It was time for a break.
After three successful festivals that garnered national and international attention, the women behind B-Girl Be decided in 2008 to put the annual hip-hop summit on hiatus. They needed time to rest, regroup and muster the financial resources needed to keep B-Girl Be strong.
Thanks in part to a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, B-Girl Be returns in September to Intermedia Arts, albeit in a slimmed-down version. Despite its transformation from a four-day festival into a one-day block party, the return of B-Girl Be has not failed to generate excitement among the hip-hop faithful.
“It’s been overwhelming, actually,” Theresa Sweetland, executive director at Intermedia Arts, said. “I did have reservations about what this year would bring, with us taking a year off. But it’s been incredible.”
If Sweetland had her doubts, the fact that many of the artists and performers are traveling to Minneapolis on their own dime
this year may have helped to erase them.
“We definitely are doing it with less financial support, but the people power is stronger than ever,” she said.
When it debuted in 2005, B-Girl Be by most accounts was the first event of its kind to highlight women’s contributions to the four pillars of hip-hop: MCing or rapping, DJing (also called turntablism), graffiti art and break dancing.
Hip-hop scholar Melisa Rivière — along with Sweetland one of six founding curators of the event — said women in hip-hop are often regarded as “the oddity or the novelty in hip-hop.”
“If we’re not the one girl in that all-boy crew competing for that one spot, then we’re all of a sudden the all-girl crew,” Rivière said. “I think that B-Girl Be has proposed a new level: It’s about hip-hop, it’s about really good hip-hop and it’s not about being a girl anymore.”
“Since then, there’s been so many, many more all over the world,” she added. “Be-Girl Be really became the foundation, the pioneer.”
B-Girl Be remains one of best known and best loved — not to mention much missed during its year off, as local spoken-word artist Desdamona discovered on a recent trip to Germany.
“Last year, in September, I went to We B*Girls over in Berlin, Germany, and what was so cool about it is there were so many women there from B-Girl Be,” she said. “They would come running up to me and say, ‘When are you doing B-Girl Be again?’”
B-Girl Be also is now integral part of Intermedia Arts’ mission and identity.
It was in that spirit that graffiti artists were invited to paint a former garage at 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. when Intermedia moved there in 1994.
B-Girl Be grew out of the Encyclopedia of Hip Hop Evolution, a monthly performance series at Intermedia that explored the roots of hip-hop music and culture.
“Every year there was a women-focused month, and it was very well attended and very popular,” Sweetland said.
All the elements that came together to form B-Girl Be were present then: the interest in women in hip-hop, a space to host an event and six dedicated women capable of pulling it off. In addition to Sweetland, Rivière and Desdamona, that original group included filmmaker Rachel Raimist, dancer Leah Nelson and DeAnna Cummings, executive director of Juxtaposition Arts.
What they created was more than a once-a-year event. The artists and performers who gathered in Minneapolis now make up a worldwide network of women in hip-hop — women who, when they heard about the return B-Girl Be, had to find a way here.
“B-Girl Be has a life of its own,” Rivière said. “It’s like, we brought up this young lady and now she’s a young woman, and she’s got her own friends and family.”
Go see it
B-Girl Be: A Celebration of Women in Hip-Hop is at Intermedia Arts, 2822 Lyndale Ave. S. 871-4444. intermediaarts.org.
The B-Girl Be Block Party is Sept. 19. Other events include hip-hop dance performances Sept. 17–20 and The Cipher Show, featuring freestyle rap performances, 10 p.m. Sept. 19.
“Mama Said Knock U Out!,” a visual arts exhibition, opens Aug. 28 in the Intermedia Arts gallery and runs through Oct. 23. For a full schedule, visit the website.