Kuumba Festival

Kuumba Festival

Date Observed: Four days in early June
Location: Knoxville, Tennessee

The annual Kuumba Festival is a four-day event in early June designed to convey the beauty and diversity of African-American culture through showcasing a wide variety of music, dance, art, and food.

Historical Background

Kuumba (koo-OOM-bah) is a Swahili word meaning "creativity," and it also is the term designating the sixth day of Kwanzaa when participants pledge to make their communities and homes better than they found them. They also promise to use their talents and energies to improve young minds and hearts.

Creation of the Festival

The Kuumba Festival began in 1989 as a modest two-day celebration in a local park. Its organizers were mostly neighborhood artists and activists looking for a venue from which to increase community awareness of African-American cultural heritage in Appalachia. In the early 1990s, they established African-American Appalachian Arts, Inc., and hired an executive director to oversee the annual event.

Each year, Kuumba has grown in attendance numbers, ambition, scope, and recognition. The festival has been honored with the City of Knoxville's "Mayor's Art Award for Special Programs." In addition to its original Chilhowee Park location, its venues now include the Museum of Art, Market Square, Gay Street, and other downtown areas.


Some artists and vendors who participate in Knoxville's Kuumba Festival are drawn from diverse areas across the United States. Others come from the African continent. However, most who participate live in the area. Total attendance ranges between 10,000 and 15,000. There are multiple activities scheduled during each of the four days and nights. The Taste of Africa Buffet is one of the most popular venues, serving Senegalese and Gullah cuisines, as well as traditional southern favorites such as barbecue and fried green tomatoes. The African Marketplace has vendors offering authentic African arts and crafts. Children and adults equally appreciate the Gay Street Junkanu parade (see also Junkanoo). Live entertainment is served up on multiple stages; musical selections have included gospel, soul, doo-wop, and rhythm and blues.

Each year, the Kuumba Festival organizers aim to draw in a more ethnically diverse attendance. Through broader community-wide participation, Knoxville's Kuumba celebrants share their rich heritage.

Contacts and Web Sites

African-American Appalachian Arts, Inc. Emporium Bldg. 100 S. Gay St., Ste. 106 Knoxville, TN 37920

Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corporation One Vision Plaza 301 S. Gay St. Knoxville, TN 37902 800-727-8045

P.O. Box 6774 Knoxville, TN 37914 865-546-9705
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007
References in periodicals archive ?
It means "creativity." The 14th Annual Kuumba Festival, under artistic director Daj-Ahn Blevins and the African American Council of San Diego Repertory Theatre, transpires Feb.
The Knoxville Opera Rossini Festival [has] "an Italian wine tasting hour; it is one of my favorite events that showcases the city's love of the arts." Other popular events include the Dogwood Arts and Kuumba Festivals and the Women Today Expo.