National Black Arts Festival: Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary!

Article excerpt

It seems impossible that twenty years have elapsed since the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) launched its first biannual summer festival in Atlanta in 1988. Founded in 1987 by Michael Lomax and sponsored by the Fulton County government, with some support from corporations and foundations, NBAF took wings under the leadership of its first executive director, A. Michelle Smith. In venues that stretched across Atlanta, attendees were treated to a myriad of performing and visual art presentations, concerts and speakers. In the ensuing years, under Smith and the successive leadership of Avery Brooks, and Dwight Andrews, the festival rose in prestige, becoming one of the most impressive festivals in the world that features the cultural output of the African diaspora. When the Festival ran into a rough patch in the late 1990s, founding member and former NBAF Artistic Program Director Stephanie Hughley came to the helm and restored the festival to its original vitality. Indeed, in 1999, under her leadership, NBAF took the next quantum leap and began producing the festival every summer while also initiating year-round educational and humanities programming. Today, NBAF proudly states: "The National Black Arts Festival is one of the premier national and international celebrations of the art, music and culture of people of African descent. The mission of the NBAF is to engage, cultivate and educate diverse audiences about the arts and culture of the African Diaspora and provide opportunities for artistic and creative expression."

Since its beginnings in 1988, the NBAF has certainly lived up to its goals. It is estimated to have impacted the lives of over five million people with its multitude of performances, art exhibits, film screenings, concerts and celebrity appearances. Equally important is its accomplishment in the face of the dire economic situation facing so many ethnic cultural organizations during the past couple of decades. As Hughley states, "The 20th Anniversary is a great milestone for the NBAF. In a time when so many arts organizations serving multicultural audiences have disappeared from the landscape, we can be proud of the fact that we're still here, and stronger than ever. For this major event, we've got an incredible lineup coming to help us celebrate. Simply put, this is a great time in the Festival's history."

And indeed it is. This summer alone, with the assistance of Hughley's dynamic associate producer Laura Greer, the insight of festival experts, the work of countless volunteers and staff, and the enthusiastic participation of Atlanta's cultural institutions, there will be over forty independently produced programs in the Festival. Offered in overlapping time schedules across ten days, the synergy between NBAF's extraordinary events will once again electrify Atlanta.

Some of the highlights of this 20th Anniversary National Black Arts Festival include:

Legends Celebration: An Evening with Gladys Knight. A Georgian by birth, Gladys Knight began as a member of Gladys Knight and the Pips which included her brother and cousins. The Pips retired in 1988 and Knight has gone on to a successful solo career that has stood the test of time. NBAF celebrates this legend whose career has spanned five decades and whose voice has "simply gotten better with time." (Atlanta Civic Center, July 18.)

The Amen Corner by James Baldwin. Directed by Andrea Frye. A scalding, yet uplifting masterpiece that addresses themes of the role of the church in the African American family, the complex relationship between religion and earthly love, and the effect of a poverty born of racial prejudice on the African American community. (True Colors Theatre at the Alliance Theatre, Woodruff Arts Center (July 13-August 3. …