WILMINGTON – After a two-year hiatus, Lumina Festival of the Arts will return to UNCW’s campus next month — four months earlier than its usual summertime schedule. Its organizers have a new outlook and approach, in hopes of reaching and representing more students.
The 13-day music, theater and arts celebration is centering on inclusivity and equal opportunity, with the theme Reggae Redemption Rising.
“Once we had to cancel in 2020 because of Covid, it really gave us an opportunity to rethink how this festival could be produced,” UNCW’s director of arts engagement Fidias Reyes said. “And what we realized is that we really were missing that student component.”
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The undergraduate and graduate population decreases by about 51% once spring semester is finished. Holding the event during summer months seemed like a missed opportunity to engage students, Reyes explained.
“This year is an experiment, and we’re hoping to create something new here that resonates with the community,” she said, “to draw in a different audience, and to really speak about diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as tap into a community that I don’t think is really tapped into.”
Reyes has been a driving force behind promoting equity and equality on campus over the past year. She launched “Artivism,” a series of events that utilized art as a conduit for students to discuss race, racial fairness and what it means in relation to their campus environment.
She wanted to continue on the same path in establishing a theme for this year’s Lumina Festival. More so, Reyes wanted to program events that would also speak to the 7.02% of students who are Hispanic or Latino, 4.9% who are Black and African American, and the other ethnicities often underrepresented, in addition to the 77.6% of the student body that are white.
Reyes reached out to Kimberly McLaughlin-Smith, specialist for UNCW’s Diversity and Inclusion Learning Development, as well as radio host for Wilmington’s 29-year program Reggae Redemption. Reyes also sought the guidance of Rhonda Bellamy, executive director of the Arts Council of Wilmington/New Hanover County and co-founder of the Black Arts Alliance.
After enduring two years of hardships from a global pandemic and seeing firsthand the growing interest in social activism after the death of George Floyd in 2020, McLaughlin-Smith suggested embracing the meaning of reggae. Its message would promote the community coming together to create a peaceful and accepting environment for all — a “oneness,” so to speak.
“What we really hope for folks to do as they come to the different events, is to find their place in all of this art, music and culture,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “Everybody’s going to be able to find where they fit and where they resonate, and that’s what we’ve built for this year’s festival.”
Lumina Festival will welcome more than 10 reggae artists to the stage, including Iya Terra, Steel Pulse, Mystic Vibrations, Pure Fiya and Artikal Sound System. McLaughlin-Smith described Pure Fiya, a Greensboro-based act, playing a style of reggae “rooted in old-school, Bob Marley-type reggae.”
“We were intentional about who we brought, and for people who don’t know the Reggae genre: Trust us, this is a really big deal,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “I think this is a great time for us as a university, with diversity as one of the cornerstones of our strategic plan, to bring and bridge so many cultures, races, genders and orientations through music, which I think is a universal language.”
According to Reyes, of the 132 artists that were a part of the 2019 Lumina Festival, only 35% were artists of color and 65% were Caucasian. This year she has 93 artists with 45% being people of color, showing a 10% overall increase in ethnic variance.
“Could UNCW and a lot of predominantly white institutions use more visual diversity? Absolutely,” McLaughlin-Smith said. “Efforts like this particular festival and how we strategize as to what we would bring to the festival will lend itself to [diversity], and I know that what we’re doing is trying to address that issue and concern by bringing these communities together.”
Since its founding in 2017, Lumina Festival has partnered with Alchemical Theatre Company, which produces modern takes on Shakespearean plays, and Opera Wilmington annually. Neither production company is involved this year, a significant change from previous fests.
“Alchemical is no longer in existence and Opera Wilmington only produces during the summer,” Reyes explained.
Instead, the team is welcoming Grammy nominee Wayne Wallace to perform African American-Latin world music on trombone, while Minnesota-based Trampled By Turtles will bring their brand of bluegrass to the Kenan Auditorium stage.
Former Wilmington actor Tré Cotten will be coming in from Washington state to host his “Human Mortals Project.” The play brings together storytellers to perform music, poetry, spoken word, and monologues. Three one-act plays by David Ives also are scheduled to be performed as part of UNCW Department of Theatre’s student labs.
The Second City Conservatory will provide the comedy and Wilmington Latin Dance is hosting Salsa dance parties. Art displays, including a Protest Sign Exhibition at UNCW’s Cultural Arts Building, are planned.
Reyes said the protest exhibit features a “compilation of about 60 artists from all over the southeast region,” some of whom she hopes will attend to talk about their creation process.
Events don’t only take place on campus; a reggae ball is planned at downtown’s Ironclad Brewery, and at the arts council gallery, ACES, “The Reggae Redemption Rising: We Are One Exhibit” will be on display. African-, Caribbean-, and Jamaican-inspired artwork will feature watercolors by local artist Cammeron Batanides, as well as art by El Seed Art and Nii Narku Thompson, both from Africa, and Maximillian Mozingo out of Goldsboro, N.C.
Of the 20 events taking place during almost two weeks of the festival, eight are free to students and the public. Certain performances will be discounted to $5 for students who provide their ID, with prices ranging from $10-$45 for those who do not attend UNCW.
Reyes said the festival promotes the arts as a connector for entertainment, enjoyment and to help steer tough conversations that can lead to change.
“I think that anything artistic opens people up, and when people are open, people start to listen. Those conversations are things that I try to inject myself into integrating because it really lends itself to people coming together,” she said. “After all the collective trauma that we’ve been through, especially now, a way out of it is to be able to talk about it and heal together, and the arts have the power to do that.”
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