“Goodwill and relationships are at the heart of everything we do. We are keenly aware of our impact and responsibility to connect with our constituents in every community we serve. We want to continue to demonstrate that we are a real go-to place, a convenient, embracing and beautiful venue for sharing ideas, discussing issues -– and just having fun in ways that build and strengthen the bond of community within the region.”
– Philip Morris
To maintain relevancy to their community, cultural institutions are attempting to reach new audiences and better represent those that exist in the community. Though often achieved through partnerships with community groups or organizations, sometimes you need only look in your own institution to discover a niche to fill. Having used Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, NY as a case study of cultural entrepreneurism for my masters thesis, I was intrigued by their new annual festival Qfest. Proctors actively brings in and tries to represent the many interests of the Capital Region. Qfest was born from this mission.
During my conversations with Philip, he discussed how he asks members of his staff to bring new ideas to him. Qfest was developed when Proctors’ former director of community programs Joey Hunziker perceived a need for a venue or event to allow the Capital Region’s LGBTQ community to tell its stories (I). The festival is a multi-day event that seeks to “explore and celebrate the LGBT experience through film (II).” Qfest is more than just a movie series, incorporating discussions before and after select films as well as gatherings when people can gather. The talks bring in a variety of commentators, from local personalities to professionals involved with the films, and create dialogue amongst participants about topics such activism and advocacy, homosexuality in film, and contemporary issues facing the LGBTQ community. Opening day included performances by the Capital Pride Singers, and as the event expanded groups like the Albany All Stars roller derby team and It Came From Schenectady partook in events.
Qfest is not just a Proctors effort. Staff created an advisory council made up of community leaders from the Capital District Gay and Lesbian Community Council, SUNY Albany movie professors, arts reporters, and members from other community groups (III). As Qfest developed, the council focused the festival around movies because they felt the emotional connection viewers have with film was the best way to facilitate conversations (IV). The initial line-up included an array of movies from dramas to comedies, and is a formula followed today. The variety ensures there is something for everyone. Hunziker insisted the event not focus only on the negative, but to include “stories about people falling in love, of people fighting for what they believe in and finding a positive outlook. (V).”
Proctors, which prides itself as serving as the community’s “living room,” hosted the entire event, but it was a community event to the fullest extent. According to Morris, “the arts intersect the community in thousands of ways. Proctors tries hard to build on those intersections by hosting and presenting and even producing events that matter to both the wide majority and the many smaller niches of interests in the region. This festival comes from that point of view — bringing people together (VI).” Groups such as the Pride Center, the AIDS council, and major sponsors like the radio station Fly 92 embraced Qfest and helped make it their own. The event has a spirit of inclusion about – no matter how you identify, everyone is welcome and all constructive opinions or comments voiced.
This event is reproducible. As cultural institutions strive to serve as community centers, they need to consider all audiences. A festival of this nature could be augmented by exhibits co-curated by the community or used to reinterpret the institution’s current exhibitions or collection. Working with community groups may allow organizations to hear voices they may not have otherwise. Institutions need not look outside themselves to hear community voices. Fostering a culture of innovation in staff allows for creative ideas like Qfest to flow. The community must feel the institution or venue is a safe environment where people feel comfortable expressing themselves and conducting civil conversations with one another. Events like Qfest allow for open dialogue and can be the beginning steps for creating a more inclusive, understanding community.
Qfest 2013: http://www.proctors.org/events/qfest-2013
(I) Brian McElhiney “FILM: Qfest a Forum for ‘ Stories That Deserve to be Told,” The Daily Gazette, February 28, 2012, http://www.dailygazette.net/standard/ShowStoryTemplate.asp?Path=SCH/2013/02/28&ID=Ar02902&Section=Life_and_Arts.
(II) Steve Barnes, “Opening Night: Qfest Explores and Celebrates LGBT Experience, Arts Talk (Blog), The Times Union, Januray 26, 2011, http://blog.timesunion.com/localarts/opening-tonight-q-fest-explores-and-celebrates-lgbt-experience/11126/.
(III) Thom O’Connor, Qfest at Proctors to Focus on Gay, Lesbian Films,” The Daily Gazette, November 17, 2010, http://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/new-heights-new-horizons/2010/nov/17/qfest-proctors-focus-gay-lesbian-films.