With the third annual Blacktastic: A Children’s Festival of Maryland Black History + Culture, students from all over Maryland will celebrate Black History Month through the arts. Organized by Arts for Learning Maryland, Blacktastic will take place from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.

Officials promised that the virtual event will deliver seven inspiring performances and educational workshops by teaching artists that celebrate renowned Black Marylanders, while building pride among the students. The event introduces students to those important Black figures through dance, music, storytelling and more. Planners chose local Black artists to present at historic sites related to each Marylander.

Organizers said the festival allows students to go on a virtual field trip to learn about people like Mother Mary Lange, explorer Matthew Henson, and musician Chick Webb.

As part of the interactive experience, participating students sing, dance, and make art virtually with each artist that they watch. A news release said that the festival aims to help students learn more about history, science, and math by combining traditional learning with artistic expression.

Hugh Wesley Barnes Jr., Director of Bands at Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County, believes the festival has already impacted his students.

“Thanks to my student’s participation in Arts for Learning Maryland’s Blacktastic festival, they are more motivated to develop their skills now, knowing the purpose and importance of their creativity,” Barnes stated.

Jessica Smith Hebron, Chief Program Officer at Arts for Learning Maryland, said she believes the festival will bring joy and inspiration to students while also celebrating the rich history of Black culture in Maryland. 

“Students will celebrate the joyful, beautiful, inspiring history of Black culture in Maryland by learning the stories of Marylanders who have broken barriers, made change, and inspired millions,” Hebron noted.

The virtual festival is open to students and educators of all ages, and registration includes a digital activity book to help students remember what they learned during the event. With over 30,000 students attending last year’s festival, Blacktastic officials said the program remains hugely popular, and is helping students across the state learn about Black history.

Event planners insisted that by infusing traditional learning with artistic expression, the festival transforms routine learning experiences while reinforcing classroom lessons in math, English, history, science, and math with curriculum-aligned content.

“When Jessica reached out to me about Blacktastic, I was excited that the festival celebrates and promotes the success of Black Marylanders, old and new, by involving youth who now can speak and show their feelings and emotions through the performing arts,” Barnes added.

Hebron recalled her days as a sixth grader, noting that her social studies teacher challenged students to learn about Black history in their community.

“I never forgot how much my sense of cultural pride and connection to my beloved state of Maryland increased from the Black history projects she assigned,” Hebron recalled.

“Through ‘Blacktastic,’ I want today’s children to develop that sense of pride of place so that they could, in turn, be inspired to make a difference in their communities as well.”

To learn more about Blackstastic, visit https://www.artsforlearningmd.org/blacktastic. BT

Stacy M. Brown
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