by Audrey Smith
Whether you’re flipping through a comic by Alison Bechdel, blasting one of Beyonce’s girl-power anthems, watching Andrea Gibson perform “Blue Blanket,” or savoring the prose of bell hooks, it’s hard to deny the connection between feminist activism and the arts.
Here at the University of Iowa Feminist Union, we decided to celebrate this connection – along with the rich literary tradition of Iowa City – by creating and hosting the Feminist Voices Showcase, an arts event that spotlights the creative talent of local social justice activists!
Our first Feminist Voices Showcase took place in April of 2012, and has since become a biannual tradition on the University of Iowa campus. Our last three showcases have taken place at Public Space Z, a space designated for arts events in Iowa City, and have raised awareness and money for organizations including the Women’s Resource and Action Center, the Rape Victim Advocacy Program, and the Domestic Violence Intervention Program. Unlike a traditional open mic, we ask potential participants to submit their feminist and social justice-inspired artistic work to our organization’s email address up until a week before the event; while we’ve never turned anyone away from participating, this submission process allows us to create a dynamic line-up, as well as ensure that we have a diverse group of acts and perspectives.
As the home of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and as a UNESCO City of Literature, our Feminist Voices Showcases prides itself on including a diverse group of writers – including UI undergrads, community members, graduate students, published writers, and writers who have never read their work aloud – representing a wide variety of genres and styles. However, writing is far from the only creative talent that has been represented at the Showcase; since the first Feminist Voices in 2012, our audiences have heard the musical stylings of local artists and bands, laughed at stand-up comedy routines focused on queer identity, and enjoyed paintings by UIowa art students – just to name a few! As we plan our second Showcase for this year, one thing we’ve kept in mind is that it’s the variety that makes this show fun – by including folks from a variety of experience-levels, genres, and backgrounds, we ensure that the show represents a range of perspectives on feminism and social justice.
Interested in planning your own Showcase? Here are some tips!
- Location, location, location: choosing a venue out in the community (as opposed to a University building) can encourage non-students to participate as well. Many local businesses, including coffee shops, restaurants, and book stores, love hosting events like these—it encourages your audience members to support them, as well!
- Get the word out! In order to ensure that you get a wide variety of acts at your showcase, be sure to get the word out to arts and social-justice focused groups on your campus and in your community. Connect with arts majors on your school, reach out to faculty and staff members, and advertise your event to community arts and activist organizations on campus and beyond.
- Celebrate identity: we’re often asked if Feminist Voices submission process is open to male artists—and the answer is YES! We’ve made a point to keep Feminist Voices open to artists and performers of all genders, and we’ve encouraged folks to submit work that celebrates the intersections between their feminism and other aspects of their identity.
- Remember your audience: another benefit of incorporating a submission process into your showcase is to ensure that the person emceeing the event can issue trigger warnings, if needed. Keep in mind that some audience members may be triggered by the stories and themes explored in feminist-inspired work.
Planning your own showcase? Best of luck, and give us a shout on Facebook!