Magazine article The Crisis

Arts Festival Celebrates W.E.B. Du Bois and the Diaspora

Magazine article The Crisis

Arts Festival Celebrates W.E.B. Du Bois and the Diaspora

Article excerpt


In a rousing tribute to the life, work and spirit of NAACP founder and renaissance man W.E.B. Du Bois, Atlanta's ninth National Black Arts Festival united a diverse crowd for 10 days of nonstop art, entertainment and scholarly discourse that thrilled the senses, wanned the heart and stirred the mind.

The July festival honored the 100th anniversary of Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk, while celebrating the African Diaspora. A rich menu of more than 200 family and educational programs featuring music, dance, theater, literature, visual arts, film and spoken word, forged bonds across genres, generations and geographic boundaries.

Founding artistic director Stephanie S. Hughley says the focus of the 2003 festival was to encourage dialogue among generations, "to discover how the work of W.E.B. Du Bois influenced our past and how it will inspire our future."

Du Bois tributes included: a staged reading of excerpts from Souls by a quartet of actors; a documentary film biography of Du Bois by Louis Massiah; an examination of Souls by author/critic Stanley Crouch, co-author of the recently published Reconsidering the Souls of Black Folk; a dialogue between author Thulani Davis and historian Manning Marable on the relevance and lasting impact of Souls; and a dynamic poetic opera, The Songs of Black Folk: A Soul Meditation, performed by talented hiphop poets and spoken-word artists.

Robert Rhodes, a professor of African American Studies at Ohio University in Athens, says the jazz composition, "Souls Within the Veil," by trombonist Craig Harris, captured the essence of Du Bois. "[It was] one of the greatest performances I've seen - a marriage of music, history, politics and culture that dealt with the Talented Tenth and the double consciousness that Du Bois wrote about," Rhodes says.

The Souls of Black Folk theme held special significance for Tamara Nash, an executive at Georgia-Pacific, an Atlanta-based paper and building products company, who says her maternal great-grandmother was a first cousin of Du Bois. "I learned more about him during this year's festival than I ever knew," she says.

"Connect. Inspire. Transform."

Marking the inaugural of an annual event, the theme of the 2003 festival was to "connect, inspire and transform" humanity through art. The festival had been biannual since its inception in 1988, welcoming more than 5 million guests over the years to experience the works of more than 25,000 artists from around the world. Hughley estimates that with some 800,000 people attending (up about 300,000 from last year), "the 2003 festival was perhaps one of the most solid, with a provocative program that encouraged audiences to take a look at where we have been and where we are going as a diverse community."

The array of exhibits, events and symposia explored the influence of African Americans on American art. The Gathering of Colors gala dinner - featuring Black, Latino and Chinese poets, rappers, dancers and musicians - demonstrated global multiculturalism in full bloom.

The Pan-African Film Festival featured scintillating African American, African, South American and Caribbean dramas and documentaries. It included a preview of the upcoming Hollywood drama, Civil Brand, featuring Michael Beach and produced and directed by Eriq LaSalle. In attendance at the film festival were such stars as N'Bushe Wright, Mos Def, Cedric the Entertainer, Danny Glover, Jasmine Guy and Sinbad.

Visual arts exhibits included African sculptures, South African prints, African American memorabilia and an exhibit of dolls called "Divas, Drama and Doll Babies." Sistagraphy, a collective of Black female lensmasters from around the country - included Susan J. Ross, Edith Biggers and Sheila Tuner. Images by Parisian photographers Phillippe Salaun and Gilles Perrin showed the resemblance of people in Mali and Peru.

Many enjoyed the works of artists Radcliff Bailey, Charles Nelson and Lillian Blades at "gallery crawls. …

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