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South Valley Journal

LGTBQ+ artists from Utah and around the world to be featured at festival

Apr 30, 2022 09:54AM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart

One of the world’s only multidisciplinary queer arts festival will be back in person May 21. (Photo courtesy Nora Lang)

By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]

Estefani Schubert is a queer Uruguayan Jewish poet, painter and social worker. And Schubert is just one of dozens of artists to be featured at the Queer Spectra Arts Festival.

“Queer Spectra is one of the only multidisciplinary queer arts festivals in the world,” said Max Barnewitz, one of the festival’s founding organizers. “There are other queer arts festivals focused on film or 2D art, but we are focused on being interdisciplinary. There will be a traditional gallery setting with 2D art along with sculpture and we’ll have a series of performance-based art including poetry, dance and film.”

“Our goal is to make a space for queer artists and have conversations about why space for these artists is limited and why there’s so much censorship around queer art,” Barnewitz said.

Schubert, who uses gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their, agrees. “I feel like there’s a lot of censorship in general with these new laws being passed,” they said. “The ‘Don’t say gay’ bills, what books are allowed to be read. With all that in the air it’s kind of scary sometimes, if you’re not in a space for queer people, to be honest about who you are.”

Schubert will have a digital collage featured in the online and in-person gallery at the festival. The piece combines vintage images of two women kissing and chains breaking along with the word “surrender.” For them, the piece is specifically about the euphoria they felt when they came to terms with their own queerness.

“Growing up, I feel like I really expressed my fluidity through art because I couldn’t express it anywhere else,” Schubert said. “The colors, the shapes… I don’t know how to explain it. Getting it out on paper, letting it out. Not festering in my body, but it could also be a secret. Maybe other people couldn’t interpret it, and that made it safe.”

Thirty-three different artists from six states and five countries will share their work at Queer Spectra. An adjudicating committee worked with the intention of showcasing diverse art with a mix of 50% locals and 50% out-of-towners.

“We have artists from all over the world,” Barnewitz said. “It might be easier to showcase their art here. It’s a testament to the spirit of artists to want to share their art no matter what the cost. It’s proof of the strength of the queer community that they want to participate in these events and find this community internationally, even if it’s intense.”

Queer Spectra debuted in 2019 with 30 artists and more than 300 attendees and more than twice that number of artists participated during the two years the festival went virtual. According to the festival’s website, “spectra” means more than one spectrum and can be used to classify something in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme points.

“These events are not only for the Salt Lake City liberals,” Barnewitz said. “We’re starting important conversations with people in Utah about queer identity and art. That’s always been our mission.”

What does it mean for Schubert to be a part of Queer Spectra?

“It means everything. I was scared I wouldn’t find a space like that,” they said. “Slowly but surely you find more queer people. It’s like a scavenger hunt. And I feel like I’ve struck gold.”

Schubert moved to Utah from California in 2019 and has bounced around from West Valley City to Cottonwood Heights and Salt Lake City.

Because of COVID-19, Schubert wasn’t able to connect with the arts scene as much as they wanted to at first. They now run a monthly poetry open mic at Under the Umbrella, an LBGTQ+ book shop in Salt Lake.

“The idea festered when I was living in Cottonwood Heights,” Schubert said. “I was away from everyone in a nice house with a little porch next to a graveyard. It was a mystical place.”

Schubert was the first in their immediate family to go to college. They struggled to narrow their studies to a single major, eventually graduating with a degree in communication studies. They are now looking into pursuing an advanced degree in social work.

“I accidentally became a social worker while being a receptionist,” Schubert said with a laugh. “It was so stressful that I needed to find a new job. I typed in ‘bilingual’ on Indeed and found a job at The Road Home shelter. It turns out that I love it. I have a passion for anything related to social justice.”

Schubert’s parents are Uruguayan and their paternal grandfather was a Holocaust refugee who fled to South America from what was then Austria-Hungary (now Romania).

“My dad taught me, since I was very young, that the Nazis not only came for Jews, but for the LGBT community, the Romani people, the Black community, basically anyone who was not Aryan,” Schubert said. “This shaped the way I navigate the world around me.”

The Queer Spectra organizers want to convey a sense of honesty and acceptance in this year’s theme, which is a quote from the author and social activist bell hooks: “the function of art is to do more than tell it like it is — it’s to imagine what is possible.”

“There’s always a duality with the theme,” Barnewitz said. “Two panel discussions will address each side of the theme. What is the role of art? What is our art trying to speak to? It’s a really fun way for the audience to ask questions and for artists to reflect on their work and engage with each other.”

The festival will take place Saturday, May 21 at Sunset Studios at 1400 S. Main in Salt Lake City. Attendance is free, but tickets need to be reserved in advance for COVID-19 safety and capacity reasons.

Accessibility is extremely important to the organizers.

“We’ve learned to be mindful of the way we hang art, and a quiet space will be available to help with sensory accessibility,” Barnewitz said. “We are requiring masks at this point, and we saw that being online helped people engage across abilities, so we want to keep that virtual gallery.”

The online gallery will be set up with screen readers in mind, and the live portions of the festival will have ASL interpreters. The virtual portion of the festival can be accessed online at www.queerspectra.com.

This year’s festival is made possible through grants from the Salt Lake City Arts Council, Zoos, Arts & Parks (ZAP) funds, the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office Arts, Culture, and Events (ACE) Fund and loveDANCEmore. 

Queer Spectra itself offers mini-grants to artists through a partnership with Clever Octopus Creative Reuse Center.

“Art is one of the most fundamental ways we can share our identities,” Barnewitz said. “It creates a unique atmosphere and so much authenticity to have these conversations, and we really want the community to participate.”