The Black Arts Festival in Kalamazoo returns this weekend with big headlines

KALAMAZOO, MI: Like most festivals and large gatherings, the Kalamazoo Black Arts Festival had its free year in 2020.

Organizers are looking forward to this year’s lineup, which will feature great national talent, and making it the 35th year of the festival will help bring out the masses and make up for lost time together a year ago.

The festival, with the theme “An Impact for Change”, is scheduled for July 9 and 10 and, as it has been in previous years, will be organized by the Black Arts and Cultural Center.

Youth-led events on Friday, July 9 will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Douglas Community Association, 100 W. Patterson St. On Saturday, a music festival will take center stage at 10 a.m. at the Arcadia Creek Festival. Place in the heart of downtown Kalamazoo.

Related: A new art exhibition offers the black community a space to create after a hot summer

On Saturday night, music will be led by R&B soul singer Sunshine Anderson, who takes to the stage at 7:30 p.m., along with R&B, soul and hip hop artists Sammie at 9 p.m., and Eric Bellinger at 7 p.m. 22:30

“Our goal has always been to get very big names,” said Sydney Davis, who is in her second year as executive director of the Black Arts and Cultural Center in Kalamazoo. “In 2019 we had great local Michigan artists and now that we’re bringing in talent from Atlanta and Los Angeles celebrities, artists who’ve had popular songs, people are thrilled to go out and see them.”

Davis credited Bell’s Brewery for helping bring in some of the great talent.

Saturday will begin with gospel music at 10 a.m. and will also feature dance, AfroBeat, hip hop, jazz and R&B artists throughout the day and night. Daytime programming includes DC with The DC Quintet, Ed Genesis, Suicide Squad, Rhythm Life Collective and more. To see a full lineup, visit

The festivities of the day will be free for everyone from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and $ 40 for those arriving after 5 p.m. It is welcome for all ages and demographics, and people are advised to bring lawn chairs and blankets. Members of the Black Arts and Cultural Center will receive free admission.

On Friday, all events at the Douglass Community Association will be free, youth-focused and filled with career-oriented artistic development programs. Attendees will be able to experience African art and dance, virtual reality experiences, spray painting and drawing. There will also be free food.

After a year of rest, Davis recommends that all members of the community attend this year’s festival with the anticipation of more entertainment, lots of shopping, games and augmented reality art.

“Because of COVID, we had to be virtual last year, and this year we have QR codes available around our festival that you can scan on your phone to check out virtual art,” Davis said.

Similar to the popular Pokémon GO game, he said, people will be able to scan the codes and the art will appear on their phone. People will be able to interact with art, make it smaller or larger, and watch it fly and move.

Part of the inspiration behind the QR codes, as well as the move to Arcadia Creek Festival Place from LaCrone Park, was to allow people the opportunity to relate to art and the festival, while maintaining social distancing if they more comfortably keep their distance from other festivals. The festival will be optional for masks and there will be many disinfectant stations spread across the festival grounds, he said.

The festival will remain at a maximum capacity of 2,000 throughout the day, which was part of the reason for the $ 40 charge after 5pm on Saturday, Davis said. This year’s festival proceeds will help fund the organization’s relocation to a larger space within the Epic Center in downtown Kalamazoo, he said.

The cultural center will move from a 600-square-foot space to a 2,900-square-foot space this fall, allowing for more collaboration and work areas for artists.

“It will be a place of collaboration, with a practice room, a small cafe, some private art spaces,” Davis said. “We will continue to have a gallery, but we will also have a photography studio for rent and space available for the band’s practice, musical rehearsals and the like.”

The Black Arts Festival, in its 35th edition, was created in 1986 by Gail Snydor, Lois Jackson and James Palmore to foster community engagement and improve knowledge about black arts and culture. Its creation led to the founding of the Black Arts and Cultural Center in 1990.

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