From the Top: Recap of Festival of the New Black Imagination

Saturday was jam-packed with lectures, panel discussions and readings and I am still trying to process it all. Lasting from 10 in the morning to around 6:30 in the evening, the festival started with the futurist and professor of management, Nat Irvin II, discussing the importance of futuristic thinking. His son is actually Nat Irvin III, who works with Janelle Monae in the Wondaland Arts Society. Irvin, who is blind in one eye, asked us whether or not we were thrivals, people who thought about and learned about the future. Going through the history of technological and scientific advancement of the world, he said we have come to the hybrid age, where man and machine are coming together. He said we have also come to an age where we have to pay attention more to ourselves because we have such a major effect on the rest of the world. Next, he gave us a quiz to see how much we knew about the world and what has already happened and it was an eye opener. So much of the things that we thought would have happened in the future has already happened and ideas that we thought would never have happened have already come to pass or are in question. The whole discussion culminated in him asking us to change our view of the future and identity, and using vision, insight and connecting with other’s ideas to open our eyes to the future. Read his work, “The Arrival of Thrivals.”

Then the panel discussions began. The first one was with writer Marcus Dowling, comedian Elon James White, musician Vernon Reid (check out his podcast with W. Kamau Bell, “The Field Negro Guide to Arts and Culture“) , playwright Dominique Morrisseau and writer Sierra Mcclain. Their topic was how to be progressive and still pay rent, focusing on how to insert oneself into a capitalistic economic structure, which doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, and still be true to onself. The panelists discussed the importance of stronger lines of communication between independents, being stubborn and passionate, thinking outside the box, accepting failures, connecting with audiences and supporters and using the basics of business, like marketing and planning but tailoring them to your business. Also, the panel mentioned that the audiences’ have a responsibility to support the artists with monetary support beause as White said, “I gotta eat.”

Next, was a reading to promote the New Black Fest, called the Black Literature ringshout. Axel Avin, Jr. read a passage called “I’d Rather Go Blind” from the book A Taste of Honey by Jabari Asim.The next lecture was from DJ 2-tone Jones and his work on the “Shaolin Jazz” project (more on that later this week) in which he combined the vocals of the Wu-tang Clan with Jazz samples. He spoke about how the project originated Gerald Watson’s project,” The Classic Series,”  and the various parallels between hip-hop and jazz. After, poet Tyehimba Jess did a fascinating presentation of his arabic poetic form, ghazal, based on the two minstrel performers, George Walker and Bert Williams.

Festival organizer, Rob Fields

After a short break, we were back with writer and musician, Greg Tate, who had a conversation with visual artists, Wangechi Mutu and Sanford Biggers, about their influences in their art and how their background, as an East African and an African-American, respectively, impacts their art. Some of the main points of that discussion were the concept of pan-africanism, the african diaspora reaching a larger platform, the politics and poetics of ethnicity and identity, code-switching, shifting identities and the collage nature of identity (reconnection, re-healing, renaming and remixing). Howard Duffy, an urban designer, gave us a lecture on going hyperlocal and making sustainable communities that provide neighborhoods with most of what they need.

After we listened to another reading promoting Black Fest. Danielle Brooks read an excerpt, “The Bridge Stories” from Tiphanie Yanique’s “How to Escape a Leper Colony” (the first major publication from an author from the Virgin Islands). A. Sayeeda Clarke, who I posted about earlier, showed her short film, “White” and had a small discussion with Shadow and Act‘s Tambay Obenson. During the discussion, Clarke mentioned that the lead actor, Elvis Nolasco, will be one of the leads in Spike Lee’s new HBO show, “Da Brick.” Sian Morson, Wayne Sutton, Crystal Campbell and Kenyatta Cheese did art and technology in which they discussed how technological advances can be disguised as art and how new media art differs from old art. Cheese also brought up an interesting point about hip-hop music being a precursor to hacking because people were taking what they have and “making do” with it (by the way, his cousin is DJ Cheese, who made scratching popular).

The day came towards an end with a panel discussion with Amanda Seales (aka Amanda Diva), Toure and Baratunde Thurston about “How to Be Black.” Toure read an excerpt from his book, “Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackess” and Thurston gave us a preview of his upcoming satirical book, “How to Be Black.” In the discussion, they spoke about the multiplicity of identities within blackness, how different generations dealt with blackness and racism, and  what unites black people. The second to last presentation was from Ali Muhammad, previously from Vibe and now of 21st Century Hustle, spoke about the entrepreneur mindset and the importance of “seeing it, doing it and being it” when it comes to starting a business. Finally, we ended with Lynette Freeman’s reading of the excerpt, “The Land of Beulah” from Danzy Senna’s “You Are Free.”

As you have read, this day was a long day, and I was too tired to even go to the after party. But I will say that I will definitely go to the festival next year; I learned so much!

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