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Black Artists Marketplace Festival at Your House!



By Maitefa Angaza

This weekend all are invited to enjoy something many of us miss dearly — a showcase of Black creative brilliance!
The Black Artists Marketplace, hosted by innovative jeweler Lavalais and veteran milliner Ella Issac, returns for its third weekend of showcasing artists and featuring performances, many of them from Louisiana.
“I’m from Louisiana and came to New York in the ‘80s,” said Lavalais in a recent Our Time Press interview. “Most of my career I was a professional photographer. I started making jewelry in 1995, and in 2005 returned home to care for my mother. She was 87 at the time and lived to be 103!
“While in New York I created the ear spear, a piece of bamboo that looks like it goes through your ear. Brenda Brunson-Bey was wearing it in Brooklyn and the New York Times did an article on her. I started getting all kinds of requests for it. I’ve contributed, you know. I came up with the first loc tie and beaded loc slides.”
Lavalais was accustomed to yearly sales trips along with his friend Ella Issac, a Britain-born milliner he met while doing shows at the Javits Center. They’d go together to Capital Jazz Fest, the Essence Festival, Dance Africa! in Brooklyn and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. But when the pandemic hit, everything shut down, including their primary sources of income. Lavalais says that after talking to his mother at her gravesite one day, the idea came to create an online festival.
But on reaching out to people to create it as fellow producers, no one was interested. So, he launched it himself and invited his friends to come on as guests. Ella, who had relocated to Philadelphia, was first to come and then agreed to co-produce and cohost. They knew many of the same artists, reached out again for participants and the rest is (recent) history!
This weekend marks the third BAM event, Saturday through Monday, Feb. 13th-15th from 2-8pm. The market, with its eclectic offering of wearable art, painting, sculpture, dolls, hats, jewelry and more, has rapidly become a big hit with a waiting list! Eighteen artists are showcased over the weekend — six per day, each allotted 50 mins. Yes, that’s a six-hour festival! So, people can drop in online for a short or long while and keep the festival with them on a laptop or on their phone.
The timeslots allow artists to connect with audience members, many of whom comment or ask questions in the sidebar chat. Some will live-order an item on the spot before it’s gone. Most of the wearable art designers feature a mini fashion show and a popular attraction is a performance component, including African dance and drumming, jazz, spoken word and other fare, live or on video.
Artists are selling well and want to come back. The customers are happy too, particularly those who now have access to Black cultural creativity not readily available in Wichita, Kansas, or Wyoming. In fact, people in Brooklyn might feel like they’re in Wichita right now, considering the absence of the rich cultural climate we’ve been missing since last March.
“It [BAM], came out of a need to be seen and to also help our friends,” says Ella. “It’s a lot of work and we both run our own businesses as well. But we are growing extraordinarily well and it’s a way to for us to reach people in cities we’ve never gone to.”
Lavalais and Ella are looking forward to welcoming new audience members this weekend, along with new artists and returning favorites. Among those featured will be: Brenda from Tribal Truths Collection, Marvin Sin and Akosua Bandele, Sweet Octavia, Ashanti Fields, dollmaker Ingrid Humphrey Goode, The Art of Robbie, Sistaphyre, Aziz Diagne, Unitees and others. Have fun shopping or window-shopping!

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