The Sweetwater Center for the Arts is taking its annual festival that showcases Black art and culture online and outside.
The center’s 24th annual MAVUNO Festival of African American Arts and Culture, which runs from Oct. 10 to Nov. 7, will offer a self-guided walking tour of African Americans’ role in Sewickley. The festival will also include an online, virtual art exhibition.
Barbara Pontello, Sweetwater’s chairwoman, said she’s excited for the tour to highlight “the art and history of African Americans in Sewickley and the region.”
“It’s a fascinating look at the rich and vibrant role they played in making this ‘small corner of Pittsburgh’ into a gem of a town,” she said.
For the tour, participants can download a mobile app that guides them to 12 landmarks throughout the borough. Each stop will have a description to read and a video to watch. It kicks off at the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial in Sewickley Cemetery.
The memorial, touted as the largest of its kind in the country, honors around 100 Tuskegee Airmen from Western Pennsylvania. Of those, eight were from Sewickley, according to the literature attached to the tour guide.
The two-mile tour then takes participants to churches, businesses and other Black meeting places established throughout Sewickley, including Smitty’s Bar on Walnut Street (now the site of Studio B Interior Design) and St. Matthews AME Zion Church on Thorn Street. It ends at the former Walter Raleigh Robinson American Legion on Chadwick Street. It was founded in 1922 and named after the first Black man to die as a result of an injury from World War II.
“When faced with challenges they, time after time, joined together to overcome those obstacles,” reads the tour’s website. “When told they were not welcome, they created their own spaces, often establishing organizations that typically only Black communities in large cities were able to support.”
Alex Watrous, Sweetwater’s curator, said she hopes every person in Sewickley takes the tour to see just how “outstanding Sewickley’s Black community is.”
“I would like people to have a greater understanding of Black history overall. We can’t really understand American history if we leave out the African American story,” she said. “We cheat ourselves by only having the narrow view taught in most schools. If we find out about something that happened in the past that weren’t taught about, we should research it to find out more, then wonder what else we don’t know.”
Watrous helped put together the tour, but she is also the curator for the center’s “Black Art Matters: Revisiting 10 years of MAVUNO Exhibitions” exhibition. The show, which will be virtual since the gallery is closed, will feature works from Black artists whose art has been showcased by the center over the 10 years.
Watrous said the name hearkens to Black Lives Matter protests that erupted this year after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis. She said the center looked for a way to remind people to listen to the voices of Black artists.
“Black artists have a story to tell that is specific to their experience and they have been telling that story for decades. It is our job to listen and consider their expression in full context,” Watrous said.
A prominent theme, therefore, will revolve around social justice.
Some of those pieces include Brett C. Wormsley’s “A Reflection On Justice,” which was showcased in a 2011 exhibition. The piece depicts how many lives are affected when injustices are carried out on people of color. Other pieces include Mary Hakim Martin’s “Transcending Tragedy” and “You People” by Lynne B.
The exhibition will come online Oct. 10 at Sweetwatercenter.org.