Black Arts Festival: A Week of Culture

Published On May 18, 2017 | By Sam Smargiassi |

Words by Sam Smargiassi, Photos by Meghan Jacinto 

“This week is about expressing our talents and who we are as a people,” says Drake Hills, a University of Oregon student and co-director of the Black Male Alliance, about the Black Arts Festival that kicked off on Sunday.

The Black Arts Festival is a week of events put on by the Black Student Union at the University of Oregon from May 14-20. The festival started with a screening of “Moonlight” – the Oscar winning film that explores issues of growing up Black and gay in the United States, a hip-hop dance class, a Black Lives Matter Art Activism workshop, and an Ethnic Hair Care Day, which are all leading up to a Step Show in Matthew Knight Arena. Each event forces attendees to think critically, whether it be through Snoop Dogg classics or workshops defining art.

Rafael Newman, Sina Holwerda, and Spencer Smyth of the University of Oregon Hip Hop Ensemble perform for a crowd during Black Arts Festival Jam Session on Wednesday, May 17th. Newman describes the ensemble as “a collective of people who love music.”

“There is no limit to what Black Art is,” says Chris Holloway Jr., UO student and the other Co-Director of the Black Male Alliance. “We have multiple different things that we can do as a Black community, and it’s a matter of being able to showcase that during the week.”

On Saturday, the Black Student Union will be hosting their main event for the festival: the 15th Annual Divine Nine Step Show. Step has a complex and exhaustive history. It is a form of percussive dance specific to African-American fraternities and sororities which can be traced back to the mid-1900s.

“I think it’s important to kind of differentiate ourselves,” Holloway says.  “Black Greek Life is a lot different than ‘other’ Greek Life, so I think it’s important for a step show to be able to showcase to the students who come out here being predominantly ‘other;’ it’s important for them to see where our Greek Life stands.”

On Tuesday, the Black Male Alliance  organized a hip-hop social, which showcased the history of the vast genre with the aim to help educate attendees through non-traditional methods. “Its [purpose is] to bring awareness, to bring culture to the forefront, and to bring passion to the roots of our music,” Hills says, “because it’s the music that we created as a race and as a culture.”

The Black Male Alliance at the University of Oregon hosts a hip hop social during Black Arts Festival Week to celebrate rap and hip-hop.

The Hip-Hop Social had a retro feeling. Old school hip-hop played in a room lined with prints of genre legends, a graffiti wall, and a sense of comradery among the attendees. The event ensured an understanding that hip hop is more than just music, and if it is any indication of the week to follow, those who plan to attend the rest of the festival are in for a stimulating experience.

 

 

The Step Show will be at 7 p.m. in Matthew Knight Arena. Tickets are $10 for UO students and $13 for general public. They can be purchased in person or over the phone through Matthew Knight Arena or the UO ticket office.

See a full calendar of the rest of the Black Arts Festival events here.

 

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