien's shoes – but for an interim basis only. The former McGovern staffer and State Senator will take the helm for nine months only, leaving the big question in 2014 as to who will be the next City Manager.
The next City Manager will have a myriad of issues to deal with, from economic development, to crime – a top issue as far as residents are concerned. Will the next City Manager address the fact that while more than 40 percent of Worcester's population is a minority, the City has more than 1,600 full- and part-time city employees and well over 80 percent of them are white. Will city government ever reflect the population of Worcester?
The Hamilton native, who did a stint at Syracuse before declaring for the NBA draft this year, is already making an impact as a pro.
In February, GoLocal's John Barone broke the news that Hamilton native, and Syracuse Orange guard, Michael Carter-Williams would declare for the 2013 NBA draft after his sophomore season.
Carter-Williams, a 2011 McDonald’s All-American at St. Andrews in Rhode Island, was drafted 11th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. He is currently having himself quite a rookie year, with 17.6 point and 7.8 assist per game averages.
Dr. Dickson, who was named President and CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care this past February, will no doubt continue to have an influential role in the community.
During his tenure to date, challenges have included financial and labor issues, but also oversight of major changes as well -- Dickson appointed a new president of UMass Memorial Medical Center, Patrick Muldoon, and embarked on closer collaboration with Baystate Health to improve quality, access, and affordability of care.
Republican activist and Boylston school committee member Brad Wyatt will definitely be someone to watch in 2014, having just announced he's running for State Representative.
Wyatt is eyeing Hank Naughton's seat in the 12th Worcester District, as Naughton's now seeking the office of Attorney General. According to the Red Mass Group, the district, which includes Boylston, Clinton, Lancaster, and Berlin is the 38th most Republican leaning district in the Commonwealth. Scott Brown took the 12th in 2010 63-36, and Charlie Baker got 51% to Deval Patrick's 40%. Could Wyatt see a similar success in 2014? Stay tuned.
The Holy Cross senior is no stranger to politics – both locally, and in Washington, DC, having worked as an intern in the Office of Communications at The White House (and before that both in the office of the Governor of Massachusetts and the Mayor of Worcester.)
As President and co-founder of the Worcester Student Government Association, Hakim told GoLocal's Susan Wagner, "Lately I have been describing myself as a pragmatist. I’m definitely a dreamer, but I believe the only way to get anything done is to make an honest assessment of where things stand and then go from there."
Who will get medical marijuana licenses in Worcester County will be watched for certain in 2014.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health in November released the names the 100 applicants for potential medicinal marijuana dispensaries who made it through to Phase 2 of the state’s licensing process. Worcester was named by 10 different applicants, more than any other city. The county itself has 14 finalists for dispensaries, more than any other county than neighboring Middlesex, which has almost twice the population.
Future of the T&G
What will become of the Telegram and Gazette will no doubt be closely watched in 2014.
GoLocal's Dean Starkman wrote in November of the scenario, "The Telegram and Gazette, a wallflower among New England newspapers that has suffered years of benign neglect by distant owners, seemed poised for a revival, after John Henry scooped it up as part of his landmark deal to buy the Boston Globe. Now a month later, he’s putting it on the block."
The potential future of the paper that has a nearly 150-year presence in the city and circulation of roughly 75,000 was broken down by Starkman. One of the major question marks is if new ownership would be local, or a return to a New York parent company.
The quintessential power player in Worcester has been a tireless advocate for the Commonwealth's tourism and visitor industry – with clear focus on developing the Canal District and the Blackstone Valley.
Giangregorio sits on the boards of Preservation Worcester and the Worcester Convention and Visitor Bureau, and also serves on the steering committee of Citizens for Business and as representative for the Canal District on the Mayor's Small Business Roundtable.
Be Like Brit
The legacy of Britney Gengel, who perished in the 2010 Haiti earthquake while on a service trip with Lynn University, continues to move forward through the Be Like Brit orphanage.
What started as a project built in her memory is now home to 35 children, and employs more than 40 full-time employees. According to the Be Like Brit website, hundreds of American and Canadian college students and other volunteers visit or volunteer at Be Like Brit each year.
He might have gotten the nod earlier this year for his cool factor, but GoLocal is putting Corazzini on our list of people to watch because of his "kid" factor.
While we feature the business and political minds needed to move Worcester – and all of Central Mass – forward, we recognize that the future of the Commonwealth depends on the education, and development, of our youth.
Waterman, the CEO of Girls, Inc., didn't always know she'd end up in the role of spearheading the 97-year-old organization in Worcester that allows girls the ability to participate in enrichment programs and get the tools, opportunities, and encouragement needed to grow.
A 20 year veteran of the mortgage banking industry, Waterman created "Divorce Mortgage Specialists" to help women in transition, before switching gears to head up Leading Women Massachusetts as President, providing cutting-edge leadership development solutions for women in organizations. Now, Waterman is setting her sights on the 100 year anniversary of Girls Inc. in 2016.
Central Rock Gym
Could 2014 be the year you start climbing to the top? If you haven't already been to a Central Rock Gym, watch out, because you could just catch the climbing bug.
Now in four locations in MA and CT, the gym offers climbing opportunities for all ages and abilities, and hosts climbing camps, regional, national – and international – competitions.
Trial attorney Paczkowski is as busy out of the courtroom as she is in – sitting on the Community Legal Aid Access to Justice Campaign Leadership Committee and co-chair of the Young Lawyers' Division of the Worcester County Bar Association, Paczkowksi is also the founding member and President of the Young Professionals Women's Association.
With goals of serving as a platform for women to share their voice on issues relating to the region's vitality, connecting with women through social and educational events, and providing opportunities for self-enrichment, the YPWA's esteemed found was recently named a 2013 Massachusetts Super Lawyers Rising Star.
- Leading in Central MA: Activist/Philanthropist Mary DeFeudis
- Leading in Central MA: Audio Journal’s Vince Lombardi
- Leading in Central MA: Joe Cox, President of the EcoTarium
- Leading in Central MA: Justin Jarboe, CEO, The Jarboe Group
- Leading In Central MA: Hospitality Entrepreneur Michael Covino