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Weekend Quick Recap Pt2: Savannah Urban Arts Festival

You know you've experienced something important, when you find yourself unable to sleep at night because of the ideas and possibilities swirling around in your head.


Having fallen prey to the non-bacon-related flu last week, I’m WAY late in doing a recap of the Savannah Urban Arts Festival (May 6-10).

Before anything else, I want to say how lucky our fair city is to have Tony and DaVena Jordan working to make this a better community. If you’ve never met them, Tony and DaVena, the Founder/CEO and Executive Director (respectively) of AWOL, are 2 of the most enthusiastic, hard-working, big-hearted individuals you’re likely to come across, who work tirelessly to change the lives of hundreds of kids in Savannah. With sheer tenacity they managed to pull off the first ever Savannah Urban Arts Festival, including bringing some amazing guest speakers and talent into town for the event.

While the Paragon crew was not able to make the events during the week, thankfully Drew and I were able to take in the culminating festivities on Saturday. I’ve got to say that thought-provoking would be an understatement if I were to describe the event.

First in the line-up was author (and snappy dresser) Jeff Chang, who has written extensively on culture, politics, the arts, and music. I can’t do justice to his bio here, but I’ll mention that in 2007 he interviewed Barack Obama for the cover of Vibe Magazine. I still have much to learn about the cultural history of this great country, and was totally impressed by Chang’s breakdown of how political, economical, social and cultural drivers forced innovation in art, music, fashion (and more) and also pushed community leaders to organize. He covered a lot of ground in a short space of time, so my best advice is to pick up his book Can’t Stop Won’t Stop and anthology Total Chaos: The Art & Aesthetics of Hip-Hop. Serious brain food people.

It was also exciting to hear that after leaving Savannah, Chang was headed to DC as part of a group of grass-roots activists representing arts, environmental and social justice organizations who were meeting with White House officials to discuss economic recovery and general policy plans. You can read about it here.

Next up was Bill Strickland. If you’ve been a reader of this blog for a while, then Strickland should be a familiar name to you. As President and CEO of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, Strickland has pioneered programs that utilize art and education to inspire and equip disadvantaged kids and adults to build a better life. He is a soft-spoken man driven by the belief that “people are born into the world as assets not liabilities” and can use a simple slide show to blow your mind, leaving you hopeful and motivated to change the world around you. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of his book Make the Impossible Possible.

Here’s a quick look at some of what he’s done:

Strickland walked us through the aforementioned slide show that told his personal story and how he grew his incredible organization that’s having real lasting positive effects on the community. He’s been so successful that the program is being replicated in 5 more cities across the US and there are plans for at least 7 more in the US and internationally. Strickland says he up for doing this in 100 communities and then after that he’ll take a break. If that doesn’t make you feel like a slacker…

And in case you missed the TED presentation in those early posts we did about him, here is the first part of his current slide show:
Bear in mind this was recorded in 2002 and he’s accomplished MUCH more since then….hence my calling it the “first part”.


That’s a lot to take in right? Well after both of these incredible speakers there was a panel discussion in which audience members got to pose questions to Chang and Strickland, as well as locals Chris Miller and Dr. Liz Desnoyers-Colas.

The finale event for the day and the festival itself was a concert featuring Savannah’s own Brittany Bosco and Anthony David. Let me tell you…they put their foot in it!!! Bosco was a smooth jazzy-funky build up to David who rocked the house. I’ve not been able to get David’s ‘Kinfolk’ out of my head since that night. The crowd was small and intimate and the entire performance had the feeling a jam-session among friends. AWESOME!!

Here is David’s Grammy-nominated song ‘Words’ featuring India Arie:

A truly fantastic event, made even more impressive when you consider how difficult it was to get Strickland and Chang here. Strickland who travels all over the world is a highly sought-after speaker, and commented before his talk that DaVena pursued him for a year until he had no choice but to agree to come to Savannah, and this was the LAST speaking engagement for Chang for a while; he is taking a 2 year break from touring to work on his next 2 books.

The only downside in all of this was the disappointing turnout by the Savannah community. I’d be remiss if I did not call attention to the fact that my neighbors and friends missed out on a truly inspiring event. You know you’ve experienced something important, when you find yourself unable to sleep at night because of the ideas and possibilities swirling around in your head. That’s been me since the festival.

Many, many thanks to all the incredible artists who participated in the Savannah Urban Arts Festival, and especially guest speakers Chang and Strickland who gave us serious food for thought. Most of all, I want to send a giant Paragon hug to Tony and DaVena. You guys blow my mind on a regular basis.

Well done! This was year 1 of the festival….what’s gonna happen next year?!

In case you want to learn more about AWOL (All Walks of Life) you should read the article on them in this month’s (May ’09) Black Enterprise Magazine.

You can check out their website: http://awolinc.org/

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Susan Isaacs

Susan’s a multitask-er who prides herself on the vast number of things (read: loose papers and coffee cups) on her desk at any one time, and yet she still manages to keep an eye on all the moving parts at Paragon.

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