"The Overtown Music Festival had big names, and... the people who were there performing were big names like Keyshia Cole and CeeLo Green," she says. "[But] they were still people from different places that [organizers] would bring in to bring in the art and the music."
She set out to remedy this outsourcing of talent by creating her own festival spotlighting local artists and musicians as well as the historic contributions of Overtown's creatives. The result is Sunshine and Soul, an art, music, and soul food festival presenting local singers, painters, dancers, spoken-word artists, live painting performances, and even a fashion show. The festival's visual artists will double as food vendors, with Hannasthazia's Vegan Soul Food and Bust It Down Grill confirmed as participants. (To participate as a food vendor, email James-Stephenson at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
James-Stephenson describes the festival vibe as "woke, spiritually conscious, and centered around feeling good and soulful." Unlike festivals that mainly aim to rack up attendees' bar tabs, Sunshine and Soul will try to provide a more enriching experience. Participants will begin the day with yoga and guided breathing led by instructors from Infinite Vibe Studios. James-Stephenson selected three DJs: G. Brown, who will spin a set of global dance music; Zoodid Lion, a roots reggae devotee; and Evan Woodson, whose set will highlight musical contributions from artists of the African diaspora such as Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong (who played Overtown and Miami Beach in their heyday).
Admission to Sunshine and Soul is free to all, but Overtown residents will be eligible to win festival artists' paintings in raffles every two hours. The raffles are a conscious effort to keep the art in the community. James-Stephenson believes they provide an opportunity for "a literal integration of the inner city and the art, because someone from Overtown can take this art piece home in celebration."
James-Stephenson cites venues such as the historic Lyric Theatre and the newly renovated Overtown Performing Arts Center as testaments to Overtown's historic and continued commitment to the arts. But she nevertheless believes the neighborhood remains separated from the recent arts boom in adjacent Miami neighborhoods.
"The larger art community and Wynwood and the arts district, they don't necessarily do a lot of stuff in Overtown, and even though they're so close geographically, they're still very far detached," she says. "That was the idea... not to just bring out what they don't have [in common], but to highlight things that they do [share], that they always have had and that might have been lost or just ignored."
James-Stephenson hopes to make Sunshine and Soul an annual tradition. And she plans to shine a spotlight on the local artists and history of neighborhoods such as Little Haiti and Little Havana in the near future.
Sunshine and Soul: Art, Music, and Soul Food Festival. Saturday, August 5, at Omni Park, 1234 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 786-631-3580; omniparkmiami.com. Admission is free with RSVP via eventbrite.com.