Interview // Chelsea Dunn & Nina Dolgin

By Elizabeth Jarrett

This weekend, Ladyfest Atlanta will take over three venues across the city for a free, weekend-long music and arts festival. The programming will offer up music, performance art, open gallery hours, panel discussions, a slew of vendors, and other impressive content.

Deer Bear Wolf Curator, Elizabeth Jarrett, got the inside scoop from Ladyfest Atlanta organizers, Chelsea Dunn and Nina Dolgin.

 

First things first. What is Ladyfest?

Ladyfest Atlanta is a 3-day women’s & gender non-conforming people’s arts and music festival, a feminist space, an intentional space. In addition to highlighting all of the artistic talent in our city, our goal is to precipitate critical and needed dialogue around the intersections of sexism, racism and classism in the arts communities of Atlanta. It stems from a grassroots history of Ladyfests, the first one taking place in Olympia, WA in 2000. 

All LFAtl events are free and open to the public. We welcome everyone of any political situation to the festival and to the conversation! We will be accepting donations throughout the festival. All proceeds will benefit the Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (SNaP Co). Find out more about them at their website: http://www.rjactioncenter.org/snap

 

Ladyfest has taken place internationally since its creation in 2000 in Olympia, Washington. This year's festival will mark the first in Atlanta. How did you get involved with Ladyfest and what inspired you to bring it to our fair city?

Chelsea: When I first arrived in Atlanta I was hoping to get involved with a Ladyfest here, since I was a part of the organizing process for LF Hampshire while a student at Hampshire College. After researching, I found that there have been several Ladyfest South festivals (2002, 2004, 2007) hosted in Atlanta. However, there has never been a Ladyfest Atlanta that specifically catered to local artists or provided a platform for addressing local needs. The idea for a Ladyfest Atlanta quickly generated a lot of interest and now we’ve really grown into a strong, unrelenting team of people trying to bring this festival to Atlanta. The organizing efforts started really DIY/grassroots--simply spreading the word at art galleries and music events that i was either playing or attending. a post on Dream Warriors lead Nina to come to the first meeting...at the second meeting Nina and I were the only ones who showed up and the rest is her story.
 

Speaking of Atlanta, in your opinion, why is an event like Ladyfest important for our community in 2015?

Chelsea: Because there are still shows and gallery exhibits that are all white men. And if we don’t include the voices and work of marginalized people in our cultural institutions (art, music, performance, and science), both the underground and corporate or highly visible), then we are re-inscribing the racist and sexist histories of these spaces. It simultaneously disempowers those who are already doing the work to rewrite and change the cultural narrative to one that actually listens to the people whose lived experiences inform them of what has to change (i.e. there’s already tons of women, trans, gnc, poc who are doing really amazing work--sound-based, visually-based and otherwise. if these voices are represented in more spaces, then more people will hear a more diverse and representative picture of how we all experience the world)

Nina: There is certainly no shortage of women, trans and gender non-conforming people doing impressive and important things all over this city. Unfortunately, many spaces dedicated to art and music around Atlanta primarily serve and exhibit men’s works. We are actively seeking to change the landscape of the Atlanta art scene to be more inclusive and more representative. While many women's festivals fail to address the politics that make these spaces necessary in the first place, Ladyfest Atlanta seeks to create an outwardly feminist and leftist space where dialogue and activism are just as important as art and music.

How will Ladyfest Atlanta differ from Ladyfests in other cities?

Chelsea: It's that we live here and we demand more from our city. sometimes change starts at home. we definitely acknowledge that issues around gender identity and expression are not isolated to Atlanta or the united states. for us, giving a platform to local artists within local venues is one way to confront Atlanta’s cultural institutions and ask them, or rather, demand that they recognize that you can’t just not be sexist, or “unintentionally” book only white men for 3 friday nights in a row. you have to be ACTIVELY anti-sexist, ACTIVELY anti-racist, ACTIVELY anti-classist, ACTIVELY anti-ableist, etc. in order give an equal platform to all artists in Atlanta. and it’s hard work.

 

Some feel women artists are just starting to find their voices (or have them heard) in Atlanta, as support for the female artistic community seems to be growing. What kind of support have you received from Atlanta residents and organizations regarding Ladyfest? How does that support affect your role as organizers, especially with this inaugural festival?

I want to be sure here that we recognize and acknowledge the very real and very important history of women artists in atlanta. I don’t think that they’re just now finding their voices. Women have been doing really amazing work around this city for decades. It’s just that their identities or the agency/credit they were given in relation to their work has been diminished, erased, or somehow made less visible. we’re not reinventing the wheel with ladyfest and we don’t want to try to somehow come across as saying that suddenly there are all of these women who now feel like they have a platform to do stuff. There has been a historical silencing of women, but that doesn’t mean that there has been a history of silent women.

It’s definitely been a concerted effort to put this festival together. We have a small committee of organizers, a massive team of volunteers, and a host of amazing venues and sponsors. Mammal, Eyedrum, and The Big House have been so great to work with. We are also working with Candler Park Market Deli, Atlanta Zine Fest, Condesa Coffee, Mindzai, SNaP Co and The Racial Justice Action Center. Jared Pepper, Daniel Bailey, and individuals at the Goat Farm are helping with production. Everyone who has come to the meetings and fundraisers or contributed to the Indiegogo campaign. As well as all of the artists, speakers and workshop facilitators who are contributing their time and talents to make this festival happen.

It feels really incredible to witness so many different people from all the pockets of our city come together for this. The overwhelmingly positive response is an affirmation that Atlanta needs a Ladyfest.

As organizers I think it makes us feel a duty to transparency and openness. this festival is not just for us, so we must constantly make sure that we are listening and receptive. // can’t wait for the talkback
 

You all made the decision to not only include women, but non-gender conforming and trans artists as well. I saw that you recently partnered with Solutions Not Punishment Coalition, an organization empowering trans and gender non-conforming people of color and street level sex-workers who have been targeted by the Atlanta Police Department. Can you tell me a little bit about that partnership and why this partnership is important for Ladyfest and the trans community?

Our explicit inclusion of trans identified and gender non-conforming individuals is only significant in that it references the failings of other women’s events to do so--whether they actively excluded these communities of people, or simply stated that they were inclusive without lending any real action towards addressing the history of feminism and women’s spaces that could potentially make trans and gnc individuals distrustful of more “so-called inclusive” women’s events.

While Ladyfest is a platform for women & gnc folks to perform and share their work, it should simultaneously provoke and question dominant institutions. We hope to instigate dialogue around the sexism, homophobia, and transphobia our participants and attendees have faced right here in Atlanta. And the work that snap co is doing is something we really believe is addressing some of these issues.

The SNaP Coalition is working to build power among those who are targeted by the Atlanta Police Department – especially trans and gender non-conforming people of color, and formerly incarcerated people. They seek to transform the way the City of Atlanta crafts and implements its policies, practices and laws related to street level sex work. Drawing from evidence-based best practices around the country, SNaP Co is fighting for policies and laws that utilize treatment programs, services, and opportunities as a response to survival sex work, not jail time. Their policies emphasize holistic community services for people including job training, educational programs, health care, housing, etc.

 

Ladyfest has quite the impressive line-up. What can the audience expect during Ladyfest weekend?

Ladyfest will showcase music, comedy, visual art installations, workshops, film/video, and other activities facilitated by Atlanta folks! We are super impressed by all of the artists we have this year. Keep an eye out for Flamingo Shadow, paintings from 17-year-old visual artist Rachel Much, a performance piece by Danielle Deadwyler, comedy by Ann Marie Lowman, and be sure to make it to our Accessible Yoga class lead by Zahra Alabanza.

 

When Ladyfest 2015 is over, do you all plan to continue working for women and non-gender conforming artists throughout the community? What are your future goals?

We’ve got our eyes on Ladyfest Atlanta 2016 with some big plans for our second year. Plus, there will be a talkback at the end of the festival on Sunday night, meaning everyone is invited to join the conversation about what worked, what didn’t work and how we can make next year even better. Expect smaller events throughout the year in between the annual festival.



As a fellow community curator, I'm always interested to know: what is the biggest lesson you've learned while organizing this year's Ladyfest?

At times we’ve found it difficult to represent such a diverse place as Atlanta. In the early planning stages, we had limited resources by which to engage certain communities effectively and found it challenging to truly be representative of our city. Trying to actively work against that, we made an effort to reach out in creative ways, strengthen our organizing team, and structure our process in a way that made it easier to be flexible and fix our mistakes (because we will never be perfect). Our reasons for organizing this festival and the politics surrounding it are deeply personal. So I think that this lesson also speaks to how, as an organizer or community curator, you need to simultaneously be enormously resilient and enormously sensitive, balancing the unrelenting ethos of your practice with the task of accommodating the needs of other people that you may not have been aware of.

 

Ladyfest will be an annual festival (hooray!). If people want to get involved next year, what do you all look for in applicants, performers, vendors and volunteers?

We are looking for people who want to make Atlanta better. The kind of relentless, radical folks who are thoughtful and strong in their beliefs yet not afraid of being wrong and correcting mistakes.

 

Ladyfest kicks off this Friday, March 20th at The Mammal Gallery and runs through Sunday, March 22nd.

For a full list of performers, venues, and programming visit www.ladyfestatlanta.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ladyfestatlanta
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