WBTT Launches First Annual Juneteenth Arts Festival

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Raleigh Mosely II, Ariel Blue and Derric Gobourne Jr. of R.A.D. Photo by Sorcha Augustine.

The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is lifting its voice and singing this Sunday with the arrival of its first annual Juneteenth Arts Festival. Located at the WBTT campus off North Orange, the one-day celebration includes not only a main stage full of the high-energy musical performance that the theater is known for, but also spoken word performances, film screenings, and a walking festival full of local vendors, food trucks and more. “There’s a lot to celebrate,” says Nate Jacobs, founder and artistic director of WBTT, on the creation of the Juneteenth Arts Festival, “and there’s a lot to remember and appreciate.”

Free to attend, the festival begins this Sunday at 1pm, where the WBTT campus will play host to a variety of local and regional black-owned businesses, including self-care shops like KB in Bloom and Lavender Hands Spa, health and fitness brand SWOLL Camp, and food trucks like G’s Southern Kitchen and Nunn Better BBQ & Catering. At the same time, film screenings will begin in both WBTT’s Donnelly Theatre and Howard J. Millman Blackbox Theatre.

In the Donnelly Theatre, audiences will have a chance to see feature-length films, such as Playing Through, the 2022 film about Ann Gregory, the first African American woman to compete in a national USGA championship, and Hidden Gems, a documentary by local filmmaker Marquis Dawsey, highlighting the efforts of black entrepreneurs in the community. “The film counteracts the stereotypes that say black men are not progressive or upwardly bound,” says Jacobs. “All of these guys started from nothing and built businesses in our community.” In a similar vein, there will also be a 1pm showing of This Light of Mine, the PBS documentary about Jacobs and the founding of WBTT itself. Meanwhile, in the blackbox theater, a selection of seven short films from local filmmakers will be shown on rotation, so that audiences can filter in and out on their own time.

But it wouldn’t be a WBTT event without some live performances and that’s where the main stage comes in. The show begins at 1:30pm with movement and dance by Monessa Salley + Natalie Aceves, followed by an official Juneteenth Welcome and remarks at 2pm, and then a musical performance from WBTT’s own Stage of Discovery youth artists. At 4pm, Melanie Lavender, Eric Morris and Whitney Mays take the stage for a trio of spoken word performances, followed by music from former Stage of Discovery artist Astrid McIntyre, and then the show comes to its climax with a mini-concert from the featured artist of the night: R.A.D., a local supergroup comprised of WBTT stars Raleigh Mosely II, Ariel Blue and Derric Gobourne Jr.

And for Jacobs, seeing the festival take shape on the campus and with the community he helped build over so many years only drives home what Juneteenth is all about. “For a black man like me to have a black theater institution downtown in a predominantly white community,” he says, “I stand on the shoulders of people who fought and held up the banners for freedom. There’s a lot to celebrate.”

Pictured: Raleigh Mosely II, Ariel Blue and Derric Gobourne Jr. of R.A.D. Photo by Sorcha Augustine.

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