The biggest Black art festival in the Northwest is back.
by Patheresa Wells
Remember when everyone was walking around their neighborhoods during lockdown? Wa Na Wari took the spirit behind the community engagement that comes from strolling through your streets and combined it with its commitment to being a container for Black joy. The 3rd Annual Walk the Block takes place on Saturday, Sept. 30, from 2–6 p.m.
“We are on a mission from our ancestors to continue the work of providing opportunities for Black artists from all over the world, so they can find their voice and reach their potential. Walk the Block is one of the ways we do this,” said Elisheba Johnson, co-executive director of Wa Na Wari.
Held for the first time in October of 2021, Walk the Block has rapidly become a vital part of Seattle’s cultural traditions. The event is an opportunity to participate and celebrate the fact that the Central District has been a center for Black life for over 70 years, despite the recent displacement of many residents because of gentrification. Attendees become part of the festival as businesses, parks, and porches become art exhibits and performance sites.
Over 35 Black and Indigenous artists of various mediums, including painting, film, and sculpture, will participate in this year’s event. Artistic creativity will enliven the neighborhood through visual art displays, video installations, community stories, music, and more. And to encourage art exploration, there will be multiple interactive activities. For example, Free Your Mind, facilitated by artist Theda Sandiford, is a multi-sensory textile project that works to share narratives about microaggressions.
Participants can write down an experience they have had with microaggressions on a piece of ribbon. Then, they can tie the ribbon on a net to release the story from their narrative. Now, that experience is trapped on the net, no longer with the participants. The ribbons will then act as a public acknowledgment of how these damaging interactions impact people from historically marginalized groups.
“Femme Noire” is an exhibit that spotlights the work of over 20 women artists from Africa and the African diaspora. Based on the poem of the same name, the artwork explores and acknowledges the power of Black women. A collaboration between the Seattle Art Museum, blackpuffin, and Wa Na Wari, the installations create a walking map through the Central District that is available even after the festival ends.
In addition to the art found throughout the 0.8-mile walk, there will be three stages, each with a specific theme. In honor of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, a music stage curated by Fat’s Chicken and Waffles will feature musicians like Amp Fire, Upendo Selassie, and Stas THEE Boss. A culture stage curated by Arte Noir will highlight African American heritage. Watch a Double Dutch Divas jump rope performance or catch a set from DJ Yaddy to jam out. The dance stage, curated by artist and choreographer Nia-Amina Minor, will showcase numerous forms of movement, including freestyle, hip-hop, modern, and contemporary.
And because food plays such an important role in culture, the event will include offerings from local chefs Lakea Osias (@LakeaCooks), Andrew Hype (Jamaican food), and Jeremy Thunderbird (Native Soul Cuisine).
Walk the Block serves as Wa Na Wari’s annual fundraiser. Johnson says it hopes to raise $250,000, which will go directly to core programs, like the CACE 21 Black homeowner organizing project, the Love Offering meal program, the Seattle Black Spatial Histories Institute, and many others that support the mission of creating space for Black ownership, possibility, and belonging.
Walk the Block is a call for residents who love art to become a part of revitalizing the city’s artistic and cultural community. “Seattle has a rich history of festivals, and we want people to anticipate and get excited for this one every year,” Johnson said. “We see our footprint growing and our installations getting bigger. … There is so much good art at the festival this year. There is no way to see it all, but I can guarantee you will see many incredible and beautiful things.”
The footprint of Walk the Block has become part of Seattle’s new cultural legacy while honoring the Central District’s rich Black history.
Tickets for Walk the Block can be purchased on the Wa Na Wari website. Youth tickets (18 or younger) are available, and children 5 or under are free.
You can purchase tickets up to the day of, and registration will take place on the roof of Medgar Evers Pool, not at Wa Na Wari.
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 by Sunny Martini, courtesy of Wa Na Wari.
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