First Wave, a multicultural art initiatives at the University of Wisconsin, focuses on connecting academia, art and activism.

This past week, First Wave hosted the Line Breaks Festival, which acted as an expressive outlet for students through  dance, spoken word and film media.

First Wave is primarily centered around urban arts and hip-hop culture, and the festival’s art reflected these values. Thomas Valtin-Erwin, the program administrator at OMAI, said the festival ties into the mission of First Wave by connecting these art forms to academia and activism.

Valtin-Erwin said the Line Breaks Festival allows hip-hop to integrate itself into what is usually regarded as the “fine arts.” He said hip-hop has a kind of power that should be validated in the arts, in academia and in activism. Valtin-Erwin said the Line Breaks Festival helps illuminate hip-hop as a fine art and become more accepted in those topical areas.

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“Line Breaks is important because it illustrates the validity of hip hop in the fine arts and in academia,” Valtin-Erwin said. “That’s what makes hip hop theater so powerful — it demonstrates that hip hop is an art form with a lot to contribute to academic and artistic discourse.”

The festival was also helpful in giving the First Wave scholars an opportunity to professionally present their art.

Since it started as a series of performances, lectures and discussions in 2007, the Line Breaks Festival has evolved into a contemporary performance free to both the UW campus and Madison community.

Audience members could watch Tiffany Ike — who opened and closed the festival — present her documentary film “Dal: Stories of Black Motherhood,” Dequadray White perform his solo show “Love U(s) First” or a number of other performances throughout the five-day festival.

The festival extended beyond a means of artistic self-expression. It was also a call for action.

“The theme of this year’s Line Breaks Festival is a quote from Amiri Baraka: ‘The artist’s role is to raise the consciousness of the people. To make them understand life, the world, and themselves more completely,’” Valtin-Erwin said.

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Though the festival hosted acts with deep meaning for the performers and audience, it was meant to be fun. Valtin-Erwin described it as thought-provoking, but also as a fun campus activity.

The festival is primarily run by the First Wave scholar students, but some guest performers and directors are invited by OMAI to perform and also direct students in its production.

This year, OMAI invited and worked with the following performers:

  • James D. Gavins, performing arts director at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Green Bay
  • Natasha Oladokun, critically acclaimed poet and inaugural First Wave poetry fellow
  • Thiahera Nurse, teaching artist in Queens and creator of “The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic Anthology”

All three guests performed during the festival, and all of them held workshops in topic areas like poetry and writing.

Between the five nights of performances, there was an average of roughly five performances per night. The student and guest performers performed well, and all are talented, engaging and dedicated, Valtin-Erwin said.