One exciting part of Alachua County is its annual festivals. For years, we have had the Downtown Arts Festival, the Thornebrooke Arts Festival, the Micanopy Harvest Festival, the Lubee Bat Festival, Labor Daze Fest, Jest Fest, and more. We also have local representation of national events such as V-Day and National Anti-Bullying Month. We also have monthly Artwalk and First Friday events and a weekly Farmers’ Market that includes arts and crafts. In consideration of these artistic traditions and to ground more of these festivals in social activism, I decided to combine several ideas I had for unique and socially conscious events into such a festival, and one that celebrated all types of arts. Thus Red Soul Days was born. While events such as the March for Peace and VFest used music, and the Vagina Monologues spoken word, to benefit anti-domestic violence and anti-bullying organizations, no event addressed those issues through stand-up, dance, straight theatre, or other performance types. Always one to rise to a challenge (and I admit, a workaholic), I decided to do it all.
Red Soul Days, named for the color of an aura that is angry, aroused, wounded, or proud, was an extraordinary week. I was blessed with a variety of artists who wanted to participate in the events, and with several exceedingly generous venues who opened their doors to us for free or for a steep discount. Our incredible roster for 2014 and 2015 included:
- A burlesque show at the Jam—a packed house brought in several hundred dollars for our charities and great tips for our performers
- Two variety shows at Market Street Gainesville–incredibly passionate artists and a generous, adoring audience each time
- An art show at the Midnight–profoundly cathartic and socially emotional event sharing the art of survivors of violence
- A girls rock concert at High Dive—woefully underattended, but with amazing artists
- A movie night at High Dive—also underattended, but with a very responsive audience
- A comedy show at Rockey’s—The guest comedians were champs who made the audience pay them—and by extension our beneficiaries—for offensive jokes
- A punk show at 1982—more amazing women performed to raise money for our beneficiaries
- Guest speaker Jen Moff—a friend of mine from undergrad who has become a successful motivational speaker
I chose the beneficiaries, out of the many organizations dedicated to stopping school bullying and intimate partner abuse, based on their local activities, variety of services, and multigenerational/multicultural approach. To fight bullying, I chose PFLAG Gainesville, the local branch of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, which addressed both the challenges of coming out and the risk of suicide for LGBT youth. To fight intimate partner abuse, I chose Peaceful Paths, which provides shelter, counseling, legal assistance, health information, and dozens of other services for abuse and sexual assault victims. And to fight teen dating abuse, I chose Break the Cycle, which provides information and services to help teens identify unhealthy relationships and to stop abusive and bullying behavior while the perpretrators are young.
Although Red Soul Days could have been better attended, raised more money, or gone more smoothly at times, it was a groundbreaking start, as a cohesive, multifacted event that raised $897 for our beneficiaries. It was an emotional journey for me, for sure: I began work on the project, which quickly became a second, unpaid job, in April of 2014, while recovering from intimate partner abuse, and I put up a week’s worth of entertainment while caring for an ailing pet who died during the event. I am eternally grateful for my colleagues and friends, Jill Dumas and Jennifer Vito, both of whom are extraordinary artists and activists, who worked hard to ensure Red Soul Days was successful. Our full week of entertainment, the money raised, and connections forged was an amazing springboard to what I plan to be a new Alachua County tradition.