After five years of presenting new and experimental queer performance at SOMArts every first Tuesday of the month, The News ends with a final show on Tuesday, April 4. The brainchild of artist and curator Kolmel W Love, the monthly series brought in over 300 performers and guest curators during its run.
One easily assumes the worst: a series for queer artists, at a community-oriented non-profit in San Francisco -- in this rental market? But that’s not the case here. Attendance has been high, the rotating guest curator program (full disclosure, I was a guest curator in 2016) brought in dynamic programming, and both Love and SOMArts view the series as successful.
Love is concluding the series to reprioritize their own practice as a performer. As the main curator of The News, Love held a supportive role for each show start to finish, even working as event staff the night of shows. Returning to their own creative practice opens up the possibility of collaborating with others, in contrast to the curator’s facilitatory role.
From the start, enabling access for performers was Love’s goal. Love proposed their vision to SOMArts in 2012: a way to make it easy for artists to showcase new work, without the common obstacles of waiting for grant funding or relying on networking and pre-existing popularity. (In 2015, I spoke with Love about the origins of The News.) And it worked.
For many artists and curators, The News marked their first time on stage. For others, the series presented a safe way to stretch into new terrain. “We emphasized new as something bigger than a debut,” Love says. “It takes vulnerability on the performers’ and curators’ parts to take risks. I was continually amazed at how generous our audiences were to the acts.”
That rawness brought an unexpected need for emotional care-giving. “I didn’t expect my role to involve care, and aftercare, of artists who were vulnerable on stage,” Love says. Adding to that, queer and artistic communities are no strangers to tragedy and loss. “We’ve faced fires, suicides, and the election -- and that’s only the last four months. Queers are already a more vulnerable community in many ways: illness, mental illness, friends in crisis, economic problems, and difficulty getting access to medical care. There was the need for emotional space at The News, for artists and audiences.”
SOMArts has been a supportive venue for the series, providing free admission since 2015. Replacing the door fee with a cash-donation raffle dramatically increased the amount artists were paid.
The organization remains committed to supporting queer performance, confirms Sarah Pritchard, SOMArts’ director of communications and strategy. “We’re proud of Kolmel and what they’ve done with The News. We’ve been a supportive platform for Kolmel’s unique vision, and, for us, this is about honoring Kolmel and their need to be an artist again.”
Instead of seeking someone to fulfill Love’s original vision, both the curator and SOMArts view the ending as an opportunity for the next idea to flourish. To that end, Love advises emerging artists and curators to pitch their ideas anywhere that seems like a good match. As Love can attest, it's worth taking the risk to try something new.
Fittingly, the final News show gestures towards the future of queer performance in the Bay Area. The programming functions as a preview for the National Queer Arts Festival, run by the Queer Cultural Center, which will take place in June 2017 (and includes a visual arts exhibition at SOMArts). Performers are artists participating in QCC’s Creating Queer Community program, including SevanKelee Boult, Kendra Lubalin, Dazié Grego-Sykes, Natalia Vigil, and Ramona Webb. And the wild card slot, a tradition at The News allowing for off-theme performers, is filled by Kolmel W Love.
'The News' takes place Tuesday, April 4, 7:30pm at SOMArts (934 Brannan Street, San Francisco). Admission is free. To RSVP and for more information, click here.