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BAMS Fest carves out cultural spot for community

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO

Along with other components of Boston’s socio-political landscape, the Boston art and music scene has a reputation for being whitewashed. Curator, creator and educator Catherine Morris says, “Boston has a bad rep as one of the more segregated cities in America. People of color are an underserved community in the city.” Morris is making moves to change that in a big way, with the debut of the Boston Art & Music Soul Festival (BAMS Fest) scheduled for June 2018. The festival will be a two-day, multi-stage event focusing on local artists of color.

Before then, BAMS Fest is hosting a series of events this year and next called “The Prelude,” which are meant to foster dialogue and interest about the arts in Boston and the upcoming festival. The latest in this series is “Souls of Women,” a panel of influential women in art, music and social change to be held on Oct. 20 at the Multicultural Arts Center in East Cambridge. Morris says, “The panel is trying to ensure that the audience has a deeper understanding of what it means to be a woman of color and a creative person.”

The panel will highlight seven female professionals, including Grammy-nominated singer Carolyn Malachi and Boston poet laureate Danielle Legros Georges. Panel member Alyssa Jones, program director for performing arts for Boston Public Schools, has seen firsthand how the arts can change lives.

“There are so many ways that we humans make sense of the world, and the arts is one of them,” Jones says.

Jones feels that what sets BAMS Fest apart is that it is made of, by and for the African American community. She notes similar events that are put on by and feature white performers.

“This festival is rooted in authenticity and primary source,” she says. “We will feature folks who live right around the corner from the audience we’re trying to reach.”

Morris says the most important thing community members can do to support the cause is to attend “The Prelude” events.

“It’s important for the artists to see that the community supports them,” she says. Opportunities also are available to volunteer with the organization or join the festival as a vendor or performer.

Morris recounts how she’s seen many artists and African American families leave the area due to lack of representation. She hopes that bringing together the community for this festival will combat this off-putting sense of isolation. Panelist, actress and comedian Obehi Janice agrees that this celebration of culture is long overdue in Boston. She says, “It’s so necessary to celebrate blackness in this city. And BAMS Fest is how we can do that.”