By Dylan Doherty
Flint is not a stereotypical artists’ scene, but “is not bereft of art,” according to Janice McCoy, art coordinator of LadyFest, a Flint event that returned for the second year Sept. 15-17 in four downtown locations.
“There are jazz nights, art walks, and film showings at the Flint Institute of Art,” she noted. “Arts and culture play a very vital role– “something we cling to very strongly.”
Still, organizers of LadyFest Flint 2017 believe Flint needs more–more diversity, more variety, more inclusion of women in the arts.
Organized by Flint activist Nadia Alamah and expanded from its 2016 inaugural version, LadyFest combines a commitment to “women’s empowerment through the arts and culture,” according to its Facebook page, and aims for increased accessibility, inclusion and recognition for women artists.
LadyFest events were held at the Buckham Gallery, Flint Local 432, Factory Two, and Ferris Wheel.
The first LadyFest Flint in 2016 was Alamah’s first serious endeavor. She had previously worked on the Flint Public Art Project, Must Art Mondays, and with the Greater Flint Creative Alliance. In working on LadyFest Flint 2017, Alamah applied for grants, developed strategies, and managed the project.
The inaugural LadyFest Flint accepted anonymous feedback through a suggestion box at Flint Local 432. Alamah said she felt this was empowering. The overwhelming feedback was to have more of everything: “More artists, a greater variety of different art, and different days,” according to Alamah.
This feedback was the reason LadyFest Flint 2017 was expanded to three days rather than two and to more venues in addition to Flint Local 432. This year there were more avenues for feedback, including year-round Google surveys and a community forum.
Alamah said this feedback was motivational for the artists. “It can be very inspiration and validating to hear that your art has” an impact, she said.
On this year’s program, two lectures were given at Buckham Gallery on Sept. 15: “Meta-Awareness: What Are Emotions?” by Dr. Joyce Sesuwut Piert and “Because You are a Galaxy: My Journey as a Flint Writer” by Zainab Al Radhi. Flint Local 432 hosted musical performances by Lunar and No Thank You on Sept. 15 and Ashley Marie, Daisys, and Lemon Collies on Sept. 17, as well as a Flint Water Crisis Panel featuring local activists Jia Ireland and Desiree Duell. An Open Maker Space and workshops by Lacey Harmon, Allison Neumann, and Kala Wilburn were held at Factory Two on Sept. 16. The Vulnerability Art Show was held Sept. 15 – 17 at Ferris Wheel.
When deciding which venues to use, the LadyFest organizers looked for unconventional spaces and to get involved with the new redevelopment projects, such as Ferris Wheel.
The same approach was taken to choosing artists, McCoy said, adding the organizers were looking for Flint artists who were “different and unconventional.”
One art form displayed at the Vulnerability Art Show was fiber art, which includes weaving, knitting, and crocheting, and pottery. McCoy said that such art was belittled as “women’s art,” as a lower art form which did not belong in a gallery setting. The LadyFest organizers wanted to challenge that stereotype. A “crocheted scarf takes as much time” as any other piece of art, said McCoy.
Aside from the type of art displayed, LadyFest Flint promoted the inclusivity of women in art by prominently featuring women artists. This challenges the stereotype of the “male genius artist” or the “French genius with prostitutes,” as McCoy put it. She further said that, historically, women have not had the same opportunities as men to create and display art. “It’s about accessibility and recognition,” McCoy said.
McCoy sees the art exhibitions at LadyFest as combatting an attack on art. She mentions arts education is being removed from schools, which have limited arts programs–if they have any arts programs at all.
“If you take away arts and culture from young people, they have no reason to support arts and culture,” she said. An appreciation of art, “should be strengthened and developed.”
The original LadyFest was held in 2000 in Olympia, Washington. It had its roots in the Riot Grrl movement and punk scene. Alamah said that over the last five years, LadyFests have had more of a focus on LGBT inclusion, awareness, and acceptance.
Alamah said this was achieved by increasing the representation of the diverse communities which make up Flint. Alamah says that it is “still not universally accepted to be part of the LGBT community and having more of these events plays a part in normalizing the LGBT community. Those voices are not encouraged to be loud. We will not be invisible. We will do our part to make all of us very visible.”
EVM staff writer Dylan Doherty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.