Historic Hudson Valley’s (HHV) annual spring Pinkster festival reimagines historic traditions for today’s Westchester community. On May 27, Pinkster Festival: Remembrance and Revival at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow honors the 400-year-old holiday marking spring’s arrival.
This year’s all-day event will showcase a “powerhouse of Black talent,” says HHV Vice President of Public Programs and Engagement Elizabeth Bradley. Interdisciplinary artist and griot Malik Work curated the festival so that attendees will be able to switch between watching the seven-hour-long main stage program, touring the grounds, crafting flower crowns, and visiting a visual art and sound installation, among other activities. Among those performers on stage whose work finds its roots in Black American artistic traditions are DJ GoodWil, master drummer Kofi Donokori and singer-songwriter Imani Uzuri. Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Maurice “Mobetta” Brown, who has worked with acts such as Anderson Paak and Silk Sonic, will headline.
Both Work and Bradley note that the previous festival program hadn’t changed in 46 years and needed an upgrade. Pre-pandemic, HHV honored the Pinkster tradition by recreating the Afro-Dutch holiday, which adapted the Christian holy day Pentecost, as it was in the 17th and 18th centuries. Enslaved adults and children shared culinary and artistic traditions brought over during the Middle Passage, reconnected with biological and found families sold to slaveholders in the area, and made fun of their enslavers. Since the HHV’s festival began in 1977, African American performers wore period clothing, taught historic games and dances, and gave workshops that educated attendees about the Manor, enslavement and colonial history.
For HHV, modernizing the United States’ oldest African American holiday aligns it better with the Manor’s larger mission: to focus on the history surrounding the lives of enslaved people working at the estate. Bradley says: “What we want to do, in this moment when Black history is very much under siege, is not just focus on this period of desperate pain and inhumanity, but to look at the 400-year scope and arc of Black history in this country.”
A new festival had been in the works for about four years. Work began collaborating with HHV after performing in the 2019 Pinkster Festival. He continued to design the revitalized jubilee through 2021, when HHV commissioned him to write Contemporary Response: An Aria of Pain for People Not Property, the interactive documentary produced by HHV about Northern colonial enslavement. However, health and safety requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the 2020 plans to soft launch the new and improved Pinkster.
Bradley explains that the hope for this year’s event is to show Westchester residents that Pinkster remains relevant. Work adds that moments during which communities can rest, reconnect with family and friends, and share a joyous occasion seem hard to come by. To him, taking a day to publicly honor Black resistance and culture ensures that history is never repeated.
Taylor Michael is an essayist and critic with writing in Artsy, Publishers Weekly, Full Stop and Hyperallergic. She is finishing an MFA at Columbia University School of the Arts and was the 2020 A Public Space Editorial Fellow.