The last year of hard work came full circle for Kelly Mathews during Amanda Palmer’s recent concert at the Knitting Factory.
After hearing that Mathews, the director of the Spokane Feminist Art Festival, was inspired to spearhead the event after reading her book “The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help,” Palmer invited her onstage to promote the festival, which is organized by volunteers from Spokane Area NOW (National Organization for Women) and the Shrinking Violet Society.
With that extra pep in her step, Mathews, a writer and organizer with a history in anthropology, is looking forward to the first Spokane Feminist Art Festival, which will be held at the Bartlett on Saturday.
Mathews and then-Spokane Area NOW president Amanda Mansfield started tossing around the idea for a feminist art festival in 2016 after considering Mathews’ experience running the Spokane Feminist Forum, Mansfield’s work to revamp Spokane Area NOW and the 2016 presidential election.
Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, Mathews also recalled how people used art and music to express and celebrate their experiences during tumultuous times and realized, in today’s charged political climate, art could be used in the same way.
“We’ve tried facts and they’re getting twisted around every which way so art is always the way to reach people,” she said. “Essentially that’s how you can change people’s mind is through that medium.”
To get the ball rolling, Mathews began attending events like First Friday and building connections with artists in the community while spreading the word about Fem Fest.
All that work paid off when more than 60 artists and performers responded to Fem Fest’s call for submissions.
Fem Fest accepted more than 50 artists and performers, both seasoned artists and those who had never shown before.
Dulce Gutierrez Vasquez, an undocumented queer activist, submitted works called “Decolonize and Rise” and “No Single Issue,” which features the Statue of Liberty balancing a basket full of symbols representing various hot topics on her head.
The piece is inspired by the Audre Lorde quote “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
Emma Noyes, a member of the Colville Tribes, submitted illustrations depicting the traditional folk character Mole, the wife of Coyote.
“She wanted to center it more from Mole’s perspective where usually Coyote as the trickster gets all the attention,” Mathews said.
Artist Ildikó Kalapács will show some of her paintings, and Fitz Fitzpatrick and pastor, poet and performance artist Katy Shedlock will share their poetry.
Power 2 the Poetry’s Bethany Montgomery and A.J. McKinney will perform, as will the Cimarron Tribal Belly Dance.
“We have a wide variety,” Mathews said. “A little something for everyone.”
Mathews noted that while most of the art is family friendly, some features nudity and what could be considered erotica, though it all comes from a female perspective, not the male gaze.
“Because #MeToo has been all over the place, we’ve got to find ways of celebrating what’s sexy and how are things changing,” she said.
The last year of building connections has shown Mathews how much good can happen when creatives join together to achieve a common goal.
“I’ve been on this really fantastic journey and Spokane has so much to offer,” she said. “I think we’re going to do fantastic things together as a city and I look forward to the next thing that Spokane is going to be doing.”
She hopes this and future FemFests can help destigmatize feminism and bring women’s issues back to the forefront of the conversation.
“Women have to step up to lead and if we’re white, we have to step aside and let women of color lead,” she said. “We have to pass the mic and pass the torch.”
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