The August Wilson Center launches a new festival for black artists. | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The August Wilson Center launches a new festival for black artists. 

Pittsburgh hosts a variety of festivals parading art in all its forms, from narrowly focused expositions of 10-minute plays or bebop jazz to far-reaching celebrations gathering a broader scope of disciplines. The tradition continues, and further broadens, when the August Wilson Center for African American Culture unveils First Voice: A Pittsburgh International Black Arts Festival, featuring artists from Pittsburgh and beyond, Oct. 10-20.

Through both invitations and open calls for artists, curator Janera Solomon (an occasional CP contributor) has assembled a line-up of performances, screenings and exhibitions that reveals the mixture of talent based in Southwestern Pennsylvania, plus international artist Nora Chipaumire.

A goal of the festival, says festival coordinator Dana Payne, is to give area artists an opportunity to work beyond their usual scale. "It's a way for us to help small arts groups and local artists by presenting them in a festival format and increasing their production values," she says. Most of the festival artists are local, or have local connections.

While the festival is intended to showcase artists of color, the intended audience is everyone. One challenge for the Center, as with other local presenters and producers, is cultivating patronage that transcends ethnic boundaries. Sadly, it remains rare in Pittsburgh to attend an event with a racially balanced house. But creating that sort of audience is necessary if the Center is to thrive.

"If you look at the demographics of the city, we can't sustain ourselves if we have just one particular demographic," says Payne.

The festival, accordingly, promises something for all. With most events taking place at the New Hazlett Theater, the line-up includes music from gospel to steel drums to rap, plus dance, theater, spoken word, poetry, film screenings, lectures, storytelling, video installation, visual art, panel discussions and animation.

First-week highlights include:

* rise, a multidisciplinary show organized by Vanessa German, who also performs; its mix of movement, spoken word, hip hop and video recalls f.i.r.e., the vibrant performance work on which German collaborated during the 2006 Three Rivers Arts Festival (Thu., Oct. 11);

* Chimurenga, a performance by acclaimed Zimbabwe-born dancer and performance artist Nora Chipaumire (Fri., Oct. 12);

* Recoil, a hybrid video/dance performance by Staycee Pearl, with dancer Lisa Belcher (Sat., Oct. 13);

* Make Me Wanna Holla: An Evening of Electric Words, with music, poetry and multimedia art, hosted by Chassity Cheatham and featuring Kimberly Ellis, Gene Stovall and Davu (Sat., Oct. 13);

* One Voice, an evening of sacred African-American music organized by activist and minister Deryck Tines (Sun., Oct. 14);

* The First World Festival of Negro Arts, a film by William Greaves, screens; plus work by local filmmaker Chris Ivey, and a talk by author Kalamu Ya Salaam (Mon., Oct. 15);

* Cave Canem, a reading by the African-American poetry group, with noted local poets Toi Derricotte, Terrance Hayes and Yona Harvey, and visiting Cave Canem co-founder Cornelius Eady (Tue., Oct. 16);

* Awaiting Change and Other Works, a dance show by Pittsburgh-born choreographer Kyle Abraham and his company, Abraham.In.Motion (Wed., Oct. 17); and

* What We Have, a collaboration between off-stage partners Greer Reed, a renowned dancer, and acclaimed trumpeter Sean Jones (Wed., Oct. 17).

Related ongoing art exhibitions, meanwhile, include Grand Scale Collaboration, a mural show by Kyle Holbrook and Leslie Ansley and Monique Luck, at 209/9 Gallery.

"We really want to push the community to support local artists of all genres," says Payne. "People need to know that the artists have a voice. They need to know that they're here."

First Voice: A Pittsburgh International Black Arts Festival Oct. 10-20. New Hazlett Theater (6 Allegheny Square East, North Side) and 209/9 Gallery (209 Ninth St., Downtown). $15 ($10 students/seniors, $5 children under 12). Some events are $5; special events are $50; festival passes are $60 per person and $100 per couple. 412-456-6666 or

His A.I.M. is true: dancer/choreographer Kyle Abraham
  • His A.I.M. is true: dancer/choreographer Kyle Abraham


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