African World Festival returns to Detroit’s Hart Plaza, entrance fee concerns some

By: - June 24, 2022 9:08 am

City of Detroit historian and African World Festival presenter Jamon Jordan said that some will be “shocked” by the new festival entrance fee. | Ken Coleman photo

The African World Festival will be held at Detroit’s Hart Plaza for the first time in nearly a decade. But many of those who attend the 39th annual event, which will be held July 15-17, will have to pay to do so for the first time.

Jamon Jordan, City of Detroit historian and a festival presenter, said that the entrance fee is significant at a time when Americans are facing rising costs for automobile fuel and food. 

“People who have been conditioned for the last few years of going to the Charles H. Wright Museum are going to be shocked that there is a ticket price,” said Jordan.

Organized by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the festival is Detroit’s largest celebration of the African diaspora.

During one of the city’s signature outdoor summer events, Jordan will lead two hour-long walking tours that include the history of the Underground Railroad and the 1963 Detroit “Walk to Freedom” march and rally that featured the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Single-day tickets range from $15 for adults (ages 13 and above); $10 for Youth (ages 4 – 12); and admission is free for children ages 3 and under. Charles H. Wright Museum members will be admitted to the festival for free. It is not the only festival at the site that has an entry fee. The annual Movement techno music festival has charged attendees for entry for several years. However, several outdoor festivals at the popular gathering space, including the annual Detroit Jazz Festival, are entry free. 

The annual Wright museum membership fee for individuals is $35; $65 for families (up to two adults and four children); $25 for college students; and $15 for seniors.  

Traditionally, the city of Detroit has helped to fund operations at the museum. Neil Barclay, president and CEO of Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, said during a news conference on Wednesday that vendors and performers requested the venue change. Barclay encouraged people to become museum members and attend the festival.  

“It will be much cheaper for you if you become a member,” said Barclay. 

The festival had been held at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in the city’s Midtown area for the last nine years. It moved to the museum grounds from Hart Plaza, in part, due to needed capital improvements at Hart Plaza and financial challenges that the city of Detroit and museum faced. Entrance to the festival has been free for years. The Ford Foundation is the festival’s lead funder.

“They were really excited about that move,” said Barclay.  

Vocalist Lizz Wright will perform at the 39th annual African World Festival | Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History photo

However, attending downtown events is more expensive than it was a decade ago. Parking fees, in many cases, have tripled during event days and evenings. Some city-owned lots charge between $10 to 15 to park; private-owned lots in downtown Detroit charge as much at $40 or $50 on major events days or nights. City of Detroit parking tickets have risen from $10 to $20 to $45 in recent years. 

More than 150 art, book and food vendors will offer their merchandise during the festival. Barclay said he expects to attract more than 50,000 people over the weekend. 

The festival, first held in 1983, is one of Detroit’s leading outdoor summer events. Here’s Detroit Historical Society footage from the first festival. That year, noted visual artist Carl Owens designed the festival’s first poster and King Sunny Ade performed. Headliners over the years have included Bronx hip-hop legend Afrika Bambaataa, South African trumpeter Hugh Masakela, Jamaican reggae vocalist Marcia Griffiths, and R&B and blues legend Ruth Brown and 1980s R&B singer Freddie Jackson.  

The 2022 festival headliners include Flint’s Mama Sol; vocalist Lizz Wright; the Wailers, the group that once featured reggae legend Bob Marley; Seun Kuti, the youngest son of Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti. Also performing will be “We Are Scorpio” featuring Detroit-born poet jessica Care moore and singer-songwriter Steffanie Christi’an as well as Motor City blues singer Lady Champagne. 

“The AWF is a cultural institution in Detroit and I’ve never missed one,” said Marsha Philpot, a Detroit cultural leader. “With the changes this year, accessibility will be challenging for many, including me. I hope I can make it this time.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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