The Rise of Experiential Created by Black Innovators to Celebrate Black Culture

These events create communities for African-Americans in various sects of the industry

Afropunk performs on a large stage for a packed audience
Events like Essence Festival and Afropunk offer black people a space that wasn't previously available to them. Getty Images

Experiential activations and cultural representation have become increasingly intertwined as new events gain traction within the music, tech, art and lifestyle spaces.

Activations are a chance to celebrate the diversity of perspectives, and recently, we’ve seen more well-known events that celebrate black culture. Black creators and founders are partaking in and owning festivals, pop-ups, summits and other opportunities for consumers to interact with one another, and social media has given attendees the chance to share those experiences with the world.

There are trailblazing classics like Essence Festival, the original “party with a purpose,” currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. Essence Festival launched in 1995 to celebrate Essence magazine, a key publication for black women, and now includes art exhibits, a beauty carnival, a recruitment fair, classes and concerts. Attendees also receive visibility and advice from CEOs and small business owners. This event isn’t new, but it has paved the way for newer platforms popping up all over the country.

Likewise, Brooklyn-based Afropunk Festival has become a global celebration with additional festivals in Johannesburg, Paris, Atlanta and London. Beyond live music, the festival features fashion, films and art produced by black creators, attracting an array of audiences who are eager to hear from and celebrate speakers, performers and artists rooted in the black experience.

These events encourage self-expression and community building and teach us that immersive activations can have a lasting impact. Throughout the industry, we’ve seen new events that demonstrate how individuals all over the world can find or create spaces that make them feel seen and heard.

These events encourage self-expression and community building and teach us that immersive activations can have a lasting impact.

As brands and partners consider where they show up to connect with new audiences, there are several new players to the space that should be on their radars.

About your business

Brands looking to recruit talent could greatly benefit from events with networking receptions and industry-focused conversations, sending top executives for networking and mentorship panels and opportunities. Events like AfroTech, a platform dedicated to increasing access to technology, bring the black tech community together for learning, camaraderie and networking.

And it’s not just the tech industry. Entrepreneurs, innovative creators and beauty enthusiasts now have Summit21, an event put on by 21Ninety for women of color to discuss the beauty and wellness sectors.

Creating space(s)

Activations are an opportunity to promote self-acceptance and build a connected community, creating safe spaces for celebration and conversation. For example, New York’s CultureCon celebrates the influence black creatives of color have on society and culture and provides an opportunity for attendees, sponsors and brands to discuss where the creative industry is going. Graduates of HBCU’s flock to NYC for HBCU SpringComing, a weekend of events calling back to the undergraduate days with opportunities to both network and party.

The Well-Read Black Girl Festival is committed to elevating black authors and creating a community among avid readers, an overlooked demographic in the literary space. In the travel sector, Nomadness’ Audacity Festival, now in its second year, attracts entrepreneurs, innovators and creators and builds a haven for underrepresented demographics in the travel sector.

There is also Curlfest, an event created specifically for black women around black hair, something that is not typically celebrated or elevated.

From music to movements

The party circuit also can’t be ignored, with events like D’ussé Palooza, Grits & Biscuits and Trap Karaoke expanding nationally. Trap Karaoke has even forged key partnerships with brands including BET, HBO and Pandora, providing an example for other brands looking to break into these spaces through similar partnerships.

Music can be used as a springboard for change. Look at Broccoli City, a group dedicated to urban development through social impact campaigns and a music festival. This year, it’s expanding with Broccoli Con, a conference aimed at solving challenges facing urban communities today. The National Cannabis Festival, which is now in its third year and was founded by a black woman, offers classes and educational programming alongside entertainment to help attendees understand the growing cannabis industry.

While experiential activations have recently skyrocketed in popularity, these types of events are a constant reminder that celebrating culture and innovation will always be in style and that there are opportunities for brands and partners to join that conversation.

Shannon Simpson Jones is the co-founder of Verb.
Yadira Harrison is the co-founder of Verb.