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Arts Feminism, Thy Newest Name Is Ladyfest

Culture* Loosely organized summer festivals meant as a haven for female artists pop up in cities worldwide.


SAN FRANCISCO — More grass-roots than Lollapalooza, more political than Lilith Fair, Ladyfest is a summer festival produced entirely by people proud that their styles of feminism, art and music cannot be easily categorized--or commercialized.

Appearing in more than a half-dozen cities around the world this year despite no major corporate sponsorship, Ladyfests have created havens for female artists and organizers who feel excluded from male-dominated pop culture.

"For a lot of us in the punk-rock scene, we get harassed at the door and in the clubs, then you see some stupid boy band on the stage," said Allison Wolfe, whose band Bratmobile played Ladyfest Bay Area. "This space felt much more shared."

Some call Ladyfest "an anti-Lilith Fair." But Wolfe, who was instrumental in starting the first festival two years ago in Olympia, Wash., rejects the comparison.

"I don't want to have Ladyfest pitted against Lilith Fair," she said. "I really do appreciate the space that it created."

Ladyfest organizers have invited "pro-woman people" of all genders, ages, shapes and sizes--but the event also has drawn some backlash.

"We talked to a couple of filmmakers who didn't want to be premiered at Ladyfest because they didn't want to be pigeonholed," said Lara Warren, organizer of the Los Angeles Ladyfest set for November, which will feature a West Coast film premiere.

The planning for San Francisco's five-day festival, which ran through Sunday, began in October, mostly in people's living rooms. There were 40 volunteers on 10 committees and no hierarchies.

They pulled together more than 30 bands, 12 film screenings, visual arts galleries, spoken-word performances, and 50 workshops with topics ranging from transgender issues and knitting to "How to Be an Ethical Slut."

"I think it speaks to the power of feminist culture at this moment. We have the energy to produce the world we want for ourselves," said Kyla Schuller, one of the organizers. "It's filling a really crucial gap of noncommercial entertainment and politics."

The first Ladyfest came out of a reunion of people from the 1990s Riot Grrrl movement of punk-rock feminists. There hasn't been another event in Olympia since, but that was the point--organizers hoped others would take the idea and run with it.

They got their wish.

In 2001, events emerged in Chicago, New York, Bloomington, Ind., and Glasgow, Scotland. This year has seen festivals in Lansing, Mich., and Ontario, Canada, with more events scheduled for Atlanta, Washington D.C., Amsterdam and London, among other cities.

"I like the idea that women can take this idea back to their own communities and it can reflect what's going on in their own cities or towns," Wolfe said.

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