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Annual Black Arts Matter Festival, virtual this year, provides space for Black artists


The annual Black Arts Matter (BAM) Festival, in partnership with the Wisconsin Union Theater, will return for its second year on November 5th, 12th, and 19th. Due to the current global health crisis, however, the event will be held completely online.

Despite the event’s inability to provide an in-person experience this year, founding sister and artistic director of the BAM festival, Shasparay, noted that the virtual space has allowed for greater attendance.

“People from all over can now join. So, people who were excited about the festival who didn’t get to attend [last year, can now attend,]” Shasparay said.

The event will feature three performances over three days including Ebony Stewart’s one-woman show, OCEAN, a jazz show performance by Braxton Cook, and a poetry slam featuring eight world-renowned poets.

Every artist featured will be a self-identifying Black artist.

Shasparay noted that the festival is a celebration of Black arts.

“I wanted to expose my friends to what I was going through and expose Madison to Black artists,” Shasparay said. “I wanted to give a platform [for Black artists] in a white-centered space.”

Shasparay further emphasized that beyond giving space for Black artists, the festival also allows for white people to listen to Black experiences through art and reflect on their whiteness.

“I think that this festival was important to the primary audience, which was white folks and white people, that’s who showed up [last year]…I think that art really is a way for people to enter into a conversation and even if that’s a conversation with themselves, the space between a stage and an audience member makes them feel safe.”

In the future, Shasparay hopes that the festival can expand beyond the Madison community to expose other white-centric spaces to Black art.  

“I’m interested in mobilizing the festival into something that I can propose to other predominantly white universities to put on in other locations,” Shasparay said. “So that the BAM festival is a package that a university can buy and have it their university.”


Registration for the event is still ongoing and can be found on the Wisconsin Union website.