The National Black Arts Festival was founded in 1987 after the Fulton County Arts Council commissioned a study to explore the feasibility of creating a festival dedicated to celebrating and advancing the work of artists of African descent. The study provided compelling reasons why the Atlanta community was the right place for such a festival. With Fulton County Government as the major sponsor, joined by additional corporate and foundation sponsors, the Festivals first biannual summer festival was held in 1988.
Over the years of the festival, artists and attendees alike have come to expect the emerging and renown artists to grace the stages and exhibition spaces of the city; collectors look eagerly to the Artists’ Market for their next opportunity to buy from some of the best artist in the country; film fans flock to the screenings of known and unknown work; concert halls are filled with the voices and instruments of those who are considered to be the standard bearers in jazz, gospel and everything in-between; the masters of the stage and screen have joined us over the years; and the writers who have preserved the African American voice in literature have blessed us with their presence. People of all ages and races have gathered together to bask in the presence of: Maya Angelou, Charles Dutton, Wynton Marsalis, Amiri Baraka, Avery Brooks, Nancy Wilson, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Spike Lee, Ousmane Sembene. Peal Cleage, Kenny Leon, Carrie Mae Weems, Radcliffe Bailey, Sonia Sanchez and literally thousands of other artists from this country and beyond.
As the festival firmly established itself as one of the most important festivals in the World presenting the art and culture of the African Diaspora, it seized the opportunity to expand to year round educational and humanities programming and hosting the Festival every year. With a regular presence the festival looks forward to continuing and strengthening its important ties with its many local, national and international partners. The Festival’s success has been anchored by the willing and creative collaborations of local cultural institutions. This year alone there are over 40 independently produced programs; without them side by side, the festival’s energy and ability to reach so many–the young and old in every corner of the county–would be dramatically diminished.
And the commitment of the festival’s various artistic leadership: Avery Brooks, Dwight Andrews and Stephanie Hughley have allowed the breath and reach of the festivals to touch over five million people since the first Festival. Each artistic director brought their own ideas and energy, building on the vision of their colleagues across the Diaspora.
But none of this is done without volunteer leadership. The Festival has a history of attracting volunteers from every sector from government to corporate to university professor to art collector and young entrepreneurs; dedicated all to ensuring that the festival remains financially stable and artistically relevant and connected. In the tradition of strong and enlightened leadership, the Board is currently chaired by Curley M. Dossman, Jr., President, Georgia-Pacific Foundation.
And each day the festival is supported by a combination of dedicated staff and festival experts who together ensure that the festival remains vibrant and engaging. And behind the scenes, over the last five years, Stephanie Hughley has been supported by one of the best Associate Producers in the country- Laura Greer. "Our humble thanks and sincere appreciation for Laura’s constant quest to celebrate the artist of African descent.... each bring us closer to one another through their art."