It’s the Mother of All Black Arts Festivals

From the recognizable sounds of the O'Jays to the lesser-known art of Thornton Dial, this year's National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta offered a little bit of everything.

The O'Jays; Thornton Dial
The O'Jays; Thornton Dial

Unlike most art festivals that are congregated in one area or venue, the NBAF is spread all over the city of Atlanta and even into surrounding counties. While this can prove a bit frustrating for attendees who want to cram in as many sites as they can, it has the advantage of bringing many different neighborhoods and types of people into the festival. For example, the International Marketplace of more than 100 vendors was held for the third year at downtown’s Centennial Olympic Park, a central location that lured thousands of non-African-American tourists who normally would never have stumbled onto the black arts festival.

Attendees at Centennial Olympic Park were treated to a dazzling lineup of musicians on the main stage on Saturday and Sunday: Afro-Cuban jazz artist Omar Sosa, R&B crooner Donnie, British singer Julie Dexter, Atlanta-based jazz singer Kathleen Bertrand and Latin band Rio Negro, among many others. There was also a Children’s Education Village at the Park that offered games and activities for kids, in addition to a miniature replica of the boyhood home of Dr. Martin Luther King that sits on Auburn Avenue.

The NBAF’s version of DanceAfrica was on display at Georgia State University’s Rialto Center on Saturday and Sunday, with several exciting works spanning the African Diaspora curated by Chuck Davis, founder and artistic director of the African American Dance Ensemble. On Saturday morning, the public was invited to participate in a community master dance class with DanceAfrica. Apparently everyone made it through the 90-minute class without any paramedics being summoned.

Atlanta has received considerable attention in recent years as a new locus of black music. The reasons behind this well-earned reputation are explored in a new film, Diary of a Decade, which was screened during the festival. The documentary — which features appearances by Cee Lo Green, George Clinton, Roy Ayers, Erykah Badu, Cornel West, Jill Scott, Public Enemy and Andre 3000, among many others — traces Atlanta’s musical heritage and chronicles the generation of artists who have emerged in the past decade.

The primary fundraising tool of the NBAF is its annual black-tie gala, which was a dedication to the achievements of African Americans in the film industry, held at the Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead. The men wore tuxedos and the ladies wore black and white gowns as they danced the night away to big-band tunes and participated in live and silent auctions in a ballroom decked out in Hollywood-inspired décor.

This is just a sampling of the arts feast that Atlanta presented at this fabulous event. If you live near Atlanta, or even if you don’t, it’s not too early to start making plans to hit up the capital of the South next July. It’s no risk at all to guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

Nick Chiles is a writer based in metro Atlanta.

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