The inaugural Winter Blooming Festival at the New England Regional Art Museum next month promises to be an exciting day celebrating diversity. There will be fine arts, spoken word poetry, dance, and drag.
The organisers, NERAM director Rachael Parsons and UNE sociologist Christina Kenny hope the one-day event, on Saturday, July 13, will be the pilot for an annual festival supporting LGBTIQ, multicultural, and Indigenous people.
"We're trying to make sure the full spectrum of communities in Armidale has a voice," Ms Parsons said.
She hopes people will meet confront or encounter new ideas, and new types of art work or cultural practice, and walk away having had a fantastic day, with broader and more open minds.
"We want everyone to be welcome, and feel they have a voice and acceptance. Sometimes, you need a specific event that says that louder, or promotes that idea more overtly."
The day opens with a panel discussion of diverse speakers. Dr Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli, community activist on social justice, and her colleague Maria Bololia will launch Living and Loving in Diversity, an anthology of Australian multicultural queer adventures.
Dr Pallotta-Chiarolli wrote Australia's first AIDS auto/biography, Someone You Know, and published Tapestry, Australia's first autoethnography addressing gender, sexual diversity and migration in five generations of her Italian family.
Other speakers include Rob Waters, a Gomeroi playwright whose poetry examines modern Aboriginal experience through a discolonial framework, and Ms Saffaa, a Saudi artist and activist who looks at political dissent, censorship, and dominance. She will talk about her work and artistic resistance at UNE on Friday, July 12.
AGMC, which advocates for the rights of multicultural LGBTIQ individuals, supports the panel. The organisation helps young people to come out in regional Victorian migrant communities, and hopes to work in New South Wales.
In the afternoon, poet and percussionist Gabrielle Journey Jones, a queer woman with Maori and African American heritage, will facilitate a spoken word poetry workshop. Participants will walk around the gallery, and write a piece responding to an artwork.
On Sunday, Ms Jones will hold a workshop for high school students about public speaking and self expression.
Zac Collins-Widders, a queer Aboriginal person living in Melbourne, will run a drag workshop. Attendees will learn how to dress, wear makeup, and perform. "That opens possibilities for people who might want to experiment," Ms Parsons said.
Courtney Coombs, a queer artist from Brisbane, will run a T-shirt activist slogan workshop, and Dr Jane Ahlstrand, UNE's lecturer in Indonesian, will teach Balinese dance.
The day concludes with drag and spoken word performances and a social gathering - a chance to network, chat, and have fun.
The AIDS Council of NSW (ACON), from Newcastle, will run a stall where people can chat about sexual health, sexual identity, and gender diversity. "We're really appreciative they can attend," Dr Kenny said. "It's a low-key but important way people can have that discussion."
The inspiration for the event came from 2018's marriage equality vote, when the two women discovered that the region lacked an event that celebrated diversity, particularly for LGBTIQ people, or a queer space to talk about orientation and gender identity.
"It didn't seem like there was much space in regional Australia for queer voices," Dr Kenny said. "The more we talked, the more obvious it became that it wasn't just queer voices, but refugee and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. We wanted to make a space for those communities to showcase their art, and talk about issues important to them."
"It is for institutions like NERAM and UNE who have positions of influence to provide platforms that encourage diversity and tolerance," Ms Parsons said. "That's part of our responsibility. Hopefully, by sharing stories and the amazing work people are doing, we focus less on the things that make people scared, angry, or mistrustful, and instead learn to be more tolerant."
The event is run in partnership with the UNE, Australian GLBTIQ Multicultural Council, Give Out Day, and ACON.