A weeklong virtual art festival that started last Sunday is designed to promote creative talent and entrepreneurship on the West Side.

Art West Freedom Fest featured live streamed music, workshops and virtual sessions led by residents of North Lawndale and surrounding communities. The festival is aimed at showcasing the creative businesses and art venues in the area.

The festivals began 7 p.m. Sunday. For the full itinerary and to stream the live events, visit the Art West Facebook page. 

Live music will be streamed from local venues, including Principle Barbers and the Martin Luther King Exhibit Center in Lawndale.

“We’re wanting to make sure we activate these assets that we do have,” said Alexie Young, curator of the MLK Exhibit Center. “Each of these spaces has its own identity, its own characteristics and its own amenities.”

The virtual festival was born as an alternative to the annual Art West Gallery Tour that began in 2019. Since the tour had to be canceled, the Art West collaborative wanted to find a different way to show off the artists and creative opportunities the West Side has.

Organizers were inspired by the artistic response to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960 and hope the festival will invite residents to think about how art shapes the communities they live in.

“We figured a virtual festival would be the best way to get people excited about some of the things available in the neighborhood,” Young said.

Young said the festival will encourage people who tune in to “reshape their perspective of how the arts play a role in the neighborhood. It’s not just about the aesthetic, but we help shape and build the landscape through engagement.”

One session at the festival will explore how the arts can be a strategy for building community. There will also be storytelling sessions and poetry workshops.

The festival also will focus on wellness with discussions on mental health on the West Side, as well as offering guided meditations and yoga practices. One workshop on creating healing spaces will show participants how they can use gardening, art and design to bring joy and rejuvenation into their lives.

“We want people to know how to create a space of peace, whether it’s in their home or within themselves,” Young said. “We’re just trying to think about some self-care and awareness practices we can offer.”

Festival organizers will hand out 100 free lunches Aug. 15 at the MLK Exhibit Center. The lunches will be crafted by culinary artist and West Side chef Bruce Jenkins of Brucebecooking.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.