From its earliest days as a shopfront theater in Downtown's Edge district, Ekundayo Bandele's Hattiloo Theatre aimed to become a melting pot for artists from various disciplines. The lobby space doubled as Zora's Lounge showcasing poetry, comedy, and music. "We were always committed to helping in whatever way we could, to help other artists of color in the city," Bandele says. When his theater started to attract attention, he took advantage of the moment to launch an annual spring festival in the park. "We didn't just want to showcase theater," Bandele says. "We wanted to show the breadth of what was available in the arts locally."
For the past seven years, Black Arts Festival has brought the spirit of Zora's Lounge to Overton Park's Veterans Plaza. The event features dance, a variety of musical performance, spoken word artists, and hip-hop.
"Out of the 10 acts we showcase every year, I would say at least seven of them are regulars," Bandele says ticking off creative partners like the Memphis Black Arts Alliance, Blues City Cultural Center, and SubRoy Dance Studios.
In addition to all of the performers, this year's festival is expanding to include a 20x20 tent displaying work by 10 visual artists. "All of this is free," Bandele says. "We've got DJ AO, and I'm always excited to see SubRoy because they represent all the dance forms found here in the city."
"We're making it more comfortable this year," Bandele adds, acknowledging that May's weather can be tricky. "We get families, and older people out. So we're adding some big umbrellas for shade."