BAM! Black Arts Movement Festival

There's a point to the exclamation point

Jamel Gaines & Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn
Jamel Gaines & Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn

Anyone who lives in Central Texas knows that Austin loves a festival, and Austin especially loves a festival with a name that makes a nice acronym. And while ACL and SXSW might think they've got that market cornered, you'd be hard-pressed to find a finer festival acronym for theatre, music, film, or any other art form than ProArts Collective's BAM!

BAM! got its start around 15 years ago when the late Boyd Vance, ProArts' co-founder and longtime artistic director, started the African-American Dance Festival. After Vance's untimely death in 2005, Lisa Byrd took the ProArts helm, and one of the first things she did was expand Vance's concept. "That was a very successful festival," says Byrd. "Boyd brought in a lot of new and emerging dancers from around the country. But it was strictly focused on dance, and since ProArts' mission is to build a black arts community, we thought a very good way to do that was to bring in black artists, both regional and national, of all genres."

BAM! began in February 2006 as a weekend event with only four acts at the Carver Museum & Cultural Center and the Off Center, home of the Rude Mechs, who have been and continue to be one of BAM!'s biggest supporters. It has since morphed into a three-week affair with more than 30 regional and national acts. This year's edition, which takes place June 4-19, features companies and artists from Arizona, California, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Brooklyn. With offerings in dance, film, comedy, theatre, music, spoken word, storytelling, puppetry, and, yes, food, BAM! offers an eclecticism that those better-known festivals with the fancy acronyms just can't match.

Where to begin with BAM!? The best place is probably the BAM! Cafe, a free event that kicks off the festival on Friday, June 4, at the Carver's Boyd Vance Theatre and features food, film, music, visual arts, and spoken word. In keeping with the spirit of Vance's original festival, the days following will include modern dance performances, including Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Jamel Gaines & Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn, as well as a performance of Capoeira Angola, an Afro-Brazilian dance form presented by Austin's Project Abundant Life, and a contemporary dance performance from the relatively new Austin troupe Ballet Afrique. For the first time in the festival's history, BAM! will offer a night of comedy, with performances by Kelvin Girdy, Lashonda Lester, Rhode Island's In House Freestyle, and L.A.'s Black Prince. And lest you think Byrd has left out even a single demographic, BAM! offers shows strictly for the young'uns: storytelling by Austin's Elizabeth Kahura on June 5 and a puppet show by Tennessee's Wood and Strings Theatre on June 12.

Perhaps the single most interesting BAM! event, outside of the Cultural Heritage District Street Festival, presented in conjunction with the African American Cultural Heritage District, which features a concert by Leela James, is what ProArts calls "Culinary One Acts," in which three local women offer up their fried chicken recipes at the former Ms. B's restaurant, under the watchful eye of nationally known culinary journalist and author Toni Tipton-Martin.

So move over, all you other fancy-acronymed festivals. You know you can't match homemade fried chicken.

And now you know why this festival is the only one that gets an exclamation point!

The Black Arts Movement Festival runs June 4-19 at various locations. For more information, visit

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