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play / 2014

QueerFest LA

QueerFest LA

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by QueerFest

1967: 200 protested police raids of gay bars at @TheBlackCatLA. In 2014 @QueerFestLA celebrates #lgbtheritage in the same streets.

Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Queerfest is a weeklong festival in Silver Lake businesses and streets, celebrating the past and present of the local queer community.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • Silver Lake

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The first annual QueerFest focuses on a historic area of Los Angeles once known for its dense saturation of LGBT businesses and culture. Many formerly queer venues in the neighborhood will play host to installations, screenings, and events throughout the week leading up to the Fest – and in some cases, become their former incarnations for a night. A veteran of Silver Lake will lead walking tours of historic LGBT landmarks in the neighborhood, and give insight into their significance to our community today. The week will culminate in a street closure on Sunday with a diverse outdoor program featuring live music and art performances, local queer artists and vendors, and a park installation / gathering place for the community.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Because this will be our inaugural year, it has been paramount to QueerFest to engage the participation and interest of the Silver Lake community. Local businesses and neighborhood councils within our zone have given their full-hearted support for our free, inclusive festival. City officials will speak at events during the weekend, and the last living protester from the 1967 Black Cat Riots will give a keynote address. We want members of our community to learn about their history, connect with each other, and play in open spaces while forging a deeper love for their neighborhood.

In order to keep this event free for the public, we have raised a significant amount of money through local private donors and in-kind donations. We have engaged site operations specialists who have solved logistics at festivals such as Bonnaroo, Coachella, and Chive Fest to help us execute the street closure aspect of the festival. We’ve assembled a committee of local event producers, artists, and leaders to curate diverse queer programming that tells an exciting and relatable overall story. We’ve engaged local promoters, social media mavens, and local organizations to ensure that the word gets out to the community. Our Advisory Committee includes prominent leaders from organizations such as the American Foundation for Equal Rights (responsible for bringing the Prop 8 case to the Supreme Court) and GLSEN (creating Gay-Straight Alliances in schools). We have engaged local artists, artisans, and non-profits, and will give them a platform to educate and connect with the community.

The main event will be Sunday’s festival and street closure, an outdoor celebration on Santa Monica Blvd. right alongside the hustle and bustle of Sunset Blvd (between Sunset and Hoover). We are working with local government officials to ensure a safe and easy closure. We will build two stages to host the best local queer talent, and we have commissioned fun, interactive, large scale art installations. In the middle of it all, we’ll build a small, urban green space as a kind of pop-up park, which will include a landscape installation with trees, grass, picnic tables, free water, and shade. This area will serve as a unique open space for dance performances, free speech, and impromptu classes.

The festival will occur October 1-5, 2014.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to PLAY today? In 2050?

Los Angeles is our city, and Silver Lake is our neighborhood – today we want to strengthen our relationship with the place we live by celebrating our local queer history and empowering our residents to continue to make history.

QueerFest’s free and inclusive programming aims to deepen our community’s appreciation for its diverse cultural heritage, and will create a safe place to connect and explore ideas. Showing support for a significant (but historically marginalized) subset of the neighborhood’s culture has the potential to create more harmony within the overall neighborhood. Tenets of safety, diversity, and harmony will allow playful acts such as performances, dialogue, and other interactions to naturally develop.

Reimagining Santa Monica Blvd. into an open public venue allows for all play to occur in broad daylight. All who are interested in attending, and all ages are welcome - this is not a niche event. The park installation between the two stages will encourage a gathering place for relaxation and free speech. It’s a creative use of temporary outdoor space that enables people who are perfect strangers, of all ethnicities, with disparate income and educational levels, to come together and communicate with each other across every social border and boundary.

In 2050, QueerFest will have encouraged even more community members, businesses, and artists to be in dialogue with local queer history. The festival could be transposed to other neighborhoods in Los Angeles, to help unearth local queer history elsewhere. Los Angeles will continue to be one of the most queer-friendly cities in the U.S., and like many other U.S. cities, will have a festival to help supplement its main PRIDE celebration (which was also founded in LA!).

Whom will your project benefit?

QueerFest will directly benefit Silver Lake residents, whose relationship with their neighborhood will deepen through participation in our unique programming. That said, individuals from all over Los Angeles (and beyond) will be welcome to attend QueerFest’s events, and learn about our colorful history and culture.

LGBTQ individuals and their allies from around the city will benefit from the range of programming we plan to offer, which aims to represent a more diverse definition of what it means to be queer today. This is particularly significant for individuals who are just beginning to form their identity as members of the queer community, as well as those who support them.

Los Angeles lovers of culture will benefit from QueerFest’s programming by being exposed to local artists’ cutting-edge performances and creations, while learning more about the complex cultural context of these works.

Local businesses will gain exposure and traffic from the expected 10,000+ attendees over the course of the weekend.

QueerFest performers and exhibitors will benefit not only from the spotlight offered to them on the festival’s stages, but also from the opportunity to represent and show appreciation for the community they come from.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We are proud to say that QueerFest is a confirmed project of the Pasadena Arts Alliance’s EMERGE Program, and that PAC will serve as our project’s 501(c)(3) fiscal sponsor. PAC serves as fiscal sponsor for install:WEHO, Native Strategies, Fallen Fruit, and KCHUNG in Chinatown. All donations to PAC specified for QueerFest will be tax deductible, and the staff of the Pasadena Arts Alliance has shared their extensive knowledge on how to run a successful festival and fundraise for a large scale arts project.

Critical to this collaboration: constant communication between the QueerFest committee and Pasadena Arts Alliance regarding budget/expenses; Pasadena Arts Alliance’s pre-approval on all grant applications; and their assistance on reaching out to their base for fundraising opportunities.

Additionally, in order for this festival to be a success, we must partner with local businesses. The Black Cat (a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument) has donated use of its space, as well as the adjacent raw space, to QueerFest. Programming site-specific aspects of QueerFest in this hallowed and historically queer space is a significant centerpiece to the fest, and gives it weight. Mack Sennett Studios have donated stages for screenings and a Launch Event. The Eagle LA, Akbar, and Hyperion Tavern have offered to host historic events and interventions in their venues.

We have also collaborated with the Mayor’s Office to produce the LGBT Heritage Month Closing Night, and are working closely with many additional city offices to ensure this festival is safe and significant for the community.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Play” metrics?

  • Access to open space and park facilities
  • Percentage of residents that feel safe in their neighborhoods
  • Number of residents with easy access to a “vibrant” park (Dream Metric)
  • Number (and quality) of informal spaces for play (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

QueerFest, by educating festival goers on the queer experience, will breed tolerance for the LGBTQA community both local and at large. LGBTQA residents will feel safer in their neighborhood knowing that they’re not only understood by their neighbors, but that there’s a place for them in Silver Lake.

QueerFest will create several informal spaces for play. We will transform local establishments into the LGBT-oriented spaces of their past. For example, the Black Cat, a popular Silver Lake restaurant, will be respun into its 1960s incarnation, the gay bar that played host to the Black Cat riots (which pre-date Stonewall). Tours will be led throughout the neighborhood. A dilapidated parking lot, once a gay-owned bookstore (A Different Light), will be reanimated with the Fest’s adjacent main stage. A urban park will be constructed in the middle of our festival throughway. Attendees will relax under real trees, drink free water, and enjoy impromptu performances and invigorating activities such as yoga led by a nearby studio.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We will measure success by participation. We hope to have most, if not all, of the businesses within our QueerFest zone contribute to our festival in some way. We will gather reports from the businesses to evaluate if there are upward trends in sales during QueerFest. We will also measure success by how many volunteers come forward to help power this event.

We will measure success by public attendance and engagement. This is a free event for the community. We will only succeed if they show up. And we’ll only be successful if they enjoy the experience of QueerFest. Positive feedback will be essential.

We hope for our project to not just continue for years to come, but to expand to other neighborhoods whose identities have been shaped by their local queer heritage. QueerFest LA can be easily transposed to other neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

After attending a neighborhood council meeting, we learned the importance of keeping our festival free. For-pay festivals have their place, but Silver Lake residents have too often felt alienated by required entry fees. We listened to the community we’re trying to serve, so our festival will be inclusive and free of charge.

After speaking with local historic figures, we have learned that although history and education are important, they must be delivered in a fun and interactive way. We should feel excited and empowered by our past, rather than lectured and labored. The lesson is that “to play” also allows us to absorb, learn, and connect.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We’ve spent the last six months engaging local businesses, artists, and garnering support for this festival. We’ve gotten venues and spaces donated. We’ve presented to the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council. We’ve met with and gotten support from our District’s Councilman and the Board of Public Works. We’ve built the infrastructure (logistics, operations) and sourced production quotes.

We’ve built the platform for QueerFest (which is a statement in and of itself). We are now in the process of finding the funds to fuel it, and confirming a robust program schedule that synchs with our mission.

We plan to spend the month of September promoting and working out the last details. This project will be achieved in October 2014.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

One major challenge we have anticipated is not raising the sufficient funds for this festival. In this case, our strategy is to prepare a downsized festival manageable by volunteers and artists, and capitalizing on the space and venue donations made by local businesses. We want the first year of QueerFest to feel like a “hit,” rather than spread too thin.

A second challenge is to be as inclusive with as we strive to be. Despite how diverse our committee might be, there is a chance someone will feel left out. Our strategy is to work with curators outside of our committee to make sure there is diverse representation in booths, performances, artists, and promotion. We hope that seeing the attempts to reach out and fold local queer organizations into the mix will create a safe feeling and harmonious backdrop against which “play” will come to life.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)