Harlem Arts Festival was co -founded in 2010 by three young arts entrepreneurs living in Harlem. Now in its 6th season, HAF presents multi-disciplinary performances throughout the year in Harlem and New York City, culminating in an annual festival that takes place in Marcus Garvey Park at the Richard Rodgers amphitheater. HAF’s purpose is to provide resources, visibility, and career opportunities to artists; To increase participation and engagement in the arts by the Harlem community; and to continue Harlem’s artistic legacy of making art that preserves the history and develops the identity of Harlem. Keenobby is very proud to partner with HAF this year.
We’ve interviewed one of the HAF co-founders, Mr. Neal Ludevig, discover his vision below:
How and when did HAF get all started?
HAF started in 2010 as just an idea, an inspiration from being in the neighborhood! My colleague, fellow co-founder and good friend J.J. El-Far was running through Marcus Garvey Park, and when she passed by the amphitheater, couldn’t help but begin dreaming about possibilities of such an incredible space. She told me all about it, and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. How could I resist? I said yes without hesitation, not knowing I would be embarking on a journey that would last 7 years and take over my life. Not long after I brought in Chelsea Goding, our 3rd co-founder. One year later, and after an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign in Spring 2012, we launched our first festival that Summer. The rest is (literally) history!
How would you define the HAF vibe and what makes it so special?
“For me, the HAF vibe is raw, intellectual, honest, powerful, engaging and edgy.”
That, combined with an intangible feeling that resonates community, family, and good values. I believe that HAF sits at a unique intersection of culture, community, and social change, and is able to bring them all together to inspire thought, activism, and action.
We’re fortunate to work with so many incredible artists whom we believe they’ve “Got Next”, meaning they’re going to be the next big influencers in the world. They’re already performing and showcasing their work with some of the most iconic artists today, and at some of the most prestigious spaces in the world: Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Alvin Ailey, The Whitney…the list goes on. What makes HAF special is that we get the opportunity to see, meet, and support this talent, while getting an insight into their artistic process. How many people can say they met Kendrick before he was Kendrick?
I could go on, but you’ll have to come to the next HAF event to see for yourself.
How does the Festival and HAF community resonate with the history, population and diversity of Harlem?
Our goal is to make sure that we’re recognizing the rich, cultural artistic legacy that resides in our community, while making sure we’re looking forward and applying that to a community that is rapidly shifting. We’re interested in presenting art that takes a contemporary look at what’s happening here now, and is reflective of the community. Its one of the reasons we work with so many community partners to help select our artists.
“HAF builds bridges between people. Between cultures and narratives. It connects the artistic legacy of Harlem with our collectively imagined future.”
Through shared experience and shared joy, the arts bring us together, invite dialogue on the issues that matter most, and offer us reminders of those intangible ideas that build a shared sense of identity and belonging. We perpetuate an ecology of cultural institutions that nurtures emerging organizations like HAF alongside the legends Harlem is known for.”
Tell us some of the best moments and experiences you have had with HAF over the years.
Wow, so many! I’ll mention one…
For a night, we took over an abandoned church in Harlem — the St. Thomas the Apostle Church — and it hadn’t been used in more than a decade. Dusty and with a hollow shell, yet an exemplary masterpiece of neo-gothic architecture with 100+ ft ceilings, we brought in a family of musicians, muralists, dancers, painters and more for the night.
My favorite part of the night was when we were pulling too much electricity for the band, and the circuit breaker in the building kept flipping off the power. So every time the power turned off, so did the lights and all the instruments except for the drum kit of course. When everyone realized what was happening, the only one still going was the drummer…and it became a drum solo! Most of the attendees didn’t realize what was happening and why the lights were flipping on and off, so they thought it was on purpose and a planned solo and lighting effect, haha.
What are the key features of the Festival this year?
We’ve added a few key new things!
A new commissioned theatre piece has allowed us to utilize an incredible church near the park for a multi-disciplinary arts performance. We’ve introduced a VIP ticket to enhance the experience, where ticket holders get free swag, preferred seating and delicious bites from one of the best vendors in town. We’ve expanded to the east side of the park, partnered with the Harlem Comedy Festival to provide emcees for the fest, and made all of the performances longer to showcase our artists better.
We’ve also added a local discussion forum called Lawnchair Philosophy led by local community leaders, and of course our partnership with Keenobby, which brings truly unique workshops to the festival experience.
What does Keenobby bring to HAF and visitors at the Festival?
“Keenobby’s strength is in the quality and truly unique artist experiences it provides for its fans and users. Where else can you learn how to make hot sauce, not to mention in the inventor’s home?”
Keenobby is bringing a rare opportunity to not just meet the artist, but to learn directly from them.”
It seemed a natural fit to work together. I know they’ll be a hit at this year’s festival!
JOIN US AT THE HARLEM ARTS FESTIVAL
See full workshop program here: