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Paving the Way

BAMS Fest makes space for diverse, local artists

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

In October of 2016, the Banner talked with curator, creator and educator Catherine Morris about her dream of holding a festival that celebrates diverse artists. That dream has become a reality. BAMS Fest, short for Boston Art & Music Soul Festival, will debut in Boston on June 23 from noon to 8 p.m. in Franklin Park.

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BAMS Fest will feature two stages; an art zone where local muralists will work live; a dance zone where local urban choreographers will teach dance of the African diaspora; a marketplace of local black vendors; and a food truck zone. Morris will release the artist roster in April. Despite receiving performance applications from all over the globe, she says, the festival lineup heavily features local artists. “It’s my hope with BAMS Festival that we can celebrate arts and culture in a safe space that speaks to the history of Franklin Park and the community,” says Morris.

Over the last two years, BAMS Fest has organized and supported many events bringing diverse music and arts into the Boston art scene. Hip-hop artist Latrell James, a Dorchester native, has performed at a number of BAMS Fest events and was featured in their Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign video. “Not only have they put me in front of new audiences, but I’ve performed in spaces I didn’t even know existed,” he says.

BAMS Fest is first and foremost about community. The Boston art scene is known for its lack of diversity, and many talented African American artists leave the city because of this inhospitable environment. “I hope the world starts to see Boston for positive things and not just inequity and gentrification and racism,” says Morris. “Our city is moving towards something progressive. I hope arts and culture can be used to solve problems.”

James says his Dorchester roots have strongly influenced him and his music. “Being in Dorchester, you can get to a prestigious college a bus ride away, but you’re also near intense poverty. Growing up in that area had a huge effect on me,” he says. By participating in BAMS Fest, James hopes to highlight the black artistry that blooms in underserved communities.

The BAMS Fest fundraising remains active, and Morris stresses that these funds are primarily for the payment of artists. The festival has been long in the making so that it could be done right, which includes properly paying artists for their time and work, she says. Vendor applications for the festival are open until May 11.

Morris has been working on BAMS Fest for five years, and she hopes with the fruits of her labor, there will be a turning point in Boston’s art scene. She says, “I’m hoping that Boston natives and residents feel proud and start to believe in the fact that someone paid attention when cultural programming didn’t cater to their needs.”

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