Black Arts Fest MKE is the New Afro Fest 

A Reimanged Take on Milwaukee’s Afro Fest

The annual Black Arts Fest MKE is a reimagined version of the African American World Festival which was on Summerfest grounds in Milwaukee for 30 years featuring music, fashion, and food. This year’s festival was held on August 5, 2023, and featured art, education, music, entertainment, poetry, dance, fashion, literature, heritage, health, wellness, community, cuisine, and more.

Different from Juneteenth which commemorates freedom, Black Arts Fest MKE has entrepreneurship and entertainment as the main attractions to celebrate culture. New board members of the festival Greg Wesley and Wisconsin State Representative Kalan Haywood were excited to bring the idea back to life. 

Black Arts Fest MKE 2023
Black Arts Fest MKE 2023. (Picture by Joy Boyd/Carvd N Stone)

“The event is relatively new under this name but same idea and same concept to promote Black culture and support Black businesses,” said Haywood.

“If you want to get a piece of artwork, a plant, some kind of knick knack for your house, think about supporting entrepreneurs and artists who make those things. Be intentional about spending your money with small businesses,” said Wesley.

Getting to Know the Vendors

Festival goer and local artist Mayah Flaw learned about the event through social media and was intrigued by the fashion designs.

“I love the African pieces. I’m a big fan of the tribal fashion, tribal art, and jewelry,” said Flaw.

While at the festival, Flaw supported Skybox, a popular Black-owned restaurant in Milwaukee. Flaw got herself one of their soul roll creations: a jerk chicken egg roll with jalapeño mac and cheese, greens, and yams. 

“Soul roll from Skybox is the truth. When you bite into it you get that collard green taste. I feel good after eating it. It’s not too heavy, especially for a festival like this,” said Flaw.

Milwaukee lifestyle and body care brand FreQueency was also vending at the festival. Owner Makaiya Saygo loved participating in a festival that highlights Black people and Black culture by Black people.

Saygo started her business three years ago by helping family members with skin irritation problems. Her brand FreQueency promotes positive energy and manifestation with natural products like candles and moon water. 

“I started making a lotion for my dad’s dry skin a few years ago and decided that I could actually do something with this,” said Saygo.

Black Arts Fest MKE comes once a year but leadership encourages the community to support Black art and Black entrepreneurship all year long.

Joy Boyd

Joy Boyd is a freelance writer with a background in marketing with diversity, equity & inclusion efforts. She has managed digital media platforms for Black empowerment publications and has written biweekly newsletters on topics from self-awareness to retaining talent in local communities. Her goal is to put out positive and educational messaging.

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