Art Is Women: Mercedes Martin

The Favor of African Culture

 Photo by @smileaday.

Photo by @smileaday.

Frustrated by the fact that she had to learn more about her own Black and Cuban heritage through Ethnic Studies at Mills College, Mercedes Martin of Tres Mercedes, felt the need to exercise her unique perspective on African beauty, culture and tradition to influence “urban” fashion. Whenever she creates an item - whether it be sunglasses or a snapback hat - Martin always asks herself, “How can I add ‘favor’ to this?” As she likes to say, “favor equals African culture.”

“Growing up in Oakland, I saw how fly my peers dressed and how they valued and invested in Jordans, H&M or other brands [that] didn't care about them.” As an artist, educator, cultural worker and influencer, Martin started out making creations of repurposed materials, earrings and shoes with African fabric. Now, she focuses more on adorning sunglasses with African beads, charms, cowry shells, hand-painted patterns and fabric. She also creates ancestor candles, earrings, sports team snapback hats with African fabric on the brim and much more. “I believe fashion can be very superficial or it can be powerful, inspiring, healing, and political. I hope my brand makes a positive impact in the world from making people feel good from the inside out.”

 

Being a Woman Entrepreneur

My experience of a being an entrepreneur woman has been both amazing, empowering and a crazy rollercoaster ride of mountain tops and low valleys. Being an entrepreneur is a 24-seven and 365-day kind of job, full of taking risks, getting out your comfort zone, failures and triumphs. There are days where I feel self-doubt, [a] desire to give up completely and [feelings of] depression. Those difficult moments are only temporary and a test to prepare you for the next stage. No matter who you are starting a business will be challenging. With saying that, there's a unique obstacle course that Black women entrepreneurs each face. The intersectional struggles of the historical and current injustices African-Americans face in the U.S., the struggle for respect and rights of women, the history of business and capitalism all play a role in my business journey. As well as age, education, class, and social capital. Choosing to be your own ‘Boss Lady’ is liberating - a form of resistance. Yet, it’s not easy or [for] the weak hearted. Mi madre is my first example of Black woman entrepreneurship. My entire childhood [consists of] memories of witnessing her sacrifice and conquer while running her own business consulting firm. Many times [she] put me to work, helping her accomplish projects. Today she is my biggest fan and supporter. The reasons I keep going are my peers, other 20- to 30-something-year-old Oakland Black women business owners. Watching them develop, taking control of their own destiny, providing for themselves and families and making meaningful impacts to the community. I am blessed to have that community and network. We exchange personal stories, information, collaborate on projects, pass contacts, and open doors. Black women entrepreneurs to me are exude Black Girl Magic. They use our natural super (feminine) powers of intuition, multitasking and nurturing spirit into [their] personal business. I know I started off with all the daunting challenges of running a business, I still truly believe we are living in exciting times where women have access to the tools, information, and materials to start their own business a lot easier in ways past generations could not. With an idea, a smart phone and Wi-Fi, women are able to start a business.”

I mentioned my inspiration, my peers and community, and last, but not least: the life of an entrepreneur could not exist without the love and support of their incredible, patient, excited and loyal customers. Without them small businesses would close. Customers provide, [at] the very least, words of encouragement, [they] spread the word of your business, repost products and events on social media, and so much more. I thank y'all!”  

 Photo by @smileaday.

Photo by @smileaday.

“Oakland First Friday is a great event that creates an environment for creatives like myself to share with our Oakland community on a monthly bases. I don't have a brick and mortar location. This event allows a small business owner like myself - with only an Etsy online store and consignment at local boutiques - an opportunity to constantly talk face-to-face with my customers and get direct feedback on what they like and dislike, and well as reach new audiences. Being a constant vendor since 2014, I have business relationships turned friend relationships with vendors and customers. Being at First Friday I have networked with photographers, models, make-up artists, stylists, fellow-makers, lawyers and folks visiting from out of town who want to get some unique Oakland ‘souvenirs.’ My favorite is when someone who is hosting an event and needs vendors reaches out to me after stopping by my booth.”

 

Last, But Not Least...

“I want to do a shout to all the Black women-led businesses who've contributed to where I am now as a creative: Concept Forty- Seven (boutique and beauty care), Azteca Negra (headwraps and accessories), Fresh to Def (Accessories and business consulting), Just.BE (Black Women Entrepreneur Network), CandidArt (accessory), Da Funky Button (accessories), Town Biz & Sole Space (Boutique),  Kostum (Boutique), By Stacey Monique (Accessories), Nook and Kranny (Blog), and more.”

 

Hit up, Mercedes!

Instagram @tresmercedes

Facebook @tresmercedesART

Twitter @tr3smercedes

 

See her...

May 4th, 5pm-9pm - "Art Is Women | REDUX"

May 19th 11am-7pm - Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival, San Antonio Park in East Oakland

May 25th 5pm-9pm - Africa Day,  Oakland Museum of California

May 26th, 11am-6pm - Bay Area Black Market at Jack London Market, 55 Harrison Street

 

Tres Mercedes creations are also Available at these boutiques:

Town Biz/ Sole Space 1714 Telegraph Ave., Downtown Oakland

Kostum 4020 Piedmont Ave., Oakland

ART IS WOMEN: Shabnam Shirvani

A Child’s heArt

With her first art show taking place in the small apartment she used to live in, Shabnam Shirvani, served up cake and sold a few art pieces -  thus beginning my career as a working artist.” She began drawing as a child and kept up with her craft throughout high school. Shirvani likes to describe her work as “an expression of femininity, reflection and confidence.”

“When I first began to draw as a child I gravitated toward women's faces and generally the beautiful side of things. I think with most artists, I found creating to be a good outlet for my feelings and personal expression. I try to create things that make the viewer feel sentimental and delighted,” she says. “I try to unite my visual and performing arts by integrating the movement, design and patterns of Near Eastern culture.

Uncovering Art

Struggling to find visibility and opportunity as a female artist, “my biggest obstacle is finding the right support to help advance my career as an artist. As with many Bay Area artists - with the rising cost of living in the city and limited resources - it can be a struggle financially to keep things going...I am grateful to First Fridays for the platform to show my work and for the opportunity to meet all the interesting people that attend.”

 

Glimpse Shabnam!

May 4th, 5-9pm - Art Is Women | REDUX

May 31st - “Spring Magic” showing at her studio: 385 17th St Oakland CA 94612

Instagram: @Shabdancer

ART IS WOMEN: Imani Baylor

The Beginning Of Eccentric Vibes

Imani Baylor, founder and creator of Eccentric Vibes, would always receive compliments on her unique style - everything from where she bought her clothes to how she pieced them together. “I responded by creating Eccentric Vibes.” Her clothing line is based on how she dresses, but there’s more behind the style. “I want to educate through my clothing as well as uplift my people. I feel that with my unique items, you try something on and your confidence goes through the roof. I have such a variety of style that my customers are sure to find something they love or didn't know they look good in.”

When she’s not uplifting people’s perception of themselves with her line, she’s contributing to youth in the Bay Area. “Eccentric Vibes is an ongoing fundraiser to help support my independent contracting business, “The I.M.A.N.I. Project” (Inspiring Mentoring And Nurturing Individuals), a youth service program that supports K-12 Bay Area students on the spectrum of academics, enrichment, social/life skills, intervention, culture and community.”

Being a Female Entrepreneur

“It is a very busy, challenging task, especially working alone. I love interacting with people and customers. I have built a great network being an entrepreneur - both of my businesses are booming now!” Even with business doing well, Baylor still has to keep up with the competition of the ever-evolving world of trends. “Trends change so much and usually by the time I buy into it, something else is popular. So I feel like I'm always playing catch up.”

Building the Brand

“First Fridays has helped me build my brand so fast. I wasn't expecting to have returning customers or clients in such a short time. The atmosphere is amazing and the compliments I get on my merchandise and fashion sense makes me love what I do. First Fridays is a great place to network  - and thankfully, it is, because my business wouldn't be successful without this platform.

Connect with Imani!

Instagram: @eccentric_vibes_online | Facebook : Eccentric Vibes | Twitter: @Feel_My_Vibee

Email: Universoulvibes92@gmail.com | Eccentricvibes.bigcartel.com

Catch her at:

May 4th, 5-9pm - Art Is Woman | Redux

April 27th - TrapxArt Ty Dolla Sign Tribute

April 29th - Oakhella

May 5th - Turf Inc : Cinco De Mayo

May 19th - Art and Wine Festival

ART IS WOMEN: Brittany Luby

Not An Impostor

 Catch Brittany Luby and Hey Ma Goods Co. at the  "Art Is Women | REDUX"  event on May 4th.

Catch Brittany Luby and Hey Ma Goods Co. at the "Art Is Women | REDUX" event on May 4th.

Hey Ma Goods Co. was born out of a combination of circumstances by Brittany Luby, a first generation West Indian. After gaining an art school degree with no real options for a creative career, Luby wanted to make use of her essence: a passion for design, “a fluency in image making, the need to create with my hands, a robust sense of humor and a generally poor attitude towards the white supremacist/patriarchal/capitalist structures in which we are forced to participate,” says Luby. “What began as a space for me to share a budding collection of posters and tee shirts became an antidote to the impostor syndrome I had been experiencing since college. HMGC is me awarding myself the chance I was waiting for someone to give to me as a woman of color in the creative world...it allows me to pay that forward by showing up as a business owner and maker of items celebrating underrepresented perspectives and experiences like mine.”

Being a Female Artist In 2018

“Entrepreneurship has become my chosen form of activism in the last two years and my lens is one of intersectional feminism. The matrix of identity [is] always top of mind as I envision the kind of shopper I try to call out to and reflect back toward in my creations. This is especially important as I place myself in a position of business ownership. I’m a first generation West Indian which means in America I am black, in Trinidad I am red, and everywhere I am a working class woman of color with an arts-based college education. It’s a trip to recognize the ways in which we are both privileged and oppressed...I feel that the best use of my talents, tastes and abilities is to make items that celebrate sisterhood, diaspora, self-determination and the eternal magick of femininity. At the core of HMGC are products that I hope resonate with voices who have the unique experience of being clear culture-makers while often being left out of the room. This shop and inventory are my way of saying, ‘I see you, girl! We out here doing this thing!’ And my attitude is that we now have the means of production so there really isn’t any stopping us now.”

The Challenges Of Being An Entrepreneur

HMGC - Shining Stars Tee.jpg

“Trying to effectively price my work has been difficult because I want my products to be accessible to those who are often shut out of supporting local businesses because of the higher price point, but I also need to sustain my operations and set myself up to turn a profit at some point. I’d like to make this a career so it has to become viable. Finding the time and energy to nurture the vision I have for my business is definitely a challenge with a full-time job and I often feel like I’m stealing time or robbing Peter to pay Paul to make it happen. It’s a delicate balancing act that only works when I am healthy, which is a whole other element to prioritize and maintain.”

 

Luby Affecting The World

 “Shout-out to all the women in my world who are hustling to craft the lives for themselves they truly deserve."

“Shout-out to all the women in my world who are hustling to craft the lives for themselves they truly deserve."

“My goal is to be some combination of a mirror and a bullhorn for those who look, sound, think, feel like me...when I do find myself in those spaces, I get to share a mutual feeling of recognition that feels revelatory and pure. I want to add to the strong community of fiercely creative and intelligent women I have come to know as home in this beautiful city.”

 

First Fridays Lighthouse

“First Fridays has been a true lighthouse. It has demonstrated to me that one can make art and people will enthusiastically support it. It has shown me that community matters and that humans crave it, need it, thrive in it. I have learned that we can get funding, find our footing and weather just about any storm if we work together - and that there is beauty in the journey. First Fridays is an encouraging and affirming force within Oakland and I feel lucky to finally join in.”

Say "Hey Ma!" To Brittany

Instagram: @heymagoodsco (instagram.com/heymagoodsco)

Facebook: facebook.com/heymagoodsco (@heymagoodsco)

Pinterest: pinterest.com/heymagoodsco

Twitter: @heymagoodsco (twitter.com/heymagoods.co)

Website: heymagoods.co

Email: sup@heymagoods.co

 

Appearing at...

Laurel Maker Market — May

Good Omen Market — June 2

West Elm Local Popup — June 16 & 17

ART IS WOMEN: La Toya Allen

Meet Regnum Mentis

Established in 2015, "the idea to create gift packaging for men was birthed through my desire to send my husband - who was away on deployment [on] Father’s Day - a gift that conveyed the love and appreciation that both his children and I felt.  I didn’t want my husband to open a plain box. That would have diminished the love that we wanted to convey. Our gifts needed a ‘final touch.’ I could find nothing on the market that expressed the sentiment that we felt. Statistics show that most gift-givers want to create an experience. I knew I wasn’t the only one. My clients express the excitement and joy of seeing our gift bags and gift boxes under the Christmas tree." RM Designs, LLC, looks to create a lasting experience to all its clients’ special occasions, whether it’s an anniversary, birthday, Bar Mitzvah, corporate event, Military Ball, retirement or wedding.

Being a Female Entrepreneur

I believe as a female entrepreneur and veteran I have been blessed to have access to various resources in order to become successful within the gift packaging industry. We are new within our industry and sometimes working to establish the brand and build rapport in the retail market seems to be a challenge at times but certainly not a challenge that cannot be conquered.

"I have had a challenge in scaling my business due to having established my company out-of-state. I have had to utilize the law that protects the establishment of my business under the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act. Many entities really don’t know how to handle business owners that have attachments in multiple states.

Vending at First Fridays

"First Fridays has provided a venue that we can utilize to establish business [and gain] consumer exposure.  We are able to interact and establish new client relationships. It is also another market analysis resource, which allows us to understand whether [or not] we are providing a product that meets the needs of our clients."

Get a hold of La Toya!

Facebook and Instagram - @RegnumMentisDesigns | Pinterest.com – Regnum Mentis Designs

Email - Regnummentisinvestments@gmail.com

Upcoming Event - Art Is Women | Redux, National Stationery Show MAY 2018 New York

ART IS WOMEN: Tori Hunter

Meet artist Tori Hunter, who is a digital painter born and raised in Oakland, California. When asked about her creative style, her response is usually “I’un even know,” bearing the Instagram handle, @iuneveno. Though Hunter cannot put a specific name to her style, it is likened to “black manga.” When describing her portfolio of works, Hunter says her recreations take “nostalgic or iconic characters from comics or twelve vision and make them Black.” Going beyond the normative perception of Black, Hunter says, “I try to bring all shades into my artwork, as well as skin conditions...such as #albinism and #vitiligo. That way every Black person can see themselves in my artwork and not feel shut out. Every person can be a superhero.”

Hunter sells her work online and at the Oakland First Fridays festival. “When  people talk about creating their own business no one ever talks about the financial side. First Friday has helped me get my brand out there. More people will be able to see my artwork and request commissions. Regulars will come and be able to find me and tell friends.” Hunter and the BMJ Art Shop will be joining us for the "Art Is Women | Redux" on May 4th, 5-9 p.m. Come out to support BMJ Art Shop even if you “uneveno” what to expect.

 Tori is always available for commission! You can contact her via Instagram @iuneveno, email bmjartshopinc@gmail.com and through her store www.bmjartshopinc.bigcartel.com.

Tori is always available for commission! You can contact her via Instagram @iuneveno, email bmjartshopinc@gmail.com and through her store www.bmjartshopinc.bigcartel.com.

ARTIST SERIES: Robot Nature

Long nights dedicated to the sound. Computers, keyboards and looper pedals all to put on the one-man show that was Robot Nature. After The Bolt disbanded, former frontman DPAK continued the show, blending drum, EDM and guitar beats at venues in Southern California. Solo nights on stage turned into a longing for bandmates. “[as a solo artist] you don’t necessarily get the live chemistry and feel of people on-stage interacting - the sound of an actual drum or the actual bass - like live. It’s just different,” says DPAK, “there’s something more feel-based about playing [music] together as a group versus just having a guy with a laptop and a dj playing, which ya know, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

During one of his solo performances DPAK’s meditative thoughts were realized by a visit from an old friend, Sydney Alston, who invited him to work with End Of Ever, a band which lost its lead singer.

So the ex-End Of Ever mates (keyboardist Richard Parizer, bassist Michael Sklena and drummer Jesse Shadis) met up for a chat turned jam session. Playing together, waves of sound banded the foursome together. They soon recognized this was the start of something great. “We [the musicians in End of Ever] wanted to look for new things, entertain new things. DPAK already had the idea,” explains Parizer. It was the man of music’s vision which ultimately empowered the group to welcome DPAK to the squad.

 

Imagining The Sound

 Where there's agreement, there's synergy. Photo by  Monique Rivera .

Where there's agreement, there's synergy. Photo by Monique Rivera.

“Technology is where Earth is heading right now with AI - artificial intelligence - virtual reality, cryptocurrency, you name it. There’s a lot of things that are coming up and I think if the music can be just ahead of that curve and be a certain sound that [is the] sound of the future - that’s kind of what we’re going for visionary wise,” DPAK says.

These blended elements ultimately comprise the origin of the name Robot Nature, which DPAK explains as, “that balance between technology and nature.” Do you get it? A technological robot infused with human nature. “The music expresses that, because you have organic elements...but you also have electronic sounds, violin with acoustic so the balance of that acoustic and electronic element forms the sound Robot Nature.”

Being a multicultural group - East Indian, Italian, Filipino, Israeli - the mates are just as blended as their vision. “We’re all different ethnicities when it comes down to it, but we all have different backgrounds, different views on life and we all have, most importantly, different record collections,” notes drummer, Jesse Shadis. “It’s good to have everybody coming from a different walk of life. It actually helps, because it creates its own new flavor, it creates its own new sound for the band,” he says.

Processing

 Jesse Shadis maintaining the pulse during the band's performance at  "Black Arts."  Photo by  Monique Rivera .

Jesse Shadis maintaining the pulse during the band's performance at "Black Arts." Photo by Monique Rivera.

With the excitement of starting a new band and everyone bringing their creative influence to the recording room the band went through some growing pains. “I mean there’s a lot to do...we gotta play live shows…when you’re playing live shows sometimes it’s hard to get the momentum of recording,” which, according to DPAK, can spring up feelings of redundancy.

“I think that part of being musicians - in our world - we’re playing the same songs a lot, over and over again and so maybe there’s a little bit of like, from the musician perspective, they might think, ‘Oh, these songs are getting old, but the thing is like it’s always new for the audience every time,” says DPAK.

An L.A.-based ensemble, Robot Nature spent the past year building a fan base in SoCal. Their performance at the Oakland First Fridays “Black Arts" Street Festival on February 2nd was the first time Robot Nature played the Bay Area.

“‘It’s refreshing to go to Oakland to have a whole new crowd that’s never heard us before. It wasn’t like the same L.A. fans coming to see the show again. It was all new people so it kind of had that freshness to it.”

Looking down, DPAK saw people dancing, singing along and smiling. “You can just tell that everyone had a really open energy about them...and people were really intently listening. They weren’t like bored, looking at their cell phones. I think sometimes in Los Angeles people always got somewhere to go to or [in] a place like New York,” he says. “Then you go to Oakland and everyone’s kinda there to be there. They were there to enjoy,” he continues. With so much fresh energy and love from the crowd, DPAK was reminded of how Robot Nature’s music impacts people.

At the end of the day, the mates of Robot Nature do what they do for the people. “The more you give, the more you get. If we can inspire, like, being in a place of service - being in a place of like, ‘How can we share? How can we improve the space around us? How can we improve other people’s lives?’ I think if everyone has that kind of mentality - that kind of consciousness - we can make the world a better place. That’s why music is such a good thing. It’s a universal language.” With the band touring in the next year, going as far as Bulgaria, they will surely make global connections and have people getting down to music worldwide. You can listen to their song, “Do You Wanna Be a Star”, on their website here and you can catch their next performance at Oakland First Fridays “Art Of Creation” Street Festival April 6th, 2018.

ARTIST SERIES: Phat Luv Band

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Through her eyes, Blooma Berry (vocalist and manager of Phat Luv Band), sees her band mate and long-term partner, Phil Rapier, as a “big ol’ humanitarian,” a “wanderlust man with a huge, huge heart.” Standing six foot, seven inches, Phil (founder/bassist) walks humbly. As any humble human would, he is always looking for new ways to grow. It was about 2011 when he picked up a bass guitar and began learning to play it on the corner of Franklin and 14th Street in Oakland, California. A passerby approached Phil and began showing him a different way to play. Overtime, Phil attracted other musicians and curious minds as he played on the street. Soon enough conversations between strangers became jam sessions between friends. Bore out of this was the concept of Phat Luv Band, a reflection of Phil’s huge heart, reaching out to all types of people. After several months, Phil had an ensemble. “They were a wild bunch,” says Blooma about the ragtag squad of bandmates who made up Phat Luv Band in the early stages. Many of the musicians who initially joined the band suffered drug and alcohol addictions. They were often targeted by societal harsheties and judgements that deemed them no better than their alcoholic misdeeds and drug kicks. Still, Phil saw the best in them. According to Blooma, “they were so musically and creatively evolved that they could not find their place in society.” Within Phat Luv they found a purpose.

The “Re-membering” of Phil + Blooma
 

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Purpose made another mark when Blooma met Phil at a gathering in 2015. A live band was playing Zimbabwean music and “we became lost and found in the heart and drum beat of our ancestors,” says the songstress. It was like a “re-membering of our souls.” After meeting, Blooma started “sangin’” with Phil at his corner spot on West Grand. Shortly afterward, they began organizing weekly rehearsals. “We became physically and musically banded.” Before the two were ever romantically-involved, laughter and authenticity mingled them together. Their love is so unmistakable, “people have stopped to take a picture of us on the street.” Wow. She goes on to say, “real love is multifaceted. We’re imperfect, as well.”

Phil and Blooma were making music together for about a year, ebbing and flowing with the come-and-go of new band members. At this time, they regularly played on West Grand, where they’d rock the street corner for hours. One day they received a noise complaint, which inadvertently messed with the band’s confidence. “It stopped the flow,” says Blooma. There were no residents in the neighborhood. What gives? What the band didn’t know was a small complex of apartments resided above the restaurant they performed nearby. Blooma wished they could make amends for peace and for the pursuit music. However, a few weeks later the band was approached by Oakland First Fridays to perform in the festival. “We were so freakin’ juiced!”

Feelings of Phat Luv

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The first times playing at the Oakland First Fridays street festival made the members tense, but they soon faced a reality: either tense up or relax. So, “we stayed Phat Luv. We stayed free,” Blooma recalls. ”We’re not perfect people. We’re not perfect musicians. We’re still very comfortable with being just that. If we have to stop and start over again, we have to stop and start over again. We are being very human in our performance. When you find that place of relaxation and humanness...you let it be.”

“We had an epiphanic moment. We were down the street,” when someone from Oakland First Fridays invited the band to the main street. “We unplugged all our stuff and we brought it all to the front. [Then] something changed. The energy was heightened to a height we couldn’t even dream about. It was the same thing that took place on the street, but not as many people. [With more people] there’s more of an energy exchange. It’s that energy...it’s rhetorical. Us to them. Them to us. We left there so phat,” says Blooma.

To this day the energy and love felt from performing at every event continues to amaze Blooma, but the day following every First Friday she physically cannot move. The songstress has received diagnosis of serious diseases, including ones affecting her cervix and lower back. “At First Fridays, it’s a challenge for me just to stand.” During performances she alternates between sitting and standing. With the spark of adrenaline she sneaks in some hip shakes. Through it all, Blooma enjoys looking at her audience, because it makes all the pain worthwhile. She watches the white-haired, older generation grooving alongside babies in strollers and wheelchair-riding individuals. “The happiness on everyone’s faces - that’s why I look so forward to First Fridays.”

Fresh Vision


From the time of their first performance at the street festival, Phat Luv Band has come a long way. They appeared in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle and they rehearse weekly at Soundwave Studios. “We’re far more organized now.” There are band members who come and go, but Phil and Blooma have found some solid mates (vocalist Lexi Braun, drummer/percussionist Juan Carlos Miller, bassist Byron Brown, lead guitarist/ The Funkanauts Captain Jason Collins, vocalist/drummer/stage designer Dwight "DW" Wilson).

And still, Phat Luv strives to do more. Captain Philip is seeking permanent string and horn players to fulfill his vision of a street orchestra. Blooma’s disclaimer to anyone considering playing with Phat Luv, “they have to do it for love.” In the meantime, the band is still fattening the atmosphere with love at every live show, including their performance on 24th Street and Telegraph Ave. this December 1st at Oakland First Fridays “Light’s On” Street Festival.