"We are more than just a Festival."
We are a cultural movement led by Greater Boston Black and Brown artists, culture makers and creative entrepreneurs who are on the front lines of racial equity, spatial justice, and economic empowerment.
We are nonprofit organization that breaks down racial and social barriers to arts, music, and culture across Greater Boston. Through edutainment (education + entertainment), strategic partnerships and cultural programming, we celebrate and support both artists and audiences, with an emphasis on Black and Brown voices, perspectives, and artistry.
While an undergraduate at Temple University’s School of Sport, Tourism, and Hospitality Management, Boston native, Catherine T. Morris experienced Philadelphia’s rich history, celebration, inclusion, and elevation of the entire arts and culture sector. From attending major events like The Roots Picnic, the Philadelphia B-Boy BBQ, Real Men Cook, and the Blackstar Film Festival, to watching some of Philadelphia’s most notable artists in action such as Jill Scott, Musiq Soulchild, Kevin Hart, and Jazmine Sullivan perform to sold out venues, Catherine was overjoyed to see herself reflected and celebrated on stages. This led to her personal curiosity of seeking several internships and jobs with organizations such as The Rhythm and Blues Foundation, the Liacouras Center, and the Philadelphia Film Society, all of which exposed her to skills in event production, civic engagement, fundraising, crowd management, operations, and marketing.
One experience that set Catherine on the path to use festivals as a tool for movement building, was her internship with Welcome America (a 501c3, non-profit organization in a public-private partnership with the City of Philadelphia. The event is Philadelphia’s premier July 4th festival, the largest July 4th celebration in America, and one of the largest free festivals in the country. It offers residents and visitors alike sixteen (16) days of free, family-friendly programming across the city, with a focus on arts, culture, diversity, education, wellness, history, and performance.) Ms. Morris signed up for production and operations, where immediately she had to identify and hire local talent for a children’s reading activation called “Go Fourth & Learn” in Northeast Philadelphia. Nearly 300 (three hundred) Black families attended, full of life and excited to participate. From there, Catherine assisted with the concert and fireworks finale which featured Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates and John Legend. Nearly 200,000 (two-hundred thousand) people assembled on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It was a beautiful moment for Catherine to start her own festival.
After graduating, Ms. Morris returned to her hometown of Boston to learn that there was not a large-scale festival that celebrated, included or elevated Black artists and their creative capital. Determined to change the narrative, Catherine decided to enroll at Simmons University, wherein taking a business plan writing course, she conducted an environmental scan of Boston only to confirm what she had already known since a child. Tired and frustrated by the racial and social conditions of her City (lack of public funding for the arts, racism, rapid incarceration, gentrification, white-owned venues, and the killings of black bodies, etc); and the countless stories from Black artists, residents and visitors about Boston “not being a place for Black people'', Catherine decided to create Boston Art & Music Soul Festival to provide equitable access and opportunity for underserved audiences, and artists of color to collaborate and experience high-quality arts and music programming that reflected their culture, creativity, dreams and beliefs.
Ms. Morris invested $22,000 of her personal savings to start the non-profit organization, in which she was introduced to four (4) Black artists (Valerie Stephens, Latrell James, Obehi Janice and Deu Almeida) who believed in her vision and mission.
Today, Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Festival is one of the fastest growing urban, multi-disciplinary arts festivals in the City of Boston that celebrates Afro-centric identity and Black artistry, all while amplifying the voices and creative contributions from local, regional and national entertainers of color.
In the 1960’s, since the desegregation of busing in Boston, our city has become further siloed and divided in a manner that has dismissed the experiences, intellectualism and creativity of Black people, especially artists, creatives and cultural workers. Our City has amplified and protected white heteronormative culture through sustaining and elevating white festivals and experiences, including the Boston Marathon, Irish Day Parade, and Boston Calling as a few examples (amongst countless others), while Black and Brown cultural events and celebrations like the Puerto Rican Festival, Dominican Festival and Caribbean Festival have been suppressed to single day events and programs that are closely monitored and dictated by Boston Police and Fire departments. As a result, the impact of these racial and social conditions has created a glass ceiling for Black and Brown communities to thrive economically and entrepreneurially. In this context, BAMS Fest should not exist, but the organization has actualized a reality that the City of Boston never thought was possible.
Our approach to transformational change within Boston is to replace broken pipelines within the arts and culture ecosystem, in order to create better flow of economic, community engagement, and collaborative opportunities between Greater Boston neighborhoods, artists, creatives, cultural workers and small businesses of color. We believe that when this is actualized, the national and global identity, local policies and processes, and narrative of Boston will shift to a more just and representative one that is inclusive of the BIPOC creative economy and general arts and culture ecosystem.
We center the arts because of a set of core foundational beliefs that artists and creatives 1) have the ability to imagine new worlds and possibilities of equity, diversity, and belonging, 2) translate complex (and sometimes traumatic) societal/communal issues that everyday people often struggle to comprehend; and 3) respond and reflect on the human condition in real-time in order for truth and healing to advance our collective and individual experiences.
Our Board and staff believe it to be important to support artists as the shapers and makers of our world. Part of this belief includes recognizing that when artists are funded and holistically supported, the world they create alongside and for everyone in the community is greater than it would be without them.