By Cate Tarr | Photos by Black Arts Matter (left) and Duke Virginia (right)
This month Black artists will take center stage during the Black Arts Matter Festival, taking place on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s campus from March 23-26. Now in its third year, the festival was started by Shasparay Lighteard, one of UW’s 2020 Notable Grads, according to the university’s Theatre and Drama Website.
Lighteard, who calls herself someone who has “always believed [in] creating the space that you want to exist [in],” founded the festival after feeling like there weren’t enough spaces for Black performers to be featured in Madison.
While a UW student, Lighteard was in First Wave, a poetry and hip-hop scholarship program. In First Wave, she was awarded a full scholarship as well as a membership in an artistic cohort, allowing her to continue her passion for slam poetry throughout college. While in First Wave, Lighteard entered various competitions in the poetry space. As she traveled to various arts festivals and slam poetry performances around the country, she began to wonder why there weren’t similar opportunities in Madison.
She also felt that UW–Madison didn’t prioritize Black artists enough, noting that the “humanities celebrated on campus felt very Eurocentric.” This artistic gap urged her to found the festival, where she feels the community will benefit from exposure to more Black artists.
Although the festival is most known for its poetry slam, in which competitors have the chance to win a first-place prize of $2,500, other artists will also be performing, including local comedians, drag performers and even the dynamic Badgerettes, a local dance team.
Lighteard says it’s important to create artistic spaces for individuals right now, as COVID-19 has caused many artistic venues to suffer. She also notes that there will be virtual opportunities for individuals to view festival performances from home.
The Black Arts Matter Festival will take place in various spaces throughout the Wisconsin Union. More information about the festival can be found on the Union’s website.