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BLM Fest, Somerset House
BLM Fest, Somerset House

The inaugural BLM Festival is coming to London’s Somerset House

The two-day event will feature music, art, film, and conversation that amplifies voices in the Black community

In 2020, support for Black Lives Matter flared across the world as people rose up to protest racist violence and police brutality, propelled by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Over the course of that year, the protest movement became the largest in US history, and would go on to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. At the same time, however, figures in the Black community – like BLM organiser and art director Kayza Rose – were searching for other ways to take the movement forward, amplify voices in the Black community, and “actively lean into joy”.

“Simply put, Black pain and trauma isn’t the only existence we occupy,” says Rose. This is how she first envisioned BLM Fest, a new annual festival that is set to launch at Somerset House this weekend, to coincide with the start of Black History Month.

The two-day festival will celebrate the Black experience through art, activism, education, sport, and conversation in the form of panel events with leading Black voices including Jacari Harris, executive director of the George Floyd Memorial Foundation. A series of films curated by Minute Shorts will also be on show, alongside an exhibition by the renowned artist DYLEMA, and a headline performance from Shaé Universe.

All of these events are brought together under the festival’s overarching call to action: #WeMove. “So much of what we’re doing is about trying to learn from the past, but it’s so important that we don’t allow the past to consume our futures,” Rose explains. “The call to action we settled on for year one is #WeMove because collectively that’s what we do, we move forward… The time is now.”

Rose previously worked with Gareth Pugh and Carson McColl to launch another new festival at Somerset House, This Bright Land, and while working on that project she singled it out as a space where Black communities could feel safe. “We deserve to take up these spaces and we deserve to speak aloud about why,” she adds, on launching BLM Fest at the central London location. “For so long Black communities have been unsafe in places they call home. So we have the right to carve out our own safer spaces where we can celebrate the fullness of the Black experience, and where people don’t treat us like guests.”

A broader aim of the festival is to amplify the voices of families who have lost loved ones due to state violence – an aim that is especially poignant in the aftermath of Chris Kaba’s death earlier this month. “Moreover, there will be people who cannot attend BLM protests for a number of reasons; maybe there are access issues, or maybe due to their career they can’t be seen at a protest,” Rose says. “They can come to the festival, and they can support the families and wider Black communities there. I’m in no way saying that this is the only answer, this is just my offering.”

Of course, BLM Fest will open up the experience of Black joy and community to anyone that wants to take part. “While BLM Fest is a space that’s led and produced by Black people and that platforms and amplifies Black achievement,” Rose adds, “it’s open to everyone who stands with us, just like on a BLM protest.” If you’re not about for the event itself, the festival will also be travelling to high streets across London on October 22, courtesy of the Black Joy Bus.

BLM Fest will run at Somerset House on October 1 and 2. Tickets are on sale now