Last weekend saw this year’s big Ladyfest event take place at Islington Mill. Ladyfest has been on my radar for several months and, from what I gleaned from social media, would be a bold, informative and creative event.
Ladyfest isn’t unique to Manchester; similar festivals take place in other UK cities, and a quick Google shows festivals happening across the pond. The common ideology is to showcase work by women and others who might experience barriers to sharing their work, from trans, non-binary and intersex artists or mothers juggling childcare, offering a supportive environment away from the generally competitive nature of the creative industries, where money and contacts can be everything. However, Ladyfest Manchester aims to give visibility to Manchester-based creatives in particular, evidenced in the line-up of musicians and comedy performers sourced from an open call-out.
Workshops on offer included Sex Workers’ Rights, Bike Maintenance and Screen Printing. I attended a workshop entitled The Art Of Consent, billed as ‘exploring body language, verbal communication, gender stereotyping, 'grey areas' and barriers, laws, and the value of challenging our sexual assumptions in an interactive, creative setting’ - which seemed a huge task for an hour long session. I went on my own, feeling a little vulnerable and awkward sitting alone at a table, whilst the other table was occupied by a group of friends. Thankfully, I was soon joined by others who had rejected the remaining empty table - unlike most other everyday situations - with another solo woman joining us minutes later. And this was indicative of the whole workshop: friendly and open in an atmosphere where it felt ok to share. There was no pressure, no expectation. The workshop’s leader Chelsea Murphy - a local consent and sexual violence researcher - and her facilitators were clear that we need only talk about things with which we we felt comfortable. We discussed and we got our thoughts and feelings down creatively through working together on a collage. I left feeling positive, not because we’d changed the world or come up with definitive solutions - how can you with such a difficult, provocative subject? - but because I’d been in a room with people who wanted to address the subject of consent and those who wanted to support that discussion.
Of course, that particular workshop isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the sense I got was that it was indicative of the whole day. Speaking to Carly Lyes, one of the event’s organisers, it’s clear how central the idea of community and being supportive is to Ladyfest. Everyone there, whether organising, running a workshop, running a stall or performing, was a volunteer. Ladyfest Manchester is self-funded and self-organised, the only money coming in from ticket sales. People are involved because they want to be, because there is a need for this kind of event and community and because the inclusivity it aims to create seems to be successful - the event sold out well in advance. When asked about future events, Lyes is ready with the plans: a larger festival next year spread over a longer period of time and different venues, more participatory workshops and the possibility of branching out and having their own stage at the big festivals. From my time there on Saturday, the Ladyfest Manchester clearly has a relevance, a community willing to put in the time and effort to make it happen and an audience who want to participate.
Words: Julie Burrow