Columbia College Chicago Looks to the Future at Black Arts Festival
It all started in 2015 when Alivia Blade ’17 and Bri Heath ’17 hosted informal gatherings in their dorm room for black students to talk about their experiences at Columbia. Their gatherings quickly grew which led to Blade and Heath to found Safe Space Chicago, a “black artist community that seeks to provide a space for artist exploration, development, and self-care by cultivating conversations surrounding blackness in a supportive environment.” After the group continued to grow, they partnered with the South Side Community Arts Center (SSCAC). Through this partnership Blade and Heath connected with SSCAC Board Member and Columbia Humanities, History, and Social Sciences Assistant Professor Robert Hanserd. Together, Blade, Heath, and Hanserd organized Columbia’s first Black Arts Festival in 2018.
This year, two seniors are continuing the legacy by co-organizing Black Arts Festival in their final semester at Columbia. William Pettway, a Theater Major, became involved in the first Festival as a freshman. Pettway learned about Black Arts Festival from a class with Hanserd and ended up performing in the first Festival. Kierah King, a Dance Major, learned about the Festival when working with Hanserd for her Black World Studies Minor. As co-organizers, King and Pettway have been responsible for finding artists to perform or show their visual arts, figuring out the themes to explore this year, and organizing panels.
This year’s Black Arts Festival’s theme is “vision for the future.” “While it’s important to honor and look at black history, with 2020 vision we can look to the future and expand the possibilities for everyone,” Pettway described. King and Pettway have acknowledged and expanded on Columbia College’s “Arts and the Inner City” conference in 1968, the inspiration for the first Black Arts Festival, but have also emphasized Afro-futurist ideations. “We want students, faculty, and the community to feel a sense of welcoming, to feel heard, and to feel and understand that there is a place AND space for students of color to come share, promote, and discuss their work and even more importantly something that is on OUR campus,” noted King.
The Festival provides an affirming, community space for Columbia College Chicago artists who identify with the African diaspora to share work through theatre, performances, film, visual art, scholarly panels, and discussion, while critically engaging each other through roundtable discussions, audience interaction, and collaboration. Students from various art forms to work together with a critical lens to create impactful art to share with the greater Chicago art’s community, local arts organizations, and neighboring universities in the South Loop. It continues to expand on aesthetics, ideations, and authenticity of Black Diaspora. The Black Arts Festival is curated entirely by black students and alumni and is free and open to the public.
“We want students, faculty, and the community to feel a sense of welcoming, to feel heard, and to feel and understand that there is a place AND space for students of color to come share, promote, and discuss their work and even more importantly something that is on OUR campus.” – King ’20
After participating in the inaugural Black Arts Festival, it’s been an event Pettway has looked forward to each year. As a Theater Major, Pettway noted that the space is usually predominantly white, focused on stories that don’t speak to him. Being a part of the Black Arts Festival has created an affirming space and stories Pettway is excited to be a part of. “We have humble beginnings now, but the Festival will continue to grow as more and more people hear about it. I truly think it’s something special.”
“We have humble beginnings now, but the Festival will continue to grow as more and more people hear about it. I truly think it’s something special.” – Pettway ’20
Black Arts Festival is currently taking place on campus from February 20-22, 2020. It is curated entirely by black students and alumni and is free and open to the public. See below for a full schedule of this year’s Black Arts Festival.