The Wichita Black Arts Festival, which began in the summer of 1968, has seen declining attendance and smaller budgets recently.
“One of the … things we don’t want to do — and we can’t afford to do — is operate it in the red,” festival association president Carl Stovall said.
To avoid being in the red this summer, the festival has kicked off an online campaign at gofundme.com to collect donations from the public. The festival has also started selling its $3 buttons — which are tickets to the event — at Roseline’s International Enterprise, a floral and gift shop at 21st and Oliver, and P&P Seeds and Bait, 1901 E. 21st N. Other locations are still in the works.
The Wichita Black Arts Festival Association, a nonprofit organization that aims to promote African-American heritage, hosts a “party in the park” each summer. The festival — which includes a parade, fashion shows, dances, local musical acts and artists — takes place over Labor Day weekend at McAdams Park. The event will run Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 this year.
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But in recent years, the organization has worked “in the red,” Stovall said, and put on smaller-scale festivals, but has never canceled the three-day event.
Stovall said he attributes the lack of funds to a poor economy.
“When the economy is more sluggish,” he said, “funds are down, and businesses don’t have the money.”
Besides the $3 button to get into the festival, the organization gets income from donations and sponsorships from other organizations and businesses. But some of them have either pulled out or are no longer in business, Stovall said.
Many people have speculated, Stovall said, that the festival disappeared a few years back. That’s not the case, he said.
“About three years ago,” he said, “our big festival part didn’t happen, but we still had a couple pieces to it.”
Because of smaller budgets, the festival has had to cut back, Stovall said. Typically, a national musician or artist makes an appearance at the weekend event, but the past few years, he said, they’ve had to do without.
“We know you have to give the people of Wichita something in order for them to support you,” said Elaine Guillory, the festival’s secretary and treasurer. Otherwise, “You don’t want to go to a party in the park on a hot summer day.”
Guillory has put together an online donation site, with a $25,000 goal, to pay for operating expenses such as security, generators and sound for concerts. Find the site at gofundme.com.
The Black Arts Festival began during a time of civil unrest, Stovall said.
Leonard Garrett, a historian and civil rights advocate in Wichita, founded the News Hawk, an African-American newspaper. His passion for the arts also led him to form the Wichita Black Arts Festival Association, Stovall said.
“He always believed people came together over the arts,” he said.
“It cuts across racial and cultural lines.”
And what happens if the the festival is no longer able to keep going?
“I think (people) would notice that they don’t have a venue to express their creativity,” Guillory said, “or express the things that they think are particularly important to the African-American community.
“I think that would be missed.”