The Savannah Urban Arts Festival (SUAF) is around the corner, and I’m so excited about it: 1) because All Walks of Life (AWOL), who coordinated this needed event, is one of my favorite local NPO’s (shout out to The Creative Coast Alliance, Citizens Advocacy, Union Mission, Sav21) and 2) everyone who knows me should know by now that I am a huge fan of the Hip Hop music. I always have been, and its because this particular genre of music, despite popular belief, involves more than just albums and videos pushed out by recording artist. Hip Hop is a genre whose fundamentals are based on local community, diversity in urban culture and among urban art forms, open discussion about difficult, yet important social topics, grass-root movements, stimulation for change, expressive outlets, etc.
By the looks of the event line-up, people are going to get a heaping helping of what Savannah has to offer in the urban arts. But all fun aside, SUAF’s intent is to do more than just serve as another music showcase. I talked with AWOL’s Patrick Rodgers about how important this annual event is to the City of Savannah, and here’s what he had to say…
Angel: Savannah is definitely known for its Festivals… what was the objective of organizing this event and why is an urban arts festival the right method to accomplish it?
Patrick: One of the things that has been on our mind during the process of planning this festival is the fact that there are a lot of talented musicians, poets, artists, etc who are in Savannah, but who don’t have access to a wider, national audience because of the city’s relative seclusion. Both Anthony David and Brittany Bosco (who are performing at the SUAF benefit concert May 9th) are perfect examples of this problem. Both are incredibly talented artists who had to move to ATL in order to achieve success. The format of the Urban Arts Festival is best for our purposes because it offers a chance to highlight all of the talent that is here, and in surrounding areas/neighboring cities.
Angel: It’s cool that SUAF will also open the floor to the City’s community and civic leaders to interact and recognize the art forms that have had such positive impact on Savannah’s youth. Is it essential for our local decision makers and influencers to value and help develop urban arts programs for Savannah’s young people?
Patrick: Yes. One thing that a lot of people don’t recognize is that there is probably a direct relationship between the availability of arts programs and the rise of juvenile crime because if young people aren’t offered a way to express themselves, and/or be involved in something meaningful to them, then they will gravitate toward negative lifestyle choices. If we succeed in creating an environment that supports local artists, then it will generate opportunities, both economic and otherwise, for young people, because they will have an outlet for whatever they are passionate about, whether that’s music or dance or painting.
Angel: The term “urban arts” is definitely one that seems to stick solely to Rap and Hip Hop. At the same time it is a pretty ambiguous term. What do the “urban arts” really consist of? What does it mean exactly?
Patrick: “Urban Arts” is a lot more than just hip hop. That’s something else we hope people will understand after attending a SUAF event. The term itself is really just a catch-all for arts that go on in or are inspired by life in a city. This includes poetry, a diverse range of musical genres, visual arts and more. If you look back, some of the greatest artists of the 20th century drew inspiration from city life. We’ve run into a lot of people who have dismissed SUAF as a hip hop festival, or an upstart Black Heritage Festival, but it’s not about highlighting race or genre, it’s just the opposite. It’s looking at how urban life is a melting pot of different styles, cultures, etc that blend into something unique.
Angel: What should Festival attendees take back with them once this is all said and done?
Patrick: Savannah’s “talent drain” is a problem that a lot second/third tier cities and small towns have to deal with – all their talented youth leave to find greener pastures and better opportunities in larger cities. If you live within 200 miles of Atlanta, and are really talented, you have to move there to be truly successful, because it represents the cultural center of the Southeast. What we’d like to do is de-centralize those cultural opportunities, so that people with talent can be successful in their hometowns, and communities can benefit from that. We hope to demonstrate to people: 1) that there is a wealth of talent here that we should all be supporting, 2) that if we support the artists we have, it will create more opportunities for young people to be involved in positive pursuits.
With live performances by my favorite Savannah-grown artists, poetry slams, graffiti art, and film screenings (James Brown’s Live in Concert in Paris! Yeah!), SUAF is a platform that brings to light the socio-economic impact urban arts can have on our city. And, who better to hold this conversation with our community than Bill Strickland.
This social entrepreneur from Pittsburgh will hold a panel discussion sponsored by the City of Savannah Department of Cultural Affairs on how the arts fit into community development. This philosophy was something he put into practice when he recognized the social problems of the Manchester neighborhood and used entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage two ventures (the Machester Craftman’s Guild and the Bidwell Training Center), which brought new life and new opportunities to the community through programs focusing on the arts. If there is anyone we could take a lesson from in the business of change, it’s Strickland, who has kicked off a couple other ventures in addition to MCG and BTC: a jazz concert hall, an innovative Grammy Award-winning record label, as well as the Denali Initiative – a national three-year effort funded by the Kaufmann Foundation to teach nonprofit leaders how to think like entrepreneurs. This event is huge for Savannah! It will serve as a needed framework to nurture the community, as well as encourage economic development. I’m so ready to SUAF for change. Are you?
For more information visit The Savannah Urban Arts Festival website.