History, Present, & Future

Shidaa African Culture Project is a West African cultural education organization specializing in conducting workshops in schools and communities throughout Vermont and New England; as a way of promoting diversity through drumming, dance, fabric printing with Adinkra symbols, drum making, beading, and cooking.

Our History: Shidaa Drum & Dance Troupe – 2004 to 2019

The school educational programs of the Shidaa Project Inc. started in 2004 with a 1-day cultural workshop at the U32 Jnr High School. This workshop, which was facilitated by Emmanuel Riby-Williams, a then U32 teacher, and was instructed by Jordan Mensah as guest artist, was not only successful, but became the foundation for launching the group’s school educational programs. The two Ghanaian immigrants (Jordan & Emmanuel) used dance drumming classes to mobilize adult drum and dance students and enthusiasts from Plainfield, East Montpelier, Calais, Barre, and the State capital to study Ghanaian and West African drum & dance repertoires which the group performed at small community functions and festivals, as well as in schools across Vermont. 

From 2004 to 2019, our group facilitated scores of cultural education residencies in various schools across Vermont (please refer to Appendix 1 for the list of schools visited). Additionally, we collaborated with local organizations including Ballet Wolcott, River Arts of Morrisville, and the Summit school of traditional music to deliver drumming and dance instructions to adult community groups in towns like Hardwick, Morrisville, and Montpelier, a relationship that thrived over 12 years.

Diversity is our Priority 

Although the Shidaa Projects Inc. has deep roots in its Ghanaian origin, it promotes diversity by mobilizing drummers and dancers across multi-racial lines. White Vermonters, West Africans, South American, and all enthusiasts of West African dance drumming are instrumental in making the strong teams that foster diversity through West African cultural education in schools and communities. This is how we prioritize collaborations among culture. By using West African cultural activities to create the environment where everyone, irrespective of their background, can find a place to belong 

Decreased Federal Funding for Cultural Education

School cultural education in the last several years has been drastically curtailed due to reduction in government funding of the arts in schools, and this unfortunate situation has negatively impacted our school cultural activities in no small way. It is these present financial and other challenges that have made it imperative for us to explore avenues for revenue generation, including access to federal and corporate sponsorships to sustain such school programs which have undoubtedly made significant impact to the development of the school child. 

Present & Future: 2020/2021 and beyond (dba Shidaa Projects Inc. – A domestic Nonprofit)

Presently, our organization is recovering from its fair share of the life-changing and complicated impact of the Covid 19 pandemic of 2020. With the widespread lockdown, school closings, and covid restrictions, our in-person instructional activities grounded to a halt. That notwithstanding, with determination, we managed to: 

  • Create the Shidaa Projects Inc., a domestic Nonprofit organization
  • Branch out into our new innovation: Help-the-Needy Project through which large quantities of collected used items (mattresses, computers, bicycles, educational materials, clothing, electronics, and households) were shipped in two separate 40-foot containers to Ghana (in 2020) to help the needy and to explore revenue generation avenues to support our cultural education and diversity programs here in Vermont and New England.

Mara Stephens

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