The four words that Ewa Harr, IX Art Park’s director of events and operations, would use to describe this year’s Soul of Cville festival? Family, fashion, fun and music!
Soul of Cville is one of five signature events that IX Art Park, a nonprofit arts organization in Charlottesville, produces annually with support from community partners. The three-day, free-of-charge festival takes place on the weekend of Aug. 12 – this year, Aug. 11-13 – to intentionally coincide with the date of the fatal white supremacist march in Charlottesville in 2017. Festival organizers aim to prove that Charlottesville’s Black community is flourishing regardless of past events and to provide positive models to younger members of the community.
“Instead of going the morose route and memorializing [Aug. 12], we wanted to reclaim that day,” said Khalilah Jones, member of IX Art Park’s Advisory Board and principal organizer of Soul of Cville. “It was a momentous occasion, of course, for the city of Charlottesville, but it doesn’t have to define us.”
Soul of Cville 2023’s Focus: Centering Black Youth
Soul of Cville celebrates Black culture in all its forms: performances spotlight community members who excel in fashion, music, dance, media and the visual arts, and Black business owners will have the opportunity to showcase their offerings. All attendees are also invited to get creative and have fun with a painting event, roller skating, a film screening, a 360-degree photo booth and an afterparty.
This year’s event focuses especially on celebrating Black youth. The festival’s kickoff on Friday night will feature a glow-in-the-dark-themed fashion show spearheaded by Black teenagers. Jones and her team encouraged students at Charlottesville and Albemarle County high schools to sign up with the promise that everyone would have a place, whether it be modeling, sourcing outfits or another role.
The festival also will exhibit a community mural created by Black youth at the Blue Ridge Detention Center. Jones encountered the teenagers’ work at Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative and knew she wanted the pieces on display at Soul of Cville.
“I was mesmerized by these murals,” Jones said. “I said, ‘I don’t know what we have to do, but I need them at our festival.’ It goes back to the glow-in-the-dark idea. Those kids made something beautiful out of their situation.”
New This Year: A Scholarship for Exceptional Black Teenagers
The final piece of Soul of Cville’s youth programming is the inaugural “Let’s Intentionally Thrive” (L.I.T.) scholarship presentation. The scholarship will honor local Black teenagers planning to attend college or give back to their communities through leadership or community service.
“Going around and talking to the youth about their future and what they needed to thrive, they were overwhelmingly saying that they didn’t feel like they had much support outside of their family,” Jones said. “This scholarship is for the youth in the community who are intentionally making forward-moving action. They’re doing things to try to improve themselves and their lives.”
A Festival for Everyone
While this year’s festival spotlights Black youth, the event is designed to foster joy, belonging and creativity among everyone who attends.
“A moment that stood out for me last year was the crowd during the fashion show and how absolutely excited everybody was,” Harr said. “Some of the models’ kids were present, and seeing how beaming and proud they were seeing their moms or their relatives on stage was such a joyful and wonderful moment. That’s what this is about.”