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Badger Rock Expo Creates Space to Celebrate, Showcase Black Artists and Authors

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To celebrate Black History Month, the Badger Rock Community Center hosted its first Black Artists & Authors Expo in an effort to display local black artists and authors. 

The event consisted of at least 15 vendors showcasing their work from noon to 3:30 p.m. It also featured food from a local Madison caterer, as well as a DJ.

The expo is actually a pop-up event, part of the larger Badger Rock Community Market. For Black History Month, the center wanted to highlight creativity among up and coming artists and authors, said volunteer and organizer Tara Wilhelmi.

“It was my contribution to Black History Month. Two months ago, people were asking ‘what are you guys gonna do?’ I hadn’t seen something featuring our artists and so here we are,” she said.

The Badger Rock Community Market also came together about four years ago through Wilhemi’s contribution. 

“Almost four years ago, I had an idea,” she said. “I emailed my friend (Badger Rock Community Center Director) Hedi (Lamarr Rudd) and she said ‘well somebody else was talking to me about something similar to that, let’s sit down and talk about it.’ That was how we hatched the badger Rock Community Market.”

The community market was created to provide access and support for growing businesses. The themed expo was one of the newer aspects to the market, in which local talents could exhibit and sell their creative works. 

“I started reaching out to artists I knew and I got some connections from artists I know,” Wilhelmi said. “I started going into groups of black artists and authors and asked them to sign up. I also allowed people to sign up today for free. It turned out fabulously and our hope is that we continue to do this every year for our Black History Month event.”

Vendors at the expo included jewelry makers, painters, cartoonists and more. Some vendors had actually gotten their start at Badger Rock Community Center, like CocoaBean Skincare, an organic skin care line for sensitive skin.

The founders, T.S. Banks and Alix Shabazz, started working on a formula six years ago when they couldn’t find skincare that worked for them. Banks and Shabazz, who are also engaged, realized they had the potential for a business when friends and family persistently asked for samples of their product.

“At first it was just out of trying to treat our skin better,” Banks said. “But then our friends would come over and they would be dipping their finger in and trying it out. We were like, ‘maybe we have something here.’”

CocoaBean Skincare launched three years ago, and has grown considerably since its start. The line is sold at every Willy Street Co-op in Madison, and though Shabazz and Banks had their start at the Badger Rock Community Market, they sell their products at markets throughout the Midwest. 

“We’re a small, small batch, black-owned business,” Banks said. “We’re also queer, I’m trans and disabled. Things are not necessarily made for us. Nor are there a lot of businesses that feature folks with our specific intersections of identity.”

Additionally, Banks understands the importance of creating spaces for black artists and authors.

“I think it’s very important to have these expos for black artists, especially at Badger Rock Community Center because this facility is the heart of marginalized identities in Madison,” Banks said. “To have a space that features our voices and uplifts us is not only positive for our community, but it’s a way to pour resources back into us. People that came out today are not only black vendors, but our black community members supporting that.”

Other vendors wanted to break through certain stereotypes about nature and the black community, like author Dineo Dowd, who writes books featuring families of color participating in outdoor activities such as hiking or camping.

Dowd, who moved to the U.S. from South Africa, wanted to find books that related to her lifestyle but found that there was no representation for black people. She then decided to start writing children’s books to motivate other parents and kids of color to “step outside and enjoy nature.”

“There was an opportunity for me to just write children’s books that are related to hiking and that featured children of color where they can see themselves outside doing stuff like that,” Dowd said. “I really wanted my daughter to read a book, see someone who looks like her and be motivated because I feel like most black people are not represented.”

Wilhelmi hopes to change the narrative on the “poor, starving artists” with events like the expo.

“My hope is that people will come here today will connect with all these different authors and artists and invite them to do something else in the community,” she said. “Let’s keep them busy. Let’s pour into them.”