Black Arts Festival Builds On Previous Legacy

Starting from Friday, Feb. 27, the 17th Annual Dr. Walter J. Leonard Black Arts Festival, presented by the Kuumba Singers of Harvard College, will celebrate the creativity of black arts with its wide spectrum of art forms and traditions. Unlike previous years, when the Black Arts Festival was a weekend festival, this year the festival will run as a week-long event with an extensive visual arts component.

The festival immerses participants in the celebration of the history and traditions of the black arts and opens up the conversation to challenging notions of blackness, art, and freedom. “It became clear that the Black Arts Festival...would celebrate the history and traditions of a life-force—the arts—that has sustained America’s most maligned people,” says Phillip Atiba Goff, founder of the festival. The Kuumba Singers puts on performances throughout the year, but the Black Arts Festival distinguishes itself from these show in the sense that it reaches further in terms of community outreach. “Extending Black Arts Festival was a direct result of people needing spaces that validate their existence in the way Black Arts Festival has done and will continue to do,” says Cecilia B. Sanders ’16, Black Arts Festival co-chair.

The entire week features performances, creative workshops, academic panel discussions, and other activities. Sanders believes that the biggest challenge in preparing the festival is legacy. “The Black Arts Festival has a long history: 17 years of celebrating black art, the politics of black art, the diversity of black art, the history of black art,” she says. “The Black Arts Festival has this larger purpose that we have been very conscious of since we started planning last summer. That is an honor, but it has also been a lot of pressure.”

To continue this legacy, the festival seeks to not only exhibit but also analyze the works and performances featured. “Not only does the festival highlight the rich history of black art and music, but it also investigates what the future of black art could be. The festival creates an environment for black artists from different backgrounds to come together to create and share ideas,” Sanders says. Black Arts Festival Co-Chair, Cherline Bazile ’17 agrees: the purpose of the festival is to generate dynamic dialogue about the different conceptions of blackness and the meaning of freedom to the black community. “I would like for people to think about freedom more critically,” she says. “Not as something that is all good or as the solution to everyone’s problems—not as something that was given during the Civil Rights movement but as something that encompasses a reconciliation of how individual black people see themselves and how they are perceived.”

Taking on a revolutionary form this year, the Black Arts Festival is more than a festival for entertainment. It is an unique experience that invites its participants to immerse themselves in the nature of black art and bound to be exciting and intellectually stimulating.




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