Celebration of culture fills downtown Kalamazoo with annual Black Arts Festival


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

Community members from Kalamazoo 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 concluded with an outdoor art and concert experience from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Event staff Jasmine Warren arrived early to ensure all signs were placed correctly and vendors were directed to the correct locations.

“I like it, it’s cool. I love how it takes up the whole block,” Warren said. “We’ll see, I know it’s still early days so I’m sure people will come out later today, but I’m happy for now. It’s not overwhelming.

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

“One of the reasons I like this art fair is because people are calmer, there’s not much going on,” said Soi. “For example, right now you find a 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 back and forth because it’s peaceful.

Some vendors took the opportunity to showcase and sell their own personal artwork. Carl Carter of Muskegon Heights brought full canvas paintings and smaller prints to make his art more accessible.

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

Later in the afternoon, other crowds began to gather as the headliners prepared to take the stage. In the concert area, attendees of all ages joined in as they danced, chatted and watched the performances.

Jackie Brown came from Indiana to enjoy the Black Arts Festival. She said she thought 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 side of the Mall and the Black Arts Festival on the other.

“Is there a benefit to mixing or keeping it separate like that? That’s what came to mind the most and it’s a very poignant difference,” Brown said.

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

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

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