Abner Clay Park will be the center of activity during the planned "Celebrate Jackson Ward: Past, Present and Future" festival in May. (Photo by Holly Speck)
Historic Jackson Ward was known as the “Black Wall Street of America,” for its thriving African-American business community after the Civil War. Its label later evolved into the “Harlem of the South,” centering on the entertainment of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and James Brown. Now, the Richmond neighborhood will be the focus of an event that organizers say will honor its history and bolster its creative resurgence through the power of art. “Celebrate Jackson Ward: Past, Present and Future” is planned as a three-day festival from May 20 to 22 in Abner Clay Park.
Today, leaders of the Richmond Symphony, Ebenezer Baptist Church and the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia gathered to announce the event, joined by Virginia first lady Dorothy McAuliffe, Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones and City Councilman Charles R. Samuels.
“Our community is rich with talent, wisdom and resources; the sharing of music, art, faith and history will be the story of our future,” says Steven Smith, the symphony’s artistic director.
Scott Dodson, director of patron communications for the Richmond Symphony, says this festival differs in theme and focus from other events based in Jackson Ward, such as the Down Home Family Reunion and the 2nd Street Festival. Celebrate Jackson Ward’s goal is to build on the neighborhood’s history by inspiring youth to use art as a catalyst for future progress. Two initiatives aim to help accomplish that: a big show and a big tent.
Art 180’s spring showcase, “The Really Big Show,” will kick off the festival on May 20 under “The Big Tent.” The showcase will spotlight artwork created by young people from Art 180’s various sites.
The tent was purchased this year and used for the Richmond Symphony’s performance in the opening ceremony of the UCI Road World Championships. Now the tent will be used for an even larger plan, one that connects multiple arts groups under one canopy.
“The Sydney Opera House for Richmond on wheels,” as described by Councilman Samuels, will travel regionally, bringing artistic programs wherever it parks.
The Big Tent will feature a myriad of talent on Saturday, May 21, led by a performance by the Richmond Symphony with Virginia Repertory Theatre, the Richmond Jazz Society and Elegba Folklore Society. Also planned are storytellers, a children’s performance from Virginia Rep, African dance by Ezibu Muntu and music by the Richmond Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as performances by other professional, community and school groups.
The final day will feature local church choirs, liturgical dancers and an ecumenical service representing several of Jackson Ward’s churches. Local restaurants, craft beer and vendors will be present throughout the weekend. Admittance to the festival is free, and proceeds will benefit Richmond’s Black History Museum, Carver Elementary School and the Friends Association for Children.
“This free event — free being the operative word,” says Mayor Jones, “will offer a great artistic experience for children to transport them from their neighborhood and immerse them in a major cultural movement.”
For more information, visit celebratejacksonwardrva.com or call 788-4717.
The Rev. Levy M. Armwood, Jr., pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, speaks during today's announcement of the new festival. (Photo by Holly Speck)