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The National Black Arts Festival’s 30th Anniversary

Vicki Morrow, NBAF President, on The Rashad Richey Show on WAOK-AM radio

As the National Black Arts Festival [NBAF] celebrates its 30th Anniversary with a $500 per plate gala this Saturday, the notable organization finds itself at a crossroads. This is a critical juncture for the revered arts group, NBAF president and CEO Vikki Morrow told WAOK-AM talk show host Rashad Richey recently.

“One of the things that we are trying to do in this 30th anniversary year is make a pivot and start to reimagine how we continue to support the next generation of artists,” Morrow explained to Richey during their live interview. “We will always focus on our established artists because our audiences love to see artists they already know and have been exposed to, but we want to make sure that we are following our mission and make sure we are reaching back to the next generation of artists.”

Founded by former Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael Lomax, and funded by a budget twice its current size, NBAF became a delightfully popular cultural celebration with a 30-year legacy of outdoor festivals showcasing performing artists of different disciplines.

“We have brought some phenomenal artists here of all different disciplines,”said Morrow, who has been NBAF’s dynamic leader for a year now. “That means visual artists, performing artists, literary, film, theatre –bringing the Black diaspora to Atlanta. So national artists and national audiences would come in the summer to experience Black art.

“[Black] visual artists weren’t displayed as often years ago in museums or in galleries,” Morrow continued. “It was, and continues to be, important for us as a people to support and experience our culture, and see ourselves through the work of these artists.”

Vicki Morrow, NBAF President, being interviewed by Maynard Eaton

That’s why NBAF is returning to its roots and dedicating this anniversary to the visual arts, where it’s had its biggest impact and influence over the years. Saturday’s gala will recognize renowned artist Radcliffe Bailey.

“Visual arts is the one we are most known for changing lives and making sure those artists really had a platform,” Morrow told Richey’s radio audience. “I remember going to the arts festivals at Greenbriar Mall and/or Piedmont Park and seeing artist display their work –whether they were sculptures or paintings- and getting a chance to take some piece of that home.”

She continued, “One of the things for NBAF is that we must continue to evolve. A lot of our supporters are over 45 years old, so we have to make sure that we continue to reach back to younger audiences, and younger artists.” Morrow laments that “we’ve missed a generation of young people that understand the importance of collecting and understand how to collect visual art. We can’t let all of the collectors age out.”

Najee Dorsey, founder and CEO of Black Art in America calls Morrow “ a breath of fresh air” to America’s Black visual artists who believe they’ve “been neglected” over the past decade by NBAF.

Accomplished visual artist and passionate arts entrepreneur Okeeba Jubalo gives Morrow high marks for effectively engineering a comeback for the NBAF. "I think this is definitely a turning point, and it’s a turning point in the right direction because now [NBAF] is willing to listen to what’s happening in the community,” he surmised.

Jubalo likens Morrow to the new general manager of a losing professional sports franchise hired to reverse the teams fortunes. “She’s in that turning it around space, so the negative things attached to the [NBAF] brand were not of her doing. Now she’s trying to undo plays made by other CEO’s.”

When asked is this a new day for NBAF, Jubalo replies: “It could be, if the execution matches up with the intent.”

But, Imara Canady, board chairman of The Hammonds House, is convinced Morrow is a change agent, and NBAF is on the rebound. “As NBAF celebrates its 30th anniversary, I am encouraged by the great possibilities of what’s in store for its future, under the leadership of Vikki Morrow,” Canady said to this reporter. “During my extensive tenure in public service, I’ve had the pleasure of personally knowing Vikki and working with her on an array of community projects that have positively impacted this region. Given her executive-level, visionary leadership, her commitment to excellence and her desire to continually be an agent for change in our community, I truly believe that Vikki will build a collaborative coalition of community and arts leaders that will define the next chapters of this critical institution.”

At the end of their insightful interview, Richey admonished his devoted Atlanta listeners to support local artists like other cities do. “They get better support if they go to New York, Miami or Charlotte,” he said sadly. We’ve got to stop that.”

The progressive political commentator continued, “The $500 ticket for the July 14th gala is not too steep for many people, and I will definitely make my ticket purchase,” Richey said to Morrow. “I will be joining you. I think it is important you continue to highlight the arts especially from our perspective. The [NBAF] is something that needs to live on.”


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