Cash crunch halts Black Arts Festival

The longest-running festival in Wichita won’t see its 43rd year because there isn’t enough money to put it on.

But supporters of the Black Arts Festival expect to make a comeback next year — if they can get people to volunteer their talents.

The Black Arts Festival was to take place during Labor Day weekend but was canceled Aug. 12 when last-minute gifts and grants did not come through, festival board member Dana McPherson said.

The Umoja Unity Run/Walk associated with the festival will, however, still take place Saturday at Dr. Glen Dey Park (formerly known as Grove Park) near 27th and Grove.

The Black Arts Festival started in 1968, making it three years older than the Wichita River Festival.

McPherson has been attending the festival since the early 1970s and said he was “very disappointed.”

“It was a hard decision, but it had to be made,” he said.

The Kansas Arts Commission, which has been disbanded by Gov. Sam Brownback, contributed about 20 percent of the money required to put on the festival, McPherson said. The festival lost that money, along with gifts from some corporate sponsors. Other corporate sponsors donated, but the amounts were smaller this year, McPherson said.

The festival drew about 4,000 to 5,000 each of its three days, but most people did not buy the $3 button that was the suggested admission, McPherson said.

“We’re going to be regrouping, seeing if things need to change,” he said.

One thing the board has struggled with is finding volunteers to bring fresh leadership and perspectives, he said, and it also wants to add youth representatives to be sure the festival appeals to younger people.

“Help!” McPherson said.

“Basically we rely on a lot of community support.”

The Umoja run/walk is in its seventh year and has been growing in popularity each year, McPherson said, drawing more than 300 people last year.

Clark Ensz, who puts on many of Wichita’s runs, also directs this official run.

“It’s a very different crowd and a very enthusiastic crowd,” Ensz said.

“We get a lot of first-time people and people who maybe have only done this event. We still get some of the good running crowd. There will still be some very fast people, and we get a whole lot of people who aren’t. I always appreciate those people.”

The run/walk is a 5K — about 3 miles.

“5K is the popular distance now,” Ensz said. “5K is long enough that you know you’ve done something. It’s short enough you don’t have to be in really good shape to do it.”

The event also will include food and music. It starts at 8:30 a.m. Registration is $15 for adults and $12 for ages 16 and under by Friday at First Gear, 111 N. Mosley, or by mail to the Wichita Black Arts Festival Association at 2726 N. Estelle, Wichita, 67219.

There are discounts for groups of four or more. Registration the day of the event at the park will cost $25 for adults and $20 for ages 16 and under.

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