Black Arts Matter brings the voices of leading Black artists to Madison in its second annual event series. The festival’s goal is to empower those whose voices are often left unheard, specifically creating space for people of color. 

According to their mission statement, the Black Arts Matter Festival strives “to build community around Black artistry by uplifting Black art and Black voices in white-dominated spaces.”

It’s no secret that Madison’s white population is overwhelmingly larger than Black and minority populations, and the University of Wisconsin campus has a larger ratio of white students to Black and POC students. The festival works to counter this statistic and allow Black voices to be celebrated.

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Black Arts Matter was founded by Shasparay Irvin, a performing artist from Austin, Texas and the 10th Ranked Poet in the World in 2018. A UW alum, Irvin studied Theatre and African American Studies, found success in a number of popular slam poetry competitions and has been featured on Button Poetry, Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.

The program is also lead by Advisor Sarah Marty, a graduate of the UW-Madison Bolz Center for Arts Administration and an important contributor to many art programs in the city.

Together with Technology Advisor Wesley Korpela, another UW graduate with success and experience in UW Theatre, the team of leaders pour their local education and resources back into the community.

The first festival took place in the spring of 2019, and created positive feedback and experiences in Madison. Its success promoted another festival, which was quickly delayed from the spring to this fall due to the pandemic.

This did not stop the festival from bringing events to the community, and even allowed them to expand their reach to broader audiences. Thanks to the internet, Zoom and social media, the Black Arts Matter Festival was able to create a digital option for viewers that was even more accessible than physical.

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Nov. 5 at 6 p.m., the Festival kicked off with artist Ebony Stewart and her performance of “Ocean,” her award-winning one-woman show. Portraying themes of motherhood and womanhood, Stewart acknowledges what it means to be a woman and mother in our modernized world, especially as a member of the Black community.

A live question-and-answer session followed the show’s run, which allowed audience members to further connect with Stewart’s work and engage in the art form.

The second event of the festival was Nov. 12 at 6 p.m., and featured saxophonist and singer Braxton Cook in a live concert.

The musician’s songs exhibited a blend of popular music categories of Black culture, including jazz, soul, R&B and alternative. After, Cook hosted a Q&A and a workshop to discuss looping in music, which is essentially making a line of music repeat in a seamless manner. 

The third and final event will occur Nov. 19 at 7 p.m., and will conclude with a poetry slam.

Eight artists from across the country will perform and compete for cash prizes, but the grand prize is being awarded the title of best poet of the Black Arts Matter slam.

This, along with the other events, help bring Black-created works to audiences that may not normally view their work, especially in an artistic community predominantly populated by white creators.

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This year, the Black Arts Matter Festival is brought to Madison by the Wisconsin Union Theater. Other sponsors include the WUD Performing Arts Committee, The Capital City Hues, Wisconsin Arts Board, Dane Arts and Downtown Madison, who all have pledged to assist the festival in promoting Black arts and the creations of minority groups. 

Even after the Black Arts Matter Festival finishes its series, it’s crucial to continue supporting equality for the arts. All artists should have the opportunity to showcase their work and garner success within their craft.

That’s why arts committees, especially in Madison, are promoting arts equality and are empowering Black artists to showcase their work and have their voices heard.