Celebration of culture fills downtown Kalamazoo through annual Black Arts Festival

KALAMAZOO, MI — The Kalamazoo Mall was alive Saturday, July 9 with the sounds, sights and taste of Black culture.

Kalamazoo community members and beyond gathered on the Mall for the 32nd annual Black Arts Festival hosted by the Black Arts and Cultural Center. The three day-festival culminated with an outdoor art and concert experience from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Jasmine Warren, a member of the event staff, arrived early to ensure all signs were placed correctly and vendors were directed to the correct locations.

“I like it, it’s chill. I like how it takes up the whole block,” Warren said. “We’ll see, I know it’s still early so I’m sure people are going to come out later in the day but I’m happy with this right now. It’s not overwhelming.”

Warren’s appreciation for the cool nature of the festival was echoed by vendor Hamidou Soi. He showcased African art, drums and clothing he sourced from Senegal and Ghana.

“A reason I like this art fair is because people are more quiet, there’s not a whole lot going on,” Soi said. “For instance right now, you find one lady in my booth, she doesn’t know me, I don’t know her, but (I ask), ‘Can you watch it for me’ so I can go and come back because it’s peaceful.”

Some vendors used the opportunity to showcase and sell their own personal artworks. Carl Carter of Muskegon Heights brought full canvas paintings and smaller prints so his art would be more accessible.

“This whole table right here expresses that, these are all small and affordable pieces of art that a teenager can come and get or someone who doesn’t have money can come and get,” Carter said. “All of these pieces are really big and if I was just to come out here selling canvases, only a small percentage would be able to take my art home so I try to keep everything affordable and quality as well.”

In the later afternoon, more crowds started to gather as the headline performances prepared to take the stage. In the concert area, attendees of all ages’ interests were peaked as they danced, conversed and watched the performances.

Jackie Brown traveled from Indiana to enjoy the Black Arts Festival. She said she felt the festival was rich in culture and had a lot to offer, in part because Kalamazoo is a college town. Brown was intrigued by the dichotomy between “Vintage in the Zoo” on one end of the Mall and the Black Arts Festival on the other.

“Is there a benefit to mix or to keep separate like this? That’s what mostly came to mind and it’s a very poignant difference,” Brown said.

With acclaimed Black R&B artist Lauryn Hill echoing from speakers in the background between a performance, Brown continued on to say it’s important that many people be exposed to Black culture.

“I think it’s important for any culture to be exposed, celebrated and valued,” Brown said. “That’s what this festival does. It shows the festival in various ways different levels, and it shows the value.”

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