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OnlineJun 24, 2024

At BAMS Fest, the “Rep Your City” Art and Graffiti Exhibition Returns with an Art Sale

The sixth annual festival is back with local music, soul food, vendors, plus a new addition to its live art and graffiti exhibition designed to invest resources back into the Black and Brown artists shaping Boston’s street art scene.

News by Niara Simone Hightower

An artist works on a large graffiti mural at BAMS Fest.

“Rep Your City Live Art & Graffiti” at BAMS Fest in 2023 featuring (left) Curtis “Curtistic” Williams and (right) Mar. Photo courtesy of BAMS Fest. Photo by KBarber photography.

Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Festival, Boston’s leading festival dedicated to the transformative power of Black and Brown creativity and culture, returns to Franklin Park’s Playstead Field for its sixth year this weekend. Expecting over 11,000 community members from near and far with accessible sliding scale ticket prices, this year’s lineup includes musical performances from local and national artists and DJs including BJ the Chicago Kid, Rapsody, Nay Speaks, and Where’s Nasty, as well as a vendor market featuring Black-owned small businesses, Afro-diasporic dance classes, and of course, soul food.

For the first time, the festival’s annual live art and graffiti exhibition, “Rep Your City,” will feature an art sale including fourteen large canvases created by fourteen different artists that have created work at BAMS Fest since its inception.

While BAMS Fest is best known for the music, visual art has been central to the nonprofit’s mission since founding artistic director Catherine T. Morris and her team began sowing seeds for the organization with pop-up activations in 2015. From the festival’s 2018 debut until now, BAMS Fest has hosted “Rep Your City” each year, inviting New England-based painters, graffiti artists, and muralists of color to create artwork on-site at the festival.

To Morris, visual art at BAMS Fest “gives audiences the opportunity to see each other and our city differently. The artists themselves bring a level of humanity and soul to the festival experience that incorporates their identity and stories. Art is about ‘Always. Reflecting. (the) Times,’ and we believe that these works can remind us of why art matters.”

Malcolm X painting by SOEMS and Genaro “GoFive” Ortega, created during BAMS Fest’s 2018 debut. Photo courtesy of Genaro “GoFive” Ortega.

This year’s live artists are Boston-bred Luis “Take One” Taforo and Genaro “GoFive” Ortega, sponsored by the Downtown Boston Improvement District and Fenway. When I called Ortega, he was at  Taforo’s Taunton studio picking up paint, and buffing and prepping sketches for BAMS Fest. This spirit of comradery and collaboration is actually how Ortega got involved in the festival as a visual artist since it started six years ago.

“I walked into the event, and one or two of my buddies [ProBlak and SOEMS] were painting. And [SOEMS] was like, ‘Yo, can you help?’.… He was painting a portrait of Malcolm X and then doing some letters beside it. I jumped in and completed what he had for the portrait, and he did the letters on the side,” Ortega shared. While this is Ortega’s first time as a headlining visual artist, he has been “jumping in” for the past five years.

Collective efforts thus form the foundation of BAMS fest. As Taforo—who grew up in various neighborhoods including South End, Dorchester, Roslindale, and Hyde Park—points out, forward progress requires multiple approaches, and festivals provide an opportunity for us to meet our neighbors and recognize that our lives are intertwined. Then, we can take action together. “The fact of the matter is when we have social issues they have to be attacked from different directions,” Taforo noted.

Curtis “Curtistic” Williams live painting at BAMS Fest’s “Rep Your City” in 2018. Photo courtesy of BAMS Fest. Photo by KBarber Photography.

Boston-based artist Curtis “Curtistic” Williams participated in live painting in 2019 and 2023. During our phone call, he recalled kids and families coming up to him at the festival interested in painting, and he would let them work on the piece with him. “I feel like that adds extra energy to it, and I feel like that’s almost the point in live painting for me. I want to help inspire more people to realize that they can create too,” he explained. 

For Williams, who moved to Boston ten years ago, “Rep Your City” means “putting on for your community, giving back however you can. I think that’s really what it’s about, more so than repping the neighborhood or just the city name, it’s about what you do in these places and the impact that you leave and the people you meet and talk to.”

Sagie working on Queen of disco during the second annual BAMS Fest in 2019. Photo courtesy of Sagie.

Sagie created Queen of disco at BAMS Fest’s “Rep Your City” live art and graffiti exhibition in 2019. Photo courtesy of Sagie.

BAMS Fest has nurtured countless visual artists at various stages in their careers. After graduating from college in 2018, Pawtucket, RI-based Sagie created one of the largest paintings in her portfolio at the time—at five by eight feet—as an inaugural live painter at the first BAMS Fest. She shared that it “felt more like a mural than anything because of the scale…. From there, I started painting more murals.” Sagie returned as a live painter in 2019 and has participated in year-round BAMS Fest events. Now, she looks forward to bringing it full circle and seeing what’s next as she has watched herself, other artists, and the festival grow together over the years. “I love the future of the city right now,” she said.

Williams’s and Sagie’s artwork from previous years will be on sale among paintings by Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs, Ponnapa Prakkamakul, Lee “Square” Beard, Ananda Toulon, and more, spread across the festival grounds. Morris shared that her goal for the exhibition and art sale is for audiences to “relive, discover, and engage with this work. This is the first year that the artwork will be on display for purchase, so that BAMS Fest can reinvest back into the visual artists who participated in ‘Rep Your City.’”

This reinvesting of resources back to the Black and Brown artists who shape Boston reflects the work of BAMS Fest as a whole. Morris started the organization with the mission to tilt Boston’s landscape from the ground up such that Black and Brown culture and space is a priority, because it is the beating heart of the city. It is these artists who tell the truth of our present and ask more of our future. It is these artists who help us determine and design our place here. It is not art for art’s sake, or representation for representation’s sake, but rather to achieve BAMS Fest’s vital objective: “racial equity, spatial justice, and economic empowerment.” 

The Boston Art & Music Soul Festival (BAMS Fest) returns to Playstead Field in Franklin Park on Saturday, June 29, and Sunday, June 30, 2024. Visit for the schedule, sliding scale tickets, and directions.

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