VISUAL/PERFORMANCE ARTIn 2003, Philadelphia-based writer/singer/self-proclaimed "Renaissance Negresse" Cassendre Xavier created a festival of African-American women's film, music, literature, visual and performance art. The Black Women's Arts Festival (BWAF) began as a series of intimate affairs with a simple mission — to "focus on the visibility and viability of black women artists of all genres and media." The three-day stretch was good. But BWAF needed to move beyond that statement. Participants needed more exposure — for themselves and the showcase. The event needed sponsors and greater weight to become a more prominent part of Philadelphia's festival circuit.
Enter Monica McIntyre. The heralded local cellist/vocalist/lyricist has been with BWAF from its start, but after getting the creative-director keys from founder Xavier, McIntyre has grown it in a small but formidable fashion. BWAF's finally a nonprofit; it's moved from one venue to multiple spaces, gone from three days to four and is presenting a cleaner and sleeker graphic face. "A logo might seem like a little thing," says the soft-spoken McIntryre, whose soul-classical work is reminiscent of Amina Claudia Myers and Nina Simone. "But it's about branding us, separating us from other like-minded concepts and festivals." McIntyre's streamlined the event so that black female artists — like theater group Duafe History Club, singer Keisha Hutchins and DJ Ryva Parker — can get the same visibility afforded to commissioned artists at the Fringe or visiting directors at Philly Film Fests.
"People relate to my vision," says McIntyre, pointing out not only the 60-plus participating artists/performers but sponsors like Balahu and grant-givers like the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. With world-fusion dance team Raqs La'Majali at the Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., on Saturday and glam-folkie Lillie Ruth Bussey at Metropolitan Bakery, 40th and Walnut, during First Friday, plus McIntyre performing her own works throughout the fest, people are bound to relate to her program, too. "I can see more of our festival's growth and its potential," says McIntyre. You go.
Thu.-Sun., July 31-Aug. 3, various locations; for information and tickets, call 215-951-0330, ext. 2108, or visit bwafphilly.org.