National Black Arts Festival

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National Black Arts Festival

Date Observed: Ten days beginning the third weekend in July
Location: Atlanta, Georgia

The National Black Arts Festival is a 10-day festival held since 1988 throughout the Atlanta, Georgia, metropolitan area. It strives to bring diverse communities together through art and culture to celebrate the artists of the African diaspora.

Historical Background

Although a majority of Atlanta's population today is African American, a significant black presence was not established in the area until after the Civil War. By the late 19th century, nearly half of the citizenry was balanced between whites and blacks, but there was not a similar harmony between the two races. Into the following 20th century and the current day, the Atlanta community has negotiated a challenging course in the evolution of race relations. To many, Atlanta stands as one of best examples of U.S. cities in its attempts to balance both racial unity and diversity.

In 1981 metropolitan Atlanta boasted a population of two million, 66 percent of whom were black. As Atlanta crossed into the 21st century, its metro area topped four million, with its African-American representation holding strong at approximately 60 percent. Each mayor elected since 1973 has been black - a first for any major metropolitan area in the United States. Atlanta has witnessed not only population growth in past years, but also commercial and economic growth.

Creation of the Festival

In 1987 Michael L. Lomax, chair of the Fulton County Board of Commissioners and president and chief executive officer of the United Negro College Fund, founded the nonprofit National Black Arts Festival (NBAF). The first festival was held in 1988. In the earlier 1980s the Fulton County Arts Council had commissioned a study to assess the potential of a festival that would celebrate and advocate works of African artists in Atlanta. The results of the study showed great promise for such an event, and the festival was born. Initially, NBAF was set up with a limited scope: mainly to host a biannual arts festival. Over time, with the increased popularity and success of the summertime festival, the organization felt the need to broaden its reach. In 2001 the festival became an annual event. That year NBAF also added year-round programming in education and the humanities.


More than half a million people take part in the more than 100 program offerings of the annual National Black Arts Festival. Venues for these programs are located throughout the Atlanta area. For example, an Artists Market, which features juried exhibits of original works by visual artists available for purchase, might be located at a major Atlanta mall; the popular Vendors Marketplace, where wares primarily reflecting the African diaspora are sold, would be at an entirely different site. Screenings are held to the delight of film fans, eager to see the works of known and unknown cinematic artists. Concert halls across the city fill with listeners coming to hear their favorites: rhythm and blues, gospel, jazz, and more. Famous names in literature also draw crowds. All events are aimed at providing audiences with creative experiences from the arts and crafts of the African diaspora.

Contacts and Web Sites

Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau 233 Peachtree St., N.E., Ste. 100 Atlanta, GA 30303 404-521-6600; fax: 404-577-3293

659 Auburn Ave., N.E., Ste. 254 Atlanta, GA 30312 404-730-7315; fax: 404-730-7104
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007
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