The Wichita Black Arts Festival is set to return for Labor Day weekend. After a hiatus last year because of a lack of funds, this year’s event at McAdams Park promises three days with a broad spectrum of music, art, entertainment and activities for the entire community.
Organizers say it’s a time for people to come together and celebrate the rich contributions African-Americans have made to the world of art. It’s also a chance for people to experience a local tradition dating back 44 years.
“Back in the 1960s, when it was originally put together, the vision was to bring together the community during economic hardships,” festival president Dana McPherson said. “Organizers wanted to put on something so everyone could enjoy and take their minds off of things.”
McPherson said that the volunteer committee charged with organizing and executing the festival was determined to bring back a full-scale event this year after simply hosting a few longstanding festival events, including the Umoja 5K run and the pageant show, in 2011. Community volunteer support, donated items and business sponsorships have been vital in that effort. The festival will be scaled down in terms of there not being a big-name national R&B music act, but there will be a full range of activities that organizers think will be enticing.
“We are a scaled-backed version, but it’s not going to seem that way,” McPherson said.
The festivities will kick off at 8 p.m. Friday with a film lounge, where local filmmakers who have produced short films and documentaries will screen their works. That will continue at various points throughout the weekend. Saturday will begin at 11 a.m. with a Unity Parade from 17th Street and Hillside to McAdams Park, near 13th Street and Ohio, and be followed by a 12:30 p.m. opening ceremony, with speeches by Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and other elected officials. The food court and vendor area — open noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2 and Sept. 3 — has been expanded to more than 40 offerings this year.
Among other events planned throughout the weekend are a talent competition and showcase, a visual arts show, Zumba classes, a Sunday praise-in-the-park event (at 1 p.m.), gospel singing and a battle of the bands. On Saturday, actor, dancer and author Darrin Henson — perhaps best-known for his role as Lem Van Adams on the Showtime series “Soul Food” — will headline a line dance workshop from 3 to 6 p.m. There’s also Big Dan’s Show and Shine Car and Bike Show from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday that’s drawing cars from across the region.
Monday’s lineup includes a fashion show (at 1 p.m.) and a hair show (at 3 p.m.).
One of the main daily activities is the Greek Children’s Village, a first for the festival and something organizers are calling an important highlight. It will feature photographers, painters and other artists working with kids to teach them artistic skills. An 8-foot-by-8-foot mural will be painted Saturday and Sunday with help from children and displayed Monday on the stage for the final day of the event.
“The festival offers a time for people to come out and see the arts,” festival treasurer Elaine Guillory said. “It’s a time for people to come together as a community and learn about each other, the African-American experience and see a lot of positive things going on within the community. It’s a good way to say we are part of this community and we love this community. It brings the city of Wichita together.”
Organizers say the festival has attracted 4,000 to 5,000 people per day during its busiest years. This year, they are estimating a daily crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 people because of competing events that weekend. McPherson said that number could easily get much higher, though.
Guillory said that people of all colors will and do enjoy the event.
She also stressed the importance of people buying the $3 festival admission button, which will be for sale at various locations around town and at the festival. With staging, sound, rental fees, security, generators and tables and chairs costing more than $12,000, she said, it’s vital for the community to support the event.
“It’s always a financial challenge,” she said. “If we could get everyone to purchase a button, we wouldn’t have to fight so hard to get donations.”
There have been times, she said, when attendance has been between 3,000 and 5,000 but button sales have been below 1,500.
Both she and McPherson are optimistic that his year’s festival will be a successful return to a longstanding community arts tradition.
“It’s like a big family reunion for the whole community,” McPherson said.