Black Arts Festivals are trying to survive in a region and time when U.S. Afro-American arts from the people themselves aren't as valued. In this era, the exploited black voice that is pop culture is what attracts the masses. This doesn't mean that U.S. Afro-American arts festivals should give up, because all things popular will pass as well.
I lived in Atlanta in the 1970's to the 1980's before moving to Los Angeles. I participated in the festival as a visual artist in 1990, 1992 and in 2000 when it was held at Clark College. This was early in my career as I was transitioning from being a commercial photographer to a visual artist and was a good way to become visible and meet the icons of Black at that time. But times have changed and yes even though I'm from the boomer age group my art has changed and how I view myself as an artist has changed.
I feel that Black Art Festivals need to change and reflect the reality of the today and how the current and next generation of artists of color see themselves and their place in the global art world and global art economy. We need Art Festivals that make all cultures excited to come and see the diverse creativity of artists of color and not feel that only Black people are welcomed or that the art is only for Black people. As an artist I want anyone and everyone to see my work and feel that they can hang it on their wall because there is something that speaks to their soul not to just a particular race.
Thanks for this, Cinque. Hope you'll turn your radar to this weekend's Atlanta Jazz Festival, which is in need of a similar critique.
This reminds me of an old joke.
How many Californians does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but the light bulb has to want to change.
Why post anything? Nothing will ever change in the Untied States.
It's funny, those of us of (mostly) Scottish descent can hold an annual event in October like the Highland Games, celebrating Scottish culture, and no one calls us separatist or "self-segregating". And there's that festival in March involving lots of green........
But when darker-skinned people do it, all of a sudden it's considered a bad thing........at least by some people.........
The Black Arts? You mean turning people into frogs and speaking to the dead? Of course we need more of that in Atlanta. Hail Seitan!!
First of all to the commenter talking about self-segregating. Would anyone call a festival highlighting Japanese, Irish, Italian, Korean, Hispanic, Chinese, Russian etc. culture, self-segregating? The idea that Black people don't have the right to showcase our cultural and artistic offerings lone-standing, is racist and segregating!
Secondly, it is obvious, the writer (Cinque Hicks) has never attended the NBAF or bothered to determine its past line-ups. The programming has always been a mixture of established art and artists as well as the new and cutting edge. That's what a festival is about--variety-- which has always been a strong point of NBAF . Would anyone in their right mind criticize a festival that highlights acts like the Rolling Stones or the Joffrey Ballet as playing to the baby boomers? So why make such a claim when NBAF showcases the talent and artistry of Gladys Knight and the Pips or the OJs to sold out audiences? A relevant Black festival celebrates our cultural roots and spotlights our cultural future. NBAF did just that in a grand and wonderful way...giving headliner respect to the deserving, not just the new and flashy or the mainstream that worked in other venues. There were many events focused on the new and cutting-edge artists that could not have been considered on the sidelines. Many artists were given a place and a prominence that could not be easily found outside of NBAF. Brother Cinque needs to show a little respect.
As for its debt, that has nothing to do with the programming which was well-attended. To place the blame on the event is totally disingenuous. Very few if any arts organizations survive on ticket sales. Their viability is mostly determined by good-management and income from a combination of ticket sales, grants (both government and private), corporate sponsorships and a vigorous private funder base (when was the last time you contributed anything to the NBAF or another Black arts organization fo that matter?).
The NBAF under the leadership of its long time director Stephanie Hughley was well-managed. She put her blood, sweat and tears into maneuvering the organization through financial, organizational and creative gauntlets that would fry the brain and weaken the knees of anyone who has not been called upon to run an arts organization. When she left NBAF, the organization may have had debt, but it wasn't for poor management, lack of creativity (by either Stephanie and the creative staff) or lack of ticket sales.
For most arts organizations and black arts organizations in particular, the country's economic downturn wrecked havoc. There were serious reductions in available grant money (both government and foundation). Corporate sponsorship money all but dried-up and funder contributions plummeted. Throughout the country, most arts organizations were seriously pinched financially and many bit the dust (Black and other). To imply NBAF's financial crisis to something that NBAF had control over is somewhat misleading. If there is any blame, it would be that NBAF was ambitious and refused to settle for mediocre or second best despite its dwindling funding sources. You can't keep making chitterlings look and taste like filet mignon. Eventually, the reality catches up.
I am not from Altanta, but made it my business to attend the NBAF for most festivals since 1996. I even thought of moving to Atlanta to live in a city that would foster and support such an incredible festival. The NBAF's offerings were always so rejuvenating. My friends and I would bask in the fabulous variety of Black artistic works that so finely reflected Black culture and made us proud. Not only proud to be Black, but proud of the excellence of the artists who presented at the festival. The artists , even those from the "baby boom" culture, shared with audiences wisdom that was timely, authentic and helped to illuminate the way to our future. True art is never an either/or proposition. It encompasses all we are, all we were and all we will be. It opens the mind and feeds the soul!
Black arts organizations will always be "relevant", regardless of the conjectural notions and queries of folks like Mr. Hicks. Blacks arts festivals serve not only as a place to celebrate and honor those artists that have buoyed Black art and culture throughout their artistic careers (some at a high price), but also, serve as incubators for new and innovative Black artists who carry the culture but whose works and expression may not have caught on with the "mainstream" and therefor will not find a place in events geared to that "mainstream"....cutting edge or established.
My hat off to the NBAF and all who worked to present that truly magical event. Hopefully, like the culture it so agilely showcases it will survive.
Having a "black" arts festival is not at all "self-segregating". Races of all kinds are welcome to enjoy the festivities, to participate and exhibit their art. Calling them "black" arts festivals has sort of a guarantee of not being lost among the other cultures and arts at general arts festivals. Every culture has festivals in the Atlanta area and worldwide; Irish, Latin/Spanish, Greek, Asian, African, Caribbean. But, they are far from being considered racist or self-segregating. Its one of many cultures that we as Americans can appreciate and enjoy with friends and family. Although we would like to live in harmony and not talk about race, you can not deny that there are culture differences and those should be embraced not as being offensive but, as a learning opportunity.
Think of it as a chance for a "non-black" to experience "black" food, art, music and other cultural elements that you would not normally be exposed to. :)
Wonderful article! While I DO think the need for Black Arts Festival is still present, I agree that they need to change focus, programming and execution ASAP! The current model is not only outdated, it's boring. Young artists of African descent are breaking barriers, playing with new mediums and exploring a wide array of themes. The focus should be on exposing the world at large to the diversity of "black" art, it's ever rising place in "high" art circles and it's importance and relevance to the art world at large.
The need for the black community (or part of it) to continue to self-segregate themselves is outdated. There is NO need in 2013 to have a race-specific arts festival (or beauty Padget, or college fund... etc). You cannot demand to be seen as a human instead of a black human, and then self-segregate yourself when it's convenient to do so. Be part of the human race and stop zeroing in on skin color when it works, and blaming others for zeroing in on it when it doesn't work.
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