THIS CITY'S light-splashed plazas, balmy weather and colorful
populace provided a hospitable backdrop for a roster of
internationally known artistic heavyweights who came here recently
for the National Black Arts Festival. Among those who took part in
the 10-day cultural smorgasbord: classical pianist Andre Watts,
legendary poet Amiri Baraka and acclaimed songstress Nancy Wilson.
Unlike many other events of this type, nearly every artistic
genre was represented in some way. The result was such a selection
of riches that arts aficionados were forced to choose carefully,
accepting at the outset that some worthwhile events would have to
Atlanta has long been unofficially known as a new black mecca,
inspiring talented black professionals from all over the country to
pick up their stakes and settle down in the city that's "too busy
to hate." Perhaps it was because of this reputation, along with its
potent mix of black political and economic power, that made Atlanta
a logical place to undertake something as ambitious as a national
black arts festival, which ran from July 29 through Aug. 7.
Bringing The World To Atlanta
While serving as chairman of the Fulton County Commission in
1987, Michael Lomax conceived of a national celebration of black
artistic contributions. A year later, Lomax's bold notion became a
reality. Since then, the festival has taken place every two years,
and it continues to grow from a good idea into a flourishing
As the festival has expanded, so has the energy and expertise
required to carry it off. A permanent, full-time staff led by
managing director James Borders oversees planning and
Before each festival, coordinators for the eight featured
artistic disciplines are hired and given a budget to produce events
in their respective fields. According to Borders, this year's
operational budget was $2.4 million, most of which came from
traditional arts funding sources such as the National Endowment for
the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation and other private foundations
and from major corporations such as Coca-Cola and AT&T.
Borders said the money helped festival planners arrange events
that were as inclusive as possible.
"We see this as a national festival, and we think that it is
important to have strong, propor-tionate geographic
representation," Borders said. "We try to make certain to reach out
to artists as well as audiences from every region of the United
States and from the Caribbean and Africa as well."
The international element to which Borders referred was readily
apparent to even the most casual observers.
Those on the lookout for foreign flavors could begin with a
concert performed by South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo, take
in a show featuring the Cuban music-and-dance group Los Munequitos,
follow up with a musical staged by Ensemble Koteba D'Abidjan from
the Ivory Coast, then relax while viewing a display of Haitian
beaded tapestries at a local gallery.
"We think of the festival as a compendium of festivals,"
Borders added. "It is a festival of festivals in dance, film, folk
arts, literature, music, performance art, theater and visual arts."
Poetry And Motion
The festival's nominal headquarters was the Renaissance Hotel,
where many literary and theatrical presentations were unveiled. In
addition, most of the participating artists stayed there. To walk
across the lobby was to wander through a whirl of sounds and
colors. Bits and pieces of conversation and laughter blended with
bright smiles and brown skin clad in everything from silk blouses,
crisp linen suits and Italian loafers to luminous dashikis, African
bangles and Birkenstocks.
Upstairs, in the Chastain Room and the Georgia Ballroom, the
literary events were a model of innovative programming. Panel
discussions and poetry readings combined well-known writers and new
voices with invigorating and often unpredictable results. …