festival:festival disrupts audience-driven art

David Rue and Randy Ford, photo by Amina Maya

Even within Seattle’s vibrant creative scene, art is influenced by the audiences that show up to view it. So says Mario Lemafa, artist, community organizer and one of three curators of festival:festival, a free performing and visual arts festival coming to LoveCityLove and Northwest Film Forum on Aug. 10 and 11.

“[Art] is class-based and relates to that intersection of content and how people show up to the spaces [where art is presented],” Lemafa says. This means that people who can afford to consume art—costs of which can include transportation, childcare and time off work in addition to the price of a ticket—have a substantial effect on the art that’s supported in our city and where it’s produced. Art is a consumable in a market-driven system, so money dictates what’s seen on stage and in galleries.

As the demographic of the greater Seattle area gets wealthier, the spaces where people can make and view art change. festival:festival, as conceived by artists Juan Franco and Carl Lawrence, aims to alter this trend by celebrating the value of “intersectional structures and identities.” In partnership with the Jacob Lawrence Gallery, Intiman Theatre, secondnature, Bridge Productions and Youth in Focus, festival:festival presents a crafts market, community gatherings and workshops, a science lab, photo booth and exhibitions from more than 20 local artists. The festival is curated by artist/activists Lemafa, Sara Porkalob and Amina Maya.

Maya’s own work creates spaces that celebrate blackness, and she selected festival artists who might not otherwise have the opportunity to create work for large events. “Black artists have to navigate their creative processes differently [than white artists],” she says. Artists of color, she explains, are often the only non-white people to occupy a particular museum, dance company or theater, so when black artists experience microaggressions, they must weigh the need to call them out with the possibility that they could lose their opportunity to make art. “There are many spaces in Seattle that are unwelcoming to black artists, and this festival wants to create space where their creations are not defined by that risk of lost opportunity,” Maya says.

From an intersectional perspective, Maya believes that the way we talk about art created by people of color plays a huge part in how it’s viewed by a larger audience.

“Lots of white audiences have this belief that they can’t identify with black life, but the art itself expands the black experience for everybody,” she says. “Look at Kehinde Wiley, one of the greatest black artists of all time. Wiley’s art is centered around blackness but it goes so much deeper than just being art for black people. Anyone can empathize with it.”

Lemafa approached curatorial duties for festival:festival with the idea that art within the Seattle region has “great power as a healing and transformative practice.” Each artist under their guidance uses visual art, interdisciplinary performance art and even science to illustrate cultural trauma or heritage.

“To be part of a community, you really have to be available to it,” Lemafa says. “The festival intentionally scheduled programs throughout the day so that we’re not just available to people seeking out entertainment in the evenings.” This way, they explain, children, families, people who can only see art while en route to and from jobs without regular bankers’ hours will be part of the art community. It’s just one of the creative ways that festival curators hope to bring new audiences to the art scene. Bridging the gap between science and creativity is another, via a workshop with University of Washington scientists where participants can create “germination necklaces,” seed-filled jewelry that lays against the body and uses the wearer’s body heat to help the seed grow.

When I spoke with artist and activist Natasha Marin, her work was in-process as an extension of her projects Black Imagination and Black Joy. Black Joy, an online forum where people of color can contribute photos, clips and statements of their own experiences reveling in the beauty of being black, allows people to “focus on the joy and well-being [of being black] as opposed to the oppression,” she says. “I’m thinking about making a Black Joy Space as an installation, where black folks can dress themselves up and take pictures of themselves being joyful.” Violence against people of color is widely publicized, sometimes commodifying videos of young men and women killed by police on social media, then viewed repeatedly as the media sites themselves profit from the shared horror. “We need to see black people defying the abuse and violence by being joyful so that the public sees us as more than victims,” Marin says. “Focusing on this joy is among the most meaningful work I’ve ever done because we’re more than just our trauma.”

Performer David Rue will explore how black culture is deeply ingrained into our historical cultural dialogue. Rue and Randy Ford, whose creative partnership is titled Dandy, will perform “Dandy Candy: A High Fructose Duet to examine how black bodies use fashion to communicate and inspire identity through a history in which black people’s freedom is inhibited by common and harmful misconceptions of who they are.

“Black bodies use fashion to evoke unspoken messages about our resistance to being blocked in,” Rue says.

A complete listing of festival:festival events is available here.