Wednesday, 29 August 2018 16:18

Diverse City: Returning festival celebrates African American legacy

Written by  Kayla Sosa
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This month, the African American Art and Music Festival is teaming up with ArtPrize to bring art, performances and great food to downtown Grand Rapids.

Lisa Knight, chairman of the board, is in her fourth year planning this annual event. It was created many years ago, but when its chairman at the time passed away, so did the event. However, a few years ago, the city partnered with Don Everett and many other artists to reignite the festival. 

“There were a number of people in the arts community that wanted to bring this back,” Knight said. “So the city of Grand Rapids helped us work with ArtPrize to bring this in, because we saw this as being an integral part of ArtPrize; to have a specific focus on African American art and history, especially here in Grand Rapids.”

The free event will take place on Friday and Saturday (Sept. 21-22) at the Calder Plaza, which will have ArtPrize pieces on display, food trucks and a wide variety of art vendors.

“That consists of different leaders throughout the community as well as some of the African American artists that have been entered into ArtPrize to be able to show off some of their work,” Knight said. “And then we open up with a drumming ceremony, the black national anthem, and then a variety of musical acts and performers — which could be dance, it could be spoken word, it could be rap, it could be anything.”

Friday night also will feature a live DJ and a movie. On Saturday, stop by the festival to check out a three-on-three basketball tournament and an outside roller rink. 

Additionally, there will be zumba, health offerings, kids’ crafts and games, and everything will wrap up with a live concert by Lakeside. Last year, more than 3,000 people attended the Saturday night concert. 

Future goals for the nonprofit festival include year-round events for the community.

“It’s just an opportunity to bring people together, to enjoy some of the things that we don’t see as much in downtown,” Knight said. “There’s not a lot of diversity. We have all these clubs and restaurants and businesses popping up all over the place that may have live music, but there’s still not a lot of diversity in that.”

Knight said that this is a great time to allow people to engage with cultural art from all minority groups. 

“(We want to) show the diversity across cultural boundaries in this community,” Knight said. “It’s not just African American. We also support Hispanic artists, Japanese — it doesn’t matter. We embrace everyone.”

Embracing everyone also means giving every person access to this kind of event. 

“People can’t necessarily afford all the time to go to the museum, and then they’re not really represented in the museums,” Knight said. “I think it’s important that we be able to celebrate this and celebrate it together without boundaries.”

It’s also meaningful to Knight and her board members to show the younger generation their history and culture and its impact. 

“Our young people need to be able to experience historical culture from the past to the present, and what better way to do that than through families sharing those things they learned from the past, sharing those different cultural traditions,” Knight said. “It’s looking at the different paintings and wondering where they came from, the history of their forefathers and the importance of art in African American culture. 

“African Americans were always onstage. They were always performing. They were always out there, showing their gifts and their talents and their skills. But they were never recognized for what they had. So it’s a great opportunity to show those gifts and for our young people to understand where they came from.”

African American Art & Music Festival
Calder Plaza
351 Ottawa Ave. NW, Grand Rapids
Sep. 21-22

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