The ESSENCE Festival features an ever-evolving community of gifted talent, thanks to its booming marketplace that offers vendors the opportunity to connect with attendees. ESSENCE.com spoke with Gina Montana, who works to create special opportunities for vendors to present their unique offerings at the Festival.
ESSENCE.com: Can you explain the nature of ESSENCE Festival's community partners?
Gina Montana: The ESSENCE Festival community partners are a well-rounded pool of exhibitors. Most are artists who are small business owners and the Festival grants them an opportunity to exhibit and sell their work. It's a high-profile event, brimming with celebrity shoppers as well as a wonderful, diversified community. There is something for everyone from high-end merchandise to affordable pieces in all shapes and sizes. More importantly, it’s about the cultural exchange, shopping experience and a chance for artists to increase their visibility.
ESSENCE.com: Who are some of the Festival's partners?
Montana: In the non-profit space, there's the Backstreet Cultural Museum, which is run by Sylvester Francis. The museum has participated in the Festival since 1996. Located in the historic Treme neighborhood, the cultural institution showcases life and culture such as Mardi Gras Indians, Second line and more artifacts that document the rich heritage of New Orleans. Shalom Zone Community, under the leadership of Joann Cook and Clifton Faust, work with young, aspiring artists and community educators and aid in creating art installations and photography projects while teaching them entrepreneurial skills. And the Anthony Bean Community Theater, which was established in 2000, is a center for dramatic arts and is a fully operational day and evening school that teaches acting, stage design and management.
ESSENCE.com: Is there one partner with a really interesting story?
Montana: Jamar Pierre is an artist who has been a part of the Festival since 1995 and continues to participate through his gift of visual art. Besides creating the official ESSENCE Festival poster and Marketplace mural, he is an intricate part of the community, teaching and educating youth about the fine and vibrant history of New Orleans. Did I also mention that he created the commemorative painting to celebrate New Orleans 200th anniversary?
ESSENCE.com: What have you learned from being so closely involved in the Festival's community partnerships?
Montana: I've learned the importance of teamwork and collaboration. When people convene together for the ESSENCE Festival, there is such a wealth of talent, skill, inspiration and dedication created for one common goal and that makes for the best experience ever.