The Colorado Black Arts Festival Celebrates Culture and Its Founder This Weekend

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Bandan Koro : African Drum & Dance Ensemble performs at the 2022 festival. Photo by Jeff Fard.

The 37th Annual Colorado Black Arts Festival (CBAF) is happening this weekend, July 7-9, out in Denver’s City Park West. Founded in 1986 by Oyedele Oginga and the late Perry Ayers, the festival has been a staple ever since, having escalated to over 60,000 attendees in just the first 3 years, and always being a spectacle for the neighborhood. Despite other areas like Civic Center Park being in the city itself and a common ground for festivals and events, keeping it close to the community is a major component which is why it stays where it is.

303 magazine, Colorado, Colorado festival, Colorado Black Arts Festival, Dance, Culture, Music
An audience of attendees in front of the Kuumba stage, waiting for the next performance. Photo by Joe Neely.

“It’s one of those things where the people there know that every year around this time, they can expect to see it happen and it’s something to look forward to,” Florence “Flo” Ayers, Executive Director of the CBAF, said. “We really try to keep it close to keep that authentic, personal atmosphere.”

Ayers also mentioned that she isn’t one of the original founders, but she believed in the project after seeing how much work was going into it and decided to hop on board, calling her brother Perry a true visionary.

The CBAF, first known as the Denver Black Arts Festival before rebranding in 2009 after growing, is incredibly grassroots in its mission and organization, being completely volunteer-led and having a strong focus on elevating the voices of local artists. The vision Perry had was to raise the level of appreciation for the role that Black arts and culture play in the development, growth and well-being of the community, as well as the opportunity to educate the public on Black culture.

303 magazine, Colorado, Colorado festival, Colorado Black Arts Festival, Dance, Culture, Music
Mardi Gras Indians perform on stage at the 2022 CBAF. The tradition began as an African American tribute to American Indians who helped runaway slaves in Louisiana. Photo by Jeff Fard.

The CBAF is a cultural pillar. A place where people within those communities can feel like they belong, as well as invite in anyone who may be curious about what it is and who is in it. Flo brought up that several other cultures have their own spin on it as well. 

“There’s a Greek festival in Denver, there’s a Boulder Jewish Festival, there’s Cinco de Mayo, all kinds of cultural festivals where people go to connect and have fun and be surrounded by it,” Ayers said. “We’re happy to represent ours every year close to home.”

This year is the first year it’ll be without one of its founders, as Perry passed away in March from cancer. A celebration of his life will be held during the festival to commemorate his dedication to this effort and to show that his ideas will live on. The family of Perry has also set up a page for donations to “honor his legacy in keeping the tradition of African diaspora arts and culture thriving in Colorado.”

303 magazine, Colorado, Colorado festival, Colorado Black Arts Festival, Dance, Culture, Music
Vendor from the 2019 CBAF selling various African goods like accessories and drums. Photo by Joe Neely.

The CBAF will have a swath of booths, events and performances lined up all weekend, from R&B and Gospel groups on stage to “The Watu Sakoni” – the People’s Marketplace –  where visitors can get unique finds from as far away as Africa as well as local artisanal goods. A food court with foods from the American South, the African continent and the Caribbean, a Hair and Beauty pavilion and more await anyone looking to browse through this free public event.

All Photos provided by Florence Ayers


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