Westport’s AMPLIFY Festival aims to promote black artists
In an effort to provide black artists with a space to make themselves heard Westport’s nonprofit Beechwood Arts & Innovation is virtually holding their AMPLIFY Festival through June 28.
According to Beechwood Arts & Innovation co-founders Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chu, the festival is intended to be an immersive and innovative arts experience that promotes black artists and performers from a variety of genres.
“We’ve been heartbroken and horrified by the many violent instances of black lives being extinguished and the evidence of enduring, systemic racism in our communities and our country. We wanted to do something meaningful to support those members of our artist community that are directly affected by these issues to create conversation and awareness that could help in the effort to replace racism with respect and equality. We reached out to them directly to collaborate and find out what would be best,” Esposito and Chu said in a press release.
From there the two week festival was created. Esposito and Chu said the goal of the AMPLIFY Festival is to use Beechwood’s resources to support black artists by “giving them control of the narrative and amplifying their artistic voices.”
Esposito and Chu said Beechwood purchased and placed dozens of plain black lawn signs along the road and invited visual artists to paint one side of the board with their “visual voice” before passing it to a supportive fellow artist of their choice to create on the flip side. As the finished signs come in, they will replace the plain black ones to create an emerging “river” of amplified artistic voices. The art will be made available online as well and Esposito and Chu hope it will be used to spark dialogues surrounding racial inequality. Some of the visual artists participating in the festival include Tara Marie Blackwell, Lauren Clayton, Alicia Cobb, Christa Forrest, Nicole Grant, Shanna Melton, Duvian Montoya, Brandon Powell, Marisa Prescod and Jahmane West with others expected to participate.
While Beechwood’s location is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, performing artists have been invited to use the venue to record musical, theatrical, spoken word, dance and live art performances to be streamed on Facebook Live. The Beechwood founders said the performers will also offer Q&As and conversations as part of the videos and said that all donations received during each performer’s stream will go directly to the artist or a supporting organization of the artist’s choice.
The festival will present two cornerstone performances. Opera singer Dr. Tiffany Renee Jackson will perform her one woman show “From The Hood to the Ivy League” on June 19 at 7 p.m. Jazz musician Fred Johnson will perform on June 26 at 7 p.m. and lead a “Voicing the Heart” dialogue. Additionally poet Melton, body painter Cobb, spoken word artist Khayree Jannah and tribal-fusion dance troupe Delphi Dance will also perform.