Now in its 18th year, the National Queer Arts Festival (NQAF) takes over San Francisco every June with such an energetic schedule, there’s something to do every day of the month. The programming spans visual art exhibitions, film screenings and multidisciplinary performances. Produced by the Queer Cultural Center (QCC), this festival dedicated to presenting the work of culturally diverse queer artists is the largest of its kind in the country.
Pamela Peniston, QCC’s Artistic Director, shared "not to be missed" highlights from this year’s festival with KQED. “Our biggest change is our break into Oakland,” Peniston said in an interview, a decision spearheaded by QCC Community Engagement Coordinator Manish Vaidya.
But the festival also marks several other firsts this year. Brouhaha: Trans Women of Color Comedy Storytelling is the first ever trans women of color comedy show. “We had a preview of the routines at April at SOMArt’s The News, and I can tell you, it's going to be an outrageously spectacular event," says Peniston. "We even received a note from Janet Mock commending us on our work.”
Brouhaha: Trans Women of Color Comedy Storytelling has two performances on Jun. 9, 2015 at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center. (Tickets for the 7pm show are sold out, but the 9pm show still has seats.)
Another notable change this year is to the annual NQAF feature Still Here. In its third year, this program focuses on the experiences of the LBGT generation growing up during the 1980s and '90s. “Previously, this program only featured readings by people who were coming out at the tail end of the AIDS epidemic. With the exception of the drag queen house systems, most of us who were adults during that time didn't notice the younger generation coming up, since we were in crisis mode. QCC created the program to present what the AIDS epidemic looked like from the point of view of younger people," says Peniston.
“However, this year Still Here expanded to be intergenerational, guided by curators Cristina Mitra and Natalia Vigil. We have people who are now in their thirties with people in their sixties and seventies telling stories together. They give both visions of what this epidemic looked like from straight ahead and from underneath.”
NQAF doesn’t focus only on Bay Area residents, this year including Y'all Come Back: Stories of Queer Southern Migration. Two performances on Jun. 13 and a visual art exhibition revolve around artists who have migrated to or from the South. “The art is outrageously good, and the performances are going to be astounding,” says Peniston.
Y'all Come Back: Stories of Queer Southern Migration hosts performances on Jun. 13, 2015 at 3pm and 7pm at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. The exhibition runs through Jul. 17, 2015.
In addition to all these "firsts," this year’s festival includes a "last" -- the last performance from local arts organization Mangos With Chili. Peniston muses, “All organizations have a life-cycle. Mangos With Chili was founded by two pivotal artists, Cherry Galette and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, who have done extraordinary things. They brought us -- and not just QCC, but the entire queer community -- so many fresh, new voices and artists. They left the landscape a more vibrant arts community. That's the kind of legacy one hopes to leave behind.” The founders announced the closure on May 14, 2015, citing housing displacement due to gentrification in Oakland as one of the reasons impacting the decision.
All That You Touch You Change: Mangos With Chili’s Final Bow takes place on Jun. 25, 2015 at 7:30pm at the African American Art and Culture Complex in San Francisco.
The National Queer Arts Festival runs through June 30, 2015 at multiple venues in San Francisco and Oakland. For tickets and more information, visit qcc2.org.