Three Amherst College students participating in installation of photographs. Left two students make eye contact and laugh.
From Left to Right: Ayo Lewis (Class of 2021), Zoe Akoto (Class of 2021) and Neviah Waldron (Class of 2024) participating in the installation of works by Kendall Greene (Class of 2024) for the Student Art Showcase in the Mead. Photo by Maria Stenzel.

The Black Art Matters Festival affirms and celebrates Black student artists and creators. Zoe Akoto (Class of 2021) started the Black Art Matters Festival in 2018 when she noticed that the creative work of Black students was rarely seen on campus. 

The first BAM Festival, in 2018, was a small art show in one of the Amherst College residence halls. Akoto remembers walking to the event from her first-year dorm, “carrying an easel and three different students’ artworks and being so exceptionally nervous.” 

“I think maybe thirty or so people came, pretty much just friends and friends-of-friends of mine and the artists in the show, but I was completely thrilled seeing everyone engaging with the artists and the performers,” she says. The following year, Akoto teamed up with the Mead, which lent its venue, marketing, and production support. Since partnering with the museum, festival attendance has grown and expanded to visual art, spoken word, dance, and musical performances by Black student artists from the Five Colleges. Today, the Black Art Matters Festival is a collaboration between the Mead Art Museum, the Multicultural Resource Center, the Black Student Union, and the African & Caribbean Student Association

Image of colorful pastel sculpture in the foreground. In the background a student speaks at a mic to an audience on the right.
BAM Festival in 2020 featuring spoken word performance by Amherst College student Olusade "Sade" Green (Class of 2020). Photo by Maria Stenzel.

Akoto notes that events like the BAM festival are particularly important, since elite arts and culture organizations are predominantly white and have historically overlooked Black artists. “That’s true for the artists whose works are on the walls and the people behind the scenes who put them there,” she says. “It's hard to feel like you have any ownership over a space, institution, or professional field when you've never seen yourself represented there.” By confronting those norms, she says, the BAM Festival makes a statement “for Black students, of Black students, and by Black students—that our culture and our bodies belong in museums and are meant to be regarded and influential in that space.”

The BAM Festival includes submissions by students in the Five Colleges. In 2021, because of Covid-19 restrictions, however, only Amherst College students were able to participate in the 2021 Festival, which took place virtually via Zoom. View the BAM Festival archive to watch a recording of the 2021 festival, view student artwork, and learn more about student artists. 

Read on to learn about the history of the festival and view the BAM festival archives! 

Have questions about next year's festival or want to get involved in the festival planning process?

Reach out to Emily Potter-Ndiaye at Mead Art Museum (epotterndiaye@amherst.edu) or Lupita Méndez at Multicultural Resource Center (lmendez@amherst.edu).  If you are interested in submitting artwork, please fill out our submission form by February 6, 2023!