On Saturday, Oct. 5, downtown Ithaca will be host to the first-ever Qinfolk Festival, a day-long series of film, art and mental health activities dedicated to centering and uplifting the creative expression and experiences of queer and trans people of color (QTPOC).
Ithacan Candace Edwards, founder and executive director of Qinfolk, said the festival is all about representing a marginalized group of society in a way that is positive in nature.
“The ultimate goal of Qinfolk is just to create space for folks that are not typically represented, … to create space for queer and trans people of color,” Edwards said. “We wanted to specifically focus on uplifting and celebrating our experiences.”
Qinfolk is a ticketed event beginning at 10 a.m. Ticket prices vary, with gallery exhibitions about $15 and workshops about $5 and various free community events.
Festival activities, including workshops, short-film showings, art exhibitions and more, all conclude by 6 p.m. to make way for the closing ceremony and keynote event: #qinfolkconversations Live! In addition to the main lineup, area partners are holding events centered around mental health, sexuality, identity and more.
The inspiration for this celebration came out of a need Edwards saw for queer-friendly places and events in the county. She has traveled to New York City and surrounding areas for queer-centered events, but she felt that she shouldn’t have to travel so far to find a welcoming place.
“The idea came out of the lack of queer and people of color spaces in upstate New York,” Edwards said.
Edwards wanted to create an event where LGBTQ people of color felt welcome and appreciated, counteracting the usual narrative that focuses on how much they have suffered. And she wanted to hold it right where she lives.
“That’s where I want to see the change occur,” she said. “The Ithaca community in general has been extraordinarily receptive to this idea.”
Though she saw a hole in what Ithaca has to offer, Edwards said Ithaca is still a great place to be, and everyone she’s approached for help creating Qinfolk has been welcoming and helpful. It helps that Ithaca is already home to plenty of other festivals.
“I think the culture of Ithaca is actually one of the reason I wanted to have it here,” she said. “[It] is actually really collaborative and supportive.”
At the same time, Edwards said, she’s hoping to shift that culture by shifting the conversation.
“In a way, … it disrupts [the culture] in the sense that it’s just not a festival that we have for a demographic that exists here,” she said. “So, it’s definitely adding to the rich festival culture that we have. … This is just another festival that we hope to add to that tradition of this town that already has a lot of cool things going on.”
It hasn’t been an easy feat turning Qinfolk into a reality. For months, Edwards had to fundraise, call for artists and filmmakers, recruit volunteers, apply for grants and reach out to area businesses and organizations for support.
Jackie Aude, a member of the Qinfolk production team, said she’s been involved in the festival planning since earlier this year, and she was drawn to the important purpose it serves for the community.
“Representation matters. Full stop,” she said. “Bringing an arts and mental health festival like this to Ithaca is especially important, to both support and represent the QTPOC population here and in the surrounding Finger Lakes area. It’s equally as important for the students in the area who are seeking spaces and outlets for safe expression and conversation.”
Qinfolk volunteer Prince/Kim Cunningham said he is happy to be a part of the fiestival.
“I’m extremely proud that Ithaca is hosting this festival,” he said. “This community needs spaces to exist and thrive.”
Qinfolk’s local collaborators include Buffalo Street Books, the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, the Tompkins County Visitors Bureau, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, the Ithaca College LGBT Center, Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes and more, according to a recent press release. Local sponsors include Gimme! Coffee, Emmy’s Organics and the Greenstar Food Cooperative.
The Qinfolk Festival is funded by the New York State Council on the Arts, administered by the Community Arts Partnership in Ithaca, and grants from the Tompkins County Tourism Program and the Presidential Seed Grant from Ithaca College.
One of the people to whom Edwards reached out for input on the festival’s activities was Luca Maurer, head of the LGBT Center at Ithaca College. Edwards said she valued his perspective, and Maurer said he was more than happy to help.
“I thought it was a fantastic idea,” Maurer said. “A lot of the stories that are most prevalent around us really focus on doom and gloom and negative things and tragedy within LGBTQ communities of color, so a festival that’s meant to really focus on the importance and the joys of the community, I think, is really needed.”
Maurer said that, despite the common narrative around tragedy, the reality is far more uplifting.
“Many, if not most, LGBTQ people of color survive and thrive, and so, a festival that centers joy, that centers self-love and self-compassion and also can build community is a really important thing,” Maurer said.
Candace is also a great person to lead this groundbreaking event, Maurer said.
“To bring this from the germination stage all the way to fruition … is incredible,” he said. “She was incredibly successful in finding grant funding to make this happen, so I just want to really highlight the amazing amount of work and skill that Candace had.”
Some workshops are for queer and trans people of color only, designed to create a safe space for a traditionally marginalized group.
“We’re here to center and exalt the creative expression of our community and cultivate safe spaces of representation and healing,” Aude said.
Maurer said that focus is exactly why he’s so excited for Qinfolk.
“Any LGBTQ person who also has other marginalized aspects of their identity can experience more challenges in finding supportive and affirming community, and so, one reason this festival is important is because … holding this festival here can provide more connections between and among LGBTQ people of color,” he said.
Reception has already been positive, especially from LGBTQ people Edwards has spoken with, which has kept Edwards hopeful that the festival will be a success.
“I just hope people come,” she said. “I hope that this is an event that people want to support and that they want to see again in their community.”
Most of all, Edwards wants the festival to fulfill its mission – to make queer and trans people of color in upstate New York feel welcome.
“I’m hoping that they see themselves represented in an uplifting and authentic way,” she said.
Maurer shares that hopeful attitude, adding that he hopes it’s the start of some real change for the better.
“I want this to be all that Candace had envisioned and more,” he said. “I hope that the presence of the festival here spurs and encourages more conversation and more dialogue about not only the barriers that people of color face here but ways we can work together toward solutions.”
Volunteer Carlota Aguilar said she’s most looking forward to seeing the festival in full swing and the effect that will have on attendees.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the culture, to seeing the art, the movies,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being part of that environment.”
Moving forward, Edwards said she would absolutely like to make Qinfolk an annual festival, but that will depend on how this year turns out.
“If people are receptive and the turnout is good, then we absolutely plan on putting this on next year and in years going forward,” she said.
Advanced tickets can be purchased at qinfolk.com/tickets. Additional information can be found at qinfolk.com.
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