OUTsider Festival Keeps Austin Weird And Innovative
The OUTsider Festival Inspires Artist And Honors Annie Sprinkle And Beth Stephens With Legacy Award This Weekend
by Heather Cassell
Austin is getting hot and heavy this weekend as queer artists pour into the capital of Texas for its second annual OUTsider Festival and Conference, themed “Sex in Public.”
The four-day festival and conference brings together LGBTQ and ally artists from all artistic disciplines from around the world to talk about their work, projects, and to inspire each other opened last night, but it runs through Sunday, February 21.
This year ecosexual artists Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens are being honored with a Legacy Award.
“This is a place where they honor people who are really multimedia and follow their muse and go in all directions,” says Annie, 61, who is excited to be honored with the award alongside her rebel ecosexual art partner in crime and wife Beth, 55, in front of friends and artists whom they’ve admired. “All of these fantastic artists are going and so to be honored with the artists that we love and admirers is wonderful.”
“We are following in great footsteps,” adds Beth, referring to fellow San Francisco honorees Tribe 8, who were the recipients of the first OUTsider Festival’s Legacy Award last year.
The festival opened with a burlesque show by La Chica Boom and will explore ideas about public sex and art and historic erotic art from around the world to taking an ecosexual walking tour with Annie and Beth and more.
Annie and Beth will present their talk, “Assuming the Ecosexual Position: A Show and Tell Performative Lecture,” about their life and work together to celebrate and protect the environment through art and film.
The couple, who started their environmental art and activist adventure in 2008, will also lead guests through an ecosexual walking tour performance that starts at the Vortex Theater Butterfly Garden and goes to various locations in Austin.
“People are tired of hearing that the environment is in trouble because you know usually that’s presented to human beings that humans are the problem,” says Beth, pointing out that Annie and she use humor and sex to open the conversation about the environment. “So, we are trying to figure out ways to open up people’s hearts to these things.”
Convergence Of Rebel Artists
Austin has been a hot bed of creative energy from music to technology since the early 1990s, but it’s also now becoming a haven for not-so-straight artists who are finding a home in the city to explore their ideas and create, says Curran Nault, co-founder and artistic director of the OUTsider Festival and Conference.
After all, Texas’s capital city has a reputation to maintain, to “keep it weird,” in the red state’s only liberal harbor.
It’s also a festival town hosting hundreds of festivals, five of which are produced by the city’s LGBTQ community and too many art festivals to count, annually.
“Austin is very much a festival city. We are really blessed that we have some great festivals and have the audience for it too,” says Curran.
However, Curran, a 39-year old queer man who is an experienced festival producer and a film expert, still felt something was missing from the city’s festival scene. He also noticed that Austin has a thriving queer artist culture.
“The queer culture here is thriving, but it has its kind of own unique flavor because it is in Texas,” says Curran describing the community’s style being infused with a blend of Texas, south and southwestern culture. “But there’s still kind of a fun and radical edge to the queer community that might surprise people.”
It was this edginess of the community and the fact that Austin is a livable city for artists and the community is open and interested in what artists are creating that caught his attention.
The city allows artists the space and support to create, experiment, and take chances, he says. Something artists have a tougher time doing in traditional artistic centers in the United States, such as New York and San Francisco, due to the cost of living.
“A really good thing about Austin that I’ve noticed and that I’ve experienced is that you can take chances here,” Curran continues. “You can start something new and get the sort of the community support you need and the financial support you need to make it possible.”
Austin has also “become a hot bed for these kind of new festivals and new events and organizations that are one of a kind. In a lot of ways, I think are leading the way in terms of innovation,” he adds.
Making the connections he started to seriously think about the type of festival he wanted to attend himself.
“I really started thinking about what was missing from the equation and what kind of festival experience that I wanted to create and wanted to have for myself,” says Curran about the creation of the festival.
So, last year he got together with six of his friends and launched the first OUTsider Festival and Conference.
Curran and his friends were influenced by the South by Southwest Festival and Conference, which is March 11 – 20, but also by another multi-arts festival, Fusebox, which is happening April 6 – 10, he says.
“We built a festival that kind of [is] built on the sense of being an ‘outsider’ sexuality and gender identity, but it expands beyond that,” says Curran, who is originally from Massachusetts and came to Austin byway of San Francisco, California. “To experience art forms that are just being invented for the very first time that don’t fit into the box of anything else.”
The group’s goals are to bring together artists, academics, and audiences from multiple creative disciplines and interests together to have artful discussions to spark inspiration and feed innovative ideas and showcase their works. The festival also a celebrates the “outsider,” whether that’s being “out” as queer, on the fringe because the individuals simply don’t fit into more mainstream communities because of race, ability, national identity or any other way that an individual doesn’t “fit in.”
The festival and conference exhibit that “outsiderness” by not being organized like a traditional festival and conference. Curran points out that the conference is more like a salon style, dubbed “conference on a couch,” which is hosted in his house, which integrates the audience rather than poising the speakers on a stage with a spotlight and an audience peering in from the dark.
The set up creates as space “to make us all feel like we are in conversation with each other the panel and discussions are a mixture of artists and community members in conversation,” Curran says.
“Austin it’s different in a lot of ways than the rest of Texas, so yeah you are going to see stuff that you are not going to see anywhere else,” says Curran about his adopted home.
Like Austin, the OUTsider Festival is unique and something that isn’t offered in any other city to-date, he points out.
“I don’t think that there is a festival anywhere that is exactly quite like [OUTsider]. It’s got the arts [and] its got the conference component that’s kind of wacky and misfit and odd ball in the way that we are,” says Curran. “So, it’s not something that you can get in every city.”
“There really is a reason to come to Austin for arts and music and specifically for OUTsider,” he says.
The OUTsider Festival is happening February 17 – 21 at various locations in Austin, Texas. Tickets are $50 – $100. Individual tickets are issued 10 minutes before the start of the show on a first come, first serve basis. For more information, visit www.outsiderfest.org.
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