This Saturday, Aug. 4, Black Arts Fest MKE, a celebration of African and African American culture, makes its debut at Henry Maier Festival Park. And it's coming in with a definite bang, as taking part in the inaugural festivities are the blues machine Bobby Rush, R&B hitmakers Tony! Toni! Toné and the godmother of rap MC Lyte.
The festival, scheduled from noon until midnight, is set to be a dynamic showcase of the diverse gifts of the African and African American community. And as an extra bonus, through a generous partnership with Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, the first 1,500 people that visit the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino tent at the mid-gate will receive free admission between noon and 3 p.m.
"As one of the area’s largest employers, represented by team members of many backgrounds, celebrating the diversity of our community is a priority for us," says Rodney Ferguson, CEO and general manager of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino. "We’re proud our sponsorship will allow free admission to the first 1,500 attendees who are sure enjoy what promises to be a fantastic new event."
There are four stages of entertainment throughout the day, with the Miller Lite Oasis serving as the headliners' stage with the aforementioned trio of legendary acts doing their thing there. An impressive slate of local acts will also be sprinkled throughout the event.
In addition, there is the Johnson Controls Stage which itself has an impressive line-up with two local acts both within reach of larger audiences headlining the evening. The ever-charming former "American Idol" contestant Naima Adedapo is featured, alongside Gabriel Sanchez presents The Prince Experience. The Prince Experience is a powerful engine that is well positioned to become one of the most popular Prince tribute bands in America.
Meanwhile, the Children’s Stage will offer many chances for the young ones in the crowd to get involved, with demonstrations of African dance – complete with workshops – and storytelling presented by the Milwaukee Public Library. Elsewhere, the Cultural Expression Stage is a wonderful combination of drumming, spoken word, hip hop and other expressions of African and African American heritage.
Black Arts Fest MKE will also feature a market square where many unique accessories and goods can be found, with many of the items being representative of or from Africa. While there will be many beautiful pieces for festival goers to take home, it also represents an opportunity to learn about and support many local businesses.
Families can revel in the Children’s Play Area, where they'll be able to find face painting with tribal designs, craft making with Discovery World and mural painting with the symbols of Africa with TRUE Skool. There is a place for everyone to be apart of the action at this festival, one that promises classic Milwaukee memories.
"Some wondered why 'Arts' (is) in the name. Arts (are) more than the traditional thought that comes to the minds of many. Art is music, it’s dance, it’s youth activities, it’s ware and textiles, it’s art in the traditional sense and, of course, it’s culinary," says Patrice Harris, executive director of the Black Arts Fest MKE.
The intent of the festival organizers is to work toward Black Arts Fest MKE becoming a three-day festival. They realize that may take awhile, but they are already feeling the love from the Milwaukee community.
"We could not be more appreciative of the support we have received," Harris says. "The excitement in the community, the support of our funders and sponsors (and) being told how elated people are that a festival is back."
This Saturday at the Summerfest grounds is shaping up to be a fun-filled, family-oriented slice of summer in the city. Come for the impeccable music lineup, stay to learn something about the often underrepresented, joyous and vibrant African and African American community.
"In this time of growing racial divide in our country, we also invite people from other cultures to come learn about ours and perhaps begin to dispel the negative perceptions some hold," says Harris.
OnMilwaukee is one of the event’s sponsors.
Tickets for festival are $12 for adults (ages 12 and over), as well as $8 for seniors (ages 60 and over) and youth (ages 8-11). Children (ages 7 and under) are free. Admissions for active Military and Veterans are also free. If tickets are purchased online (blackartsfestmke.sfgrounds.com/) now through August 3, the cost for adults is $9.