Phone Home, an exhibit at the George W. Carver Museum and Cultural Center, celebrated its opening with a festival on Thursday, March 16. Festivalgoers experienced a multi-generational crowd that was fully engaged from beginning to end. It was perfect weather, with mild temperatures, a gentle breeze, and bright blue skies that rivaled the electric blue of the Phone Home interactive exhibit inside.
The stage perched at the top of the lawn of the Juneteenth Memorial Park was home to a wide range of talented artists. Poets, drummers, rappers, singers and songwriters all took part in the life celebration that acknowledged the beauty and power of Black culture across the Diaspora. Youth and elders alike enjoyed the music and words, and the carefree come-and-go atmosphere truly made festivalgoers feel that they were “home.”
The carefree come-and-go atmosphere truly made festivalgoers feel that they were home.
Festival and exhibit visionary and organizer Jessica Valoris kept the crowd energized by introducing non-stop acts that had the audience singing along, clapping, and dancing all over the lawn. In between performances, attendees purchased Afrocentric wares, including jewelry, clothing, incense, health products, and merchandise from featured artists.
At one juncture, Carver site coordinator, Para Agboga, greeted everyone in attendance and called their attention to the prominent Juneteenth statues positioned around the memorial park. She gave away a pair of tickets to Fela!, a concert celebrating Afrobeat founder, Fela Kuti, at the Long Center. The giveaway was based on correct answers to Juneteenth-related questions.
A hiphop-based exhibit and festival to encourage courageous creativity, the Phone Home lineup included Colored Girl Hustle, Riders Against the Storm, JP Reynolds, Michael Love, and Las Krudas.
After hearing the inspiring local and international talent, the evening closed-out with high energy DJ Shani, who spun an eclectic mix of old and new favorites that rang out long after the sun had set.
The evening closed-out with high energy DJ Shani.
Guests were encouraged to partake in Valoris’ indoor Phone Home exhibit, where her striking multimedia vision in turquoise and copper promoted self- affirmation and positive thinking. Valoris is the founder of the Xigga Projeck, which promotes the celebration of the marginalized, taboo, and excluded communities.
Xigga Projeck promotes the celebration of the marginalized, taboo, and excluded communities.
According to Valoris, “Xigga is about creating new language and new ways of honoring Black resilience.”
Participants were encouraged to pick up vintage copper-toned phones and experience a variety of sounds. On one, the soulful sounds of Sun Ra Arkestra came through. On another, gleeful children could be heard sing-songing “Ice water! Just one dollar!”, clearly excited about their fundraising enterprise. On yet another, soothing poetic lines came through the receiver, on a mission to encourage and fortify the soul. The final Phone Home station invited participants to make affirmations through an interactive experience guided by printed instructions.
Mirrors along an entire wall are inscribed with what appears to be Valoris’ recipe for wholesome living: Eat well; call your Mom; burn sage; dance; and much more.
Phone Home is a brave, unique, and “woke” experience that bodes well for Austin’s Black creative community. If this festival is any indication, Austinites can look forward to out-of-the-box, inclusive artistic offerings that expand the relationship between art and community. Although the festival only lasted one afternoon. the interior exhibit remains on display.