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Skyrocketing Seattle prices and lack of space for artists led to the start of this arts festival – The Seattle Times

It all started with a backyard party.

And now, festival:festival — a multi-arts event taking place Aug. 2-3 on Capitol Hill and in the Central District — is in its third year, energizing and supporting the local arts scene, while focusing on underrepresented and underpaid cultural workers.

The free festival, which strives to remove barriers between art forms, features visual art, film, dance, music and interdisciplinary performance. Events take place at Northwest Film Forum and Amplifier Art Lab, while East Denny Way between Broadway and 10th Avenue will be closed to traffic and filled with community booths, DJ and music performances and an area for dancing. Participants include electro-soul and hip-hop artist CarLarans, choreographer and performance artist Alice Gosti, poet and educator J Mase III and many more.

Seattle-based co-founders Carl Lawrence (a director and performance, installation and visual artist) and Juan Franco Ricardo (a visual and performing artist, curator and community organizer) are committed to helping build a sustainable and accessible arts community. And, fittingly, for an inclusive, community-oriented duo, they do it with lots of help from artists, community partners and folks who chip in to their Kickstarter fundraisers.

Ricardo and Lawrence said they’ve learned a lot since 2016 when they threw their first multi-arts event. According to Ricardo, they noticed the skyrocketing Seattle prices and the “lack of space for artists of all kinds — visual and performing — to come together and present their work.”

So, they threw a backyard arts party, with friends bringing visual art, playing music and performing. It was such a hit, they decided a more public event was needed and festival:festival was born.

“We took a renegade approach to arts programming and we didn’t really have a lot of structure,” Lawrence said, about that first festival. “We had a lot of ambition and we weren’t willing to compromise so we just set out to do this multiplatform arts festival.”

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They’ve since restructured their approach — including hiring a rotating curatorial team. This year, the organizers decided to invite Seattle artists and cultural workers to “celebrate themselves and any part of themselves they don’t often see reflected in the world around them,” said Diana Settlemyer, an urban planner and public-art advocate who’s one of this year’s co-curators.

The festival will highlight “artist-driven portraits of identity,” which will take many forms including visual art and performance, according to co-curator and dance artist David Rue. “We’re using this approach so that artists can provide a counterpoint to the dominant narrative told about people that look like them while celebrating the power of culturally responsive rigor.”

For Clyde Petersen, an artist working in film, animation, music and installation, “seeing your own identity represented in works of art will always have a profound impact on your self-worth,” he said via email. “As a transgender artist and long term resident of Seattle, I would love to see every arts organization supporting underrepresented artists as a full-time job. Until that happens, events like festival: festival are critical to our cultural experiences, communities and lives.”

Festival:festival supports artists in many ways. Cultural workers can offer art, books and other wares for sale at the festival’s market, hosted by Amplifier’s new Art Lab in the Central District. This kind of commerce is common for art festivals, but festival:festival goes further, by compensating participating artists for the typically unpaid labor that goes into participating in these events.

Lawrence and Ricardo work hard — and fundraise hard — to ensure that artists get paid according to guidelines from W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy), a New York-based organization that advises on equity.

Lawrence and Ricardo are keen to reduce as many barriers to the arts as they can, like ensuring that festival:festival is free and open to the public. Even the on-the-street portion of the festival is all about inclusion. “Communities of color,” stated Ricardo, “don’t necessarily step into cultural centers or museums or galleries if they feel they don’t belong there, so by bringing the festival into the street, we’re hoping it feels more accessible.”

In a way, the arts-filled street closure might give a sense of where it all started, with an outdoor gathering of friends, sharing and supporting each other in a creative life.

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festival:festival, Friday, Aug 2 through Saturday, Aug 3; at Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Ave.), Amplifier Art Lab (901 Hiawatha Place S.), and on East Denny Way between Broadway and 10th Avenue; free; festivalfestival.art

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