Reminiscent of all the positives of the former Milwaukee Afro Fest, the 2022 Black Milwaukee Arts Festival was heavy on the wide spectrum of the arts in black culture. A handful of Milwaukee-based visual artists were featured, as well as craftsmen/women selling a variety of handmade oils, candles, incense and everything else you can think of. The various artists’ works was on full display, giving them the opportunity to network and sell their wares. Alongside the artists, vendors were selling all kinds of African and African American-themed clothes, hats, jewelry, purses and other wares.
A unique direction the festival organizers took was encouraging the patrons to create their own art on site for free. By direction of Vibez Creative Art Space, they orchestrated two well-attended Paint & Sip workshops. Some of the patrons created artwork that resembled portraits of 2Pac and rap duo Kid-N-Play.
One of the first things that greeted your senses was the scent of bar-b-que grilling. If you were hungry, the festival offered a host of established Black-owned restaurants on deck. Milwaukee’s finest brick and mortar restaurants, Sky Box Sports, Uppa Yard, Pepperpot Catering LLC and On The Bayou, offered up homestyle macaroni, greens, dressing and other soul food staples.
The entertainment lineup was some of Milwaukee’s finest, Soul Unplugged on the Porch. The Black fraternities and sororities, Divine 9 Roll Call was definitely a crowd favorite. It was standing room only, as each group flacked in their signature outfits strolled to their hyped theme songs.
There were several community information tents also on the scene. Two noteworthy agencies on site were the Black Historical Society Museum and City of Milwaukee Office of Violence Prevention. The City of Milwaukee’s Office Violence Prevention teamed up with the organization 414 Life to distribute free gun locks and how-to flyers for locking up your gun. With the crime rate in Milwaukee up 32% since 2021, it was a welcome gesture.
The Black Historical Museum, located at 2620 West Center Street, put together a stunning photo display of Black Milwaukee dating back to Wisconsin’s earliest Black pioneers. The photo collection included all aspects of Black life from surviving hard times to thriving business associations. One picture of the legendary jazz vocalist, Satin Doll, captured the history of a stylish and vibrant nightlife, the city’s Black culture had to offer.
The one-day Black Milwaukee Arts Fest was held on the Summer Fest grounds in downtown Milwaukee. The festival occupied about half of the Summer Fest grounds, on N. Harbor Drive. The festival event organizers made great use of the space, with two performance stages, kids sprinkle water park and an adult water spray station. The water stations were a needed attraction considering the temperature was almost 90 degrees for most of the day.
The Black organizers and their participants definitely achieved a successful post-Covid pandemic comeback. Black Milwaukee Arts Festival is highly recommended for all ages. The festival is a perfect mix of art, food, music and culture.