FOREST PARK – Summer heat has swept St. Louis early this year, but it was the perfect weather for the 28th annual African Arts Festival.
Held in and around the World’s Fair Pavilion in Forest Park, the event took place over the three days of Memorial Day Weekend, drawing crowds of thousands to shop, play games and listen to music as well as check out the offerings of the 85-plus vendors.
With so many vendors, there was a wide array of goods at the festival, from jewelry to clothes to artwork. One stall featured poetry and children’s books. Another featured works by an artist who, he told The SouthSider, started painting after his father passed.
The festival was founded by Cynthia Crosby, who got the idea after attending the second National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta in the late ’80s. After meeting with the officials who ran that festival, she decided to create her own event modeled on it.
The first African Arts Festival in St. Louis happened in 1991.
Cosby said the event had grown significantly from the first year – so much, in fact, that this year the festival had to turn away some vendors. Twenty years ago, about 45 vendors participated; the event has nearly doubled since then.
The vendors vary greatly, Cosby said. Some are native-born black Americans, but many also come from various African countries, including Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and Senegal.
“Many of them live in the United States, but many of them go home because they have family members at home, and they replenish their supply and bring it back to the United States,” she explained.
Cosby hopes the festival will continue for a long time.
“It should be a fixture of St. Louis,” she said. “Hopefully it will never die.”
She said an event such as the African Arts Festival was important “because it brings everybody together. Everybody comes from all walks of life, socio-economic backgrounds. It’s for everybody, all the way to the youth, teens, adults and even the grandfolks.”
For more information about next year’s African Arts Festival, check out www.stlafricanartsfest.com.