Collage depicting various scenes from Wa Na Wari's Walk the Block event.

Wa Na Wari’s Walk the Block Returns as the Biggest Black Art Festival in the Northwest

by Patheresa Wells

Walk the Block is an art festival and fundraiser for Wa Na Wari, a Central District hub for Black creativity whose name means “our home” in Kalabari. The festival encourages participants to stroll through the neighborhood, where homes, businesses, parks, porches, and other shared spaces are turned into art installations and performance sites. The second annual Walk the Block takes place on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2–6 p.m. beginning at the Medgar Evers Pool at 23rd and Jefferson.

“Public art will always be the most accessible and equitable way to reach people,” said Wa Na Wari cofounder Elisheba Johnson. “Walk the Block has become an important part of our mission because we can get more Black art in front of as many people as possible. To quote the title of our book Joy Has a Sound, this isn’t about being quiet in a gallery space. Walk the Block is a loud joyful noise that we hope reverberates through the asphalt of the CD.”

Wa Na Wari said last year’s inaugural event had 1,300 participating artists and vendors, and 1,200 attendees. This year they expect even more. Local, national, and international Black and Indigenous artists and performers will be spread throughout the under-1-mile walk. They include Lehuauakea, Moses Sun, Perri Rhoden, musician Gary Hammon, films curated by Berette Macaulay, and dance by Nia-Amina Minor as well as many other artists, performers, and musicians.

In addition to art, music, and dancing, food will be served by Lakea Cooks, Andrew Hype, and Native Soul Cuisine. Also, numerous community organizations and businesses such as Central Cafe, Cherry Street Art Collective, Metier Brewing, The Link Project, Vis a Vis Society, and others will join in to celebrate the Central District.

And this year, Walk the Block is partnering with ARTE NOIR to celebrate the grand opening of Gallery Onyx in Midtown Square at 23rd and Union. ARTE NOIR, an organization that spotlights and promotes Black art in the community as well as the art and creativity of Africa, began as an online publication. This will be Onyx’s second gallery location. The opening will include fun activities, sweet treats, giveaways, and vendors for participants to enjoy!

The idea for Walk the Block was born out of pandemic fatigue, said Johnson. Seeking to keep their audience engaged in a virtual environment: “[We] thought what if we asked people to go on a walk. Walks are safe, calming and allow us to rediscover our neighborhoods. We thought the perfect antidote to the pandemic at that moment was to ask people to come outside,” she said.

And the idea has quickly become a way for Wa Na Wari’s commitment to Black creativity to expand beyond the building that houses it and into the neighborhood — Seattle’s historically Black neighborhood. ​​This year they hope to meet a fundraising goal of $100,000 before Saturday. Teams and individuals are incentivized to reach fundraising goals for the chance to win fun prizes. Prizes include things like a private concert with musician Paul Rucker, dinner with author Charles Johnson, and an Inye Wokoma art print.

Johnson encourages people to show up early this year to see everything. “This will probably be one of our last sunny weekends before the rains come, so strap on your walking shoes, and let’s see some art.”

To purchase tickets please visit Wa Na Wari’s website.

To purchase the day of, head to Medgar Evers Pool at 23rd and Jefferson. Note that only debit or credit card will be accepted. Food and drink tickets have already sold out and will not be available on the day of the event. 

Volunteers are still needed for Walk the Block. Email if you are interested in volunteering.

Patheresa Wells is a Queer poet, writer, and storyteller who lives in SeaTac, Washington. Born to a Black mother and Persian father, her experiences as a multicultural child shaped her desire to advocate for and amplify her community. She is currently pursuing a B.A. in creative writing. Follow her on Twitter @PatheresaWells.

📸 Featured Image: Some scenes from Wa Na Wari’s 2021 Walk the Block. Left: A crowd gathers to enjoy a performance. Top right: Dancers from NW Tap Connection. Bottom right: Gary Hammon Band. (Photos courtesy of Wa Na Wari.)

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