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African Festival of the Arts Chicago Celebrates 25 Years

Posted by Admin On August - 28 - 2014
Annual event uplifts global contributions of African Diaspora; showcases transformative speakers, authors and pavilion hosts; emphasizes role of Art/Culture in violence prevention

Throughout the Labor Day weekend (August 29 – September 1, 2014), the African Festival of the Arts of the Arts Chicago celebrates its 25th anniversary as the world-class, end-of-summer destination for family fun in the historic Washington Park, 5100 South Cottage Grove Avenue.

Boasting more than 300,000 attendees, it is the largest neighborhood festival in Chicago. This year’s theme, Cultural Connection, is an opportunity to celebrate, promulgate and educate the general public about the shared rich cultures of people of African ancestry.

“It is with pride that we celebrate 25 years of exposing, and, in some instances, introducing African culture to those who never recognized its connection to their lives,” says Patrick S. Woodtor, founder and executive director of Africa International House, Inc., host of the African Festival of the Arts.

Each year, the grounds of the African Fest come alive as a simulated African village, replete with special-interests pavilions featuring African drumming; colorful and rich fabrics; hand-crafted fine arts; interactive demonstrations; health and wellness workshops; spectacular jewelry; children’s programming; author and book readings; and captivating entertainment.

“Our flagship event serves as an opportunity to remind those of us in the Americas that our culture derived from strong Black traditions and continues to colonize the world today through fashion, music, and innovative style. Moreover, it is because of our connection to the cultures and traditions of the Motherland that we can look back with dignity at the contributions we have made all over the world. And it is why we can look with hope that future generations will propagate and enhance the connection.”

Woodtor, along with his late wife, Dee Parmer Woodtor, founded AFA after escaping Liberia during the horrendous civil war of the 1980s. To survive and make a living in Chicago, Woodtor sold the family’s heirlooms and other valuable artifacts. The demand for this “art” made way for a kiosk in a local retail store; and then evolved into a shop, Window to Africa, which was located in the former Harper Court. It is there that AFA was born as a yearly showcase/customer appreciation sale. Today, it is one of the most anticipated end-of-summer destinations in the Midwest.

Cultural Arts Exchange
This year, the AFA Dee Parmer Woodtor Main Stage features a diverse mix of entertainment from local artists to international sensations to Grammy Award-winning performers, including Musiq SoulChild, Salif K-eita, Cassandra Wilson, and the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards. The stage opens 10am on Friday, August 29th with a tribute to local Chicago hip hop artists and closes Monday, September 1st (Labor Day) with the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards.
A full schedule will be posted on the AFA website soon. Featured Pavilions:
  • Bank of the Nile: Senses come alive as mouth-watering smells lead to a food court rich in delectable and authentic African cuisine. Experience exotic fare from the diverse cultures of Africa including egusi from Nigeria; wolof rice from Senegal; jerk chicken, goat-meat and fish from the Caribbean; and other spicy, appetizing dishes from across the African Diaspora. And don’t miss out on the distinct Cajun and soul foods from the different corners of the world.
  • Film Pavilion: (sponsored by Inner City Entertainment-ICE) View a variety of short and feature-length films that are produced by filmmakers of African ancestry and interpret the culture and experiences of peoples living in all parts of the African Diaspora. Enjoy free popcorn, get free movie posters and learn more about the Black World Cinema independent film screenings.
  • Fine Arts Pavilion: The Festival is world-renowned for its collectible fine art that includes original oils, acrylics, watercolors, pastels, charcoal, graphite, and works of limited editions, as well as sculptures in metal, wood, and mixed media. The best artists and works of wearable art and jewelry are featured in the Fine Arts Pavilion. Throughout the years, the Festival has become known for assisting in uplifting the careers of contemporary visual artists, craft-makers and art galleries. Importantly, the fine arts program continues to educate collectors and beginning collectors on art in general. This year’s featured artist is Sekou Ra of Regal Adornment, who will be joined in the pavilion by artists such as Karen Joy Gill, Uwa Hunwick, Woodrow Nash, Frank Frazier, Melvin King, Rondell, Stacy Brown, Nii-Oti, Dimali, Isodor Howard, and Dayo Laoye, who is also the pavilion coordinator.
  • The Drum Village: Come celebrate The Drum. The Dance. The Experience. Explore the influence African and African-American heritage has on the cultural arts in Chicago for more than 40 years. Master drummers Olu Shakoor and Baba Tyehimba Mtu lead this spontaneous and collaborative pavilion showcasing interactive music education sessions and cultural performances rooted in African traditions; historical artifacts, photos, performances, and demonstrations lead by artistic drummers and dancers from around the world. Bring your old drums for re-skinning.
  • Author and Book Pavilion: Browse and shop for great book deals then hang around to meet, greet, and enjoy readings by best-selling and emerging authors.
  • Quilting Pavilion: Quilting is an ageless tradition that has cultural significance across the African Diaspora. From slave codes to storytelling, quilting seamlessly connected generations of Africans to the Motherland. Festival-goers can visit the Quilting Pavilion to learn about the craft, gain insight to the intricate stitching and techniques like appliqué, piecing and embroidery. We also invite you to bring old family quilts for restoration lessons. Enjoy the breathtaking vibrant colors and fabrics that make this textile artistry a lasting cultural legacy.
  • Children’s Pavilion (hosted by The Institute of Positive Education and Betty Shabazz International Charter School): Youth of all ages can enjoy games, music, dance, storytelling, theater, arts, drum, and crafts all day long! Other highlights include a children’s drum workshop as well as a fashion show. Social service agencies will be represented in the pavilion to provide answers to family, parenting, educational, and children’s questions.
  • Dr. Nurudeen Olowopopo Health and Wellness Village (sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois): Join in fun fitness programs, Zumba sessions, dance, and exercise demonstrations. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois invites all ages to Try Your Hand at Tennis workshops held Saturday and Sunday during the Festival. Important health resources and screenings for the entire family provided by University of Chicago Medical Center Urban Health Initiative and the American Cancer Society.
  • Green Village Pavilion (sponsored by Blacks in Green): Visit the “walk-to-work, walk-to-shop, walk-to-learn, walk-to-play village” where experts and artisans share wisdom and innovation. Learn the 8 Principles of Green-Village-Building, and find our way back to neighborhood health/wealth and independence. Grow your own food, make your own clothes, recycle everything, and let storytelling, music, and dance form your foundation. Visit with artisans all day and touch, smell, hold, and create. Take tours from backyard gardens to the great outdoors with activities you never imagined. From 1-5pm, there will be teach-ins and performances. In the end, enjoy the many ways to lead where you live, increase household income with home-based business and land stewardship, and restore our place in the world!
  • Spirituality Pavilion: Engage or observe sessions and conversations with African priests, spiritualists, healers, nutritionists, and herbalists. Try the diviners and other readers to uncover your hidden paths.
  • Beer and Wine Garden: Enjoy the full-bodied, refreshingly smooth spirits, wines, and beers.
We’re social! Updates, giveaways and live coverage will be posted to our social networks:Facebook and Twitter. Use hashtag #AFAChi25 to follow live tweet-coverage and pre-Festival updates.
The 25th Annual African Festival of the Arts Chicago opens daily Friday, August 29th – Monday, September 1st from 10a-10p. The tax-deductible admission is $10 in advance; $20 at the gate; or $30 for a 4-day weekend pass; $5 for seniors and children under 13. Family and group discounts are also available.
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