Attendees at a past AKI Festival enjoy the colorful and interactive glow room. Photo by John D. Andersen.
When the first Saturday in May rolls around, folks at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center know an average of 1,500 to 2,000 families will flock to their facility for the annual All Kids Included Family Art Festival, part of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs All Kids Included initiative and funded in part by The Children’s Trust. The multi-disciplinary, sensory-inclusive event set for May 7, celebrates its 16th year with the last 11 held at the SMDCAC in Cutler Bay.
“It moved to South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center in 2011 because they wanted a place where the festival could grow and our space here lends itself to that,” said Annie Hoffman, SMDCAC Education & Outreach manager about the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs decision to move the AKI Festival there.
Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs applauds those responsible for putting on the festival saying, “our Education and Outreach team, led by the inspiring Francine Andersen, and the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, managed by the talented Eric Fliss, make this possible. Together, with SMDCAC Education and Outreach Manager, Annie Hoffman, we present an inclusive festival that brings joy and memorable experiences to the thousands of people who attend every year – absolutely free of charge!”
SMDCAC’s year-round programming is connected to the book they choose each year for the festival, which is the culminating event for the Department of Cultural Affairs’ All Kids Included initiative.
This year’s book The Day You Begin, by National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson and two-time Pura Belpré Illustrator Award winner Rafael López, serves as the inspiration for the festival and “we picked this theme to coincide with the word ‘connection.’ I find this is particularly important with everything our community & world has been experiencing these past few years,” said Hoffman.
Much like the AKI Festival’s main goal of connectivity and inclusivity, welcoming children and families with and without disabilities, this year’s theme aims to “help everyone find the courage to reach out, connect and tap into our bravery,” she said.
The book is also the main theme of The All Kids Included student art competition. According to the Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs website it is “open to all Miami-Dade students in grades Pre-K-12, students are invited to submit original artwork depicting the competition theme and are asked to draw on the competition’s selected book for inspiration.”
Highlights this year are plenty, says Hoffman, including the main stage live theater production “Leonardo: A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster,” based on the children’s books by Mo Willems which they will present at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The show will be projected onto a screen and feature immersive aspects and center on the theme of connection.
“Both performances will be sensory inclusive with modifications to light and sound and the availability of a quiet room where kids can view the show as it’s happening. The room will be run by the Advocacy with Disability staff,” she said.
Other favorites returning this year are ASL storytelling with John Paul Jebian, the colorful African Watoto Dance Theater, the rock wall and obstacle course and plenty of food vendors.
New this year, and invited by Hoffman is multidisciplinary local artist Jen Clay, who she reached out to after finding her work on social media. She was happy to bring Jen into the mix to add a visual art component, particularly because “Jen’s work engages the senses through touch, sight and sound and everyone can experience her installation,” said Hoffman.
Clay works in fibers which is good for the visually impaired. She also has digital projections & sculptural aspects like moving flowers and plants as well as stop motion. “It’s gorgeous, fun and again the work has a connection aspect to it,” said Annie.
Clay, who is excited to participate this year, will recreate a piece called “Soft Sanity” inspired by a petting zoo that she created in 2019 for the Norton Museum of Art. It includes two costumes which are of ambiguous creatures that are meant to not be categorized and eight projectors that project plant growth onto the space and a large tunnel where people can touch the fabric and activate the video. There’s also a mound that hands out messages.
“At the SMDCAC AKI Festival the installation will be a bit different since it’s being presented in their black box space which allows for more control of the lighting given they have curtains on the windows,” said Clay.
Clay intentionally creates ambiguous creatures in her practice in an effort to spotlight mental illness and make the uncertainty of that approachable. “It’s kind of a sinister but sweet communication like in movies and literature. I choose to make uncertain art and give people a good experience with it,” said Clay.
Overall, the event is set to be a comprehensive celebration of the arts where people of all abilities can fully participate in a free and inclusive festival.
WHAT: All Kids Included Family Arts Festival
WHEN: May 7, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
WHERE: South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211 St., Cutler Bay