by Kai EL’ Zabar
No Passport Needed for African Festival of The Arts
Twenty-six years ago West African American Patrick Woodtor, entrepreneur who hailed from Liberia and had attended Northwestern University was the owner of Window to Africa a store located in the heartbeat of Hyde Park’s Harper Square. Upon accepting his lease for the store, included was a requirement that he do something to help promote the courtyard. Though he though it strange he agreed.
Window to Africa was the passport to Africa for many who had never been. Textiles, clothing , art, jewelry and other artifacts could be experienced and purchased there. Not to mention the stimulating dialog that took place often tempered in politics and history as travelers from the African Diaspora came through. The shop became a hotspot and social place for artisans, historians, activists and academicians. On any given day you could find Patrick and or his wife working in the store hold court with customers. “It was like the market place at home,” Said Woodtor, “People came to shop, but socialize too. For many they were inspired to travel for the first time to Africa. Some even met their future spouses or found romance through chance meetings at the shop. So the African Arts Festival is really and expanded extension of Window to Africa. It is a window to the wonderful cultures of Africa many of which are represented at the four day event.”
As co-founder along with others who have moved on Patrick speaks to the phenomena saying, “The first festival evolved out of an obligation and at that time I did not envision what it has become and can become until after the overwhelming response to what we were doing.’” Since then the African Arts Festival has continued to grow attracting hundreds of thousands including visitors, talent, and vendors who come from all over at its annual gathering of arts and culture.
No longer the store owner of Window to Africa but rather the CEO of Africa International House USA, Inc., Patrick continues to be the visionary and managing director of the African Arts Festival. As he puts it, “It began with a small group of art and community enthusiasts with interests in marketing and promoting African based cultures as well as to create marketplace for African and Afro Centric products and services.”
“Today we are looking to expand our reach into areas beyond the arts and have begun to do so with the entry of a South African wine, this and other such examples are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Woodtor.
In the face of the now defunct The African Marketplace of Los Angeles after 25 years and the Black Arts Festival of Atlanta /NBAF now 27 years old the 26 year old African Arts Festival now boasts more visitors than both. The four-day festival held over the Labor Day Holiday weekend attracts over 200,000 people who come to Washington Park on the south side of Chicago to engage artists and other preservers of culture from all over the African Diaspora, including local, national and international performing artists, fine artists, fashion designers, galleries and art dealers, food sellers and many other cultural programs under specialized pavilions.
With rumors of Woodtor retiring questions regarding its future scream through the community, but the tried and true visionary assures us that there is much work to be done that requires his gentle hand of guidance. He envisions creating greater relationships with African countries and the opportunity to collaborate in an effort to create open communication and exchange of information between the African Diaspora from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. “This will change the way in which we do business across the board, and enrich our cultures and our sense of self and independence,” says Woodtor.
The annual African Festival of the Arts is a multi-cultural unique presentation of national and international culture performing artists, and many other cultural programs under specialized pavilions in the world if for no other reason than that its location is Chicago, the home of numerous successful Black entrepreneurs, businessmen, artists, which is the home of Robert Abbott Sengstacke founder of the Chicago Defender who instigated the Great Migration, which in turn fostered Black entrepreneurial enterprise and self-determination.
Through interactive engagements, vibrant drumming, museum quality and collectible artifacts, colorful and rich hand-woven fabric and textile, and other program spaces and Interactive spaces over 200,000 people come to Washington Park on the south side of Chicago to engage artists and other preservers of culture from all over the African Diaspora, including local, national and international performing artists, fine artists, fashion designers, galleries and art dealers, food sellers and many other cultural programs under specialized pavilions.
This year the African Festival of the Arts opens Friday September 4, with a Chicago tradition of Steppin’ with DJs Sam Chatman and K’Jon. Saturday offers The Children’s Pavilion which kicks off with the Drummers Circle and concludes daily at 4:30, The African Beats showcasing Muntu Dance Theater, Nola Ade –Neo Soul and DJ sounds are just a few of the highlights. Sunday brings Chicago’s Best featuring vocalists Terisa Griffin, Tammy McCann; HipHop Tap Dance Troupe Madd Rhythms just to name a few. Monday’s Soul Fest closes out the weekend with sophisticated sultry songtress Joan Colasso and smooth sexy soulful Jeffery Osborne.
The gates opens at 10 am and closes 10 pm
For tickets, program and more information go to https://www.aihusa.org/african-festival/