‘Queer Episodic Art Festival’ opens at Disney Hall

Written by By Ella Shay Bennett, CNN

A fantasy romance from Spain; a talent-filled showcase of artists from around the world; a futuristic game from New Zealand; a social commentary from Canada; a new film from the United Kingdom — it’s a who’s who of queer culture. At least, that’s what seems to be happening this year at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California.

On Friday night, the Center opened the biennial Queer Episodic Art Festival, a two-week series of events that features 18 queer-themed art shows, presentations and films. Titled “Queer: Single All the Way,” the series celebrates “unique queer voices from around the world” — in a manner of speaking, of course.

Exhibition curator Stuart Jones curated the series in collaboration with the Center, a cultural arts center located in Orange County. The idea, he says, was to “re-examine the very definition of queer, while encouraging audiences to share their own definitions and beliefs.”

More than 400 different artists are participating in the festival — from Shilpa Gupta and Bindass to Santiago Calatrava and David Vondelkeld. The festival also coincides with a “queer genealogy” at the Center called “the Queer Episodic Art Generation.” These projects examine queer ancestry through archival research and archival material.

VFW Colonial Hotel Santa Fe, New Mexico, “Rainbow Playground,” by Derek and Dru Martin (USA) Credit: Courtesy Derek and Dru Martin

Out of luck

There’s no harm in hoping for fortune in the arts, of course, and “Rainbow Playground” at the VFW Colonial Hotel in Santa Fe is a fascinating take on this idea.

The show has been curated by the New Mexico Museum of Art, in collaboration with the VFW and Graphic Vets (an organization that honors veterans’ visual art work) in order to “increase visibility of LGBTQ military veterans in New Mexico.” “Rainbow Playground” features 43 works by four New Mexico artists — many with close ties to queer culture.

At the Library of Congress, the curators view curators as social innovators, who create an “alternative model of thinking and problem solving” for the arts. “When you look at curators working in some of the least served communities in the world, they are enormously successful,” curator Dalepokrit Fradd tells CNN.

“Rainbow Playground” at the VFW will remain open to the public until October 19. At “Queer: Single All the Way,” the Venice Biennale-winning Umayr Pop and Najla Vejamani speak on Sept. 29, about their explorations of the importance of representation and representation’s importance in the arts. Plus, a free LGBT storytelling workshop will be available in Los Angeles on Oct. 14.

Finally, the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa will feature the third annual Segerstrom Short Film Festival, featuring works by award-winning international filmmakers that touch on themes of love, sexuality and inclusion.

Festival director Peter Tsai cites Deborah Eisenberg as one of the “great contributors to the art of queer cinema.” The California filmmaker has made more than 30 films, exploring themes such as identity and family in her work.

We talked to Tsai about his personal and artistic visions for the project.

Café at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, California, “Rainbow Playground,” by Derek and Dru Martin (USA) Credit: Courtesy Derek and Dru Martin

CNN: How did you choose the artists for the festival?

Tsai: We have a pretty dedicated membership. It takes more than a year and a half to curate the festival, and a lot of thought goes into it. The discussions about queer identity and related policy issues over the past year helped shape this program. It’s the largest and most ambitious of its kind in the country. It’s a pretty diverse program, too.

CNN: What were your personal and artistic hopes for the series?

Tsai: I would love to think that we are doing the same for the artist members of our community. We strive to give members a sense of belonging within our community. Diversity is an important way to celebrate who we are as a people.

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