How to Organise a Feminist Festival

By yomi
June 28, 2018
9 min read

Frustrated by the dearth of women included in mainstream music, arts and culture festivals? Inspired by the ‘YES’ campaign in Ireland and the #FreePeriods campaign as well as the work of countless other feminist activists enacting change? We are too. Enter the feminist festival, a unique opportunity to both showcase the work of women creators you love and raise awareness of the issues that matter to you and your sisters.

But, how on earth do you go about organising a feminist festival? We spoke to Jess from Sisterhood Festival, Raniyah from AWOMENfest and Charlotte from ASH magazine and ‘The Art of Consent’ who’ve all been there, done that and probably made their own festival branded t-shirts! Read their advice on picking a message you're passionate about, remaining true to your vision and putting together a kick-ass team.

Highlight an issue you want to address or a cause you want to celebrate

For Jess, Sisterhood festival was all about challenging Oxford’s male-dominated music scene by celebrating amazing women artists.

‘I've seen first hand how inspiring it is for women in music to have a platform. I set up an all-female funk band last year and have been blown away by the reception that we’ve received. Audiences of all genders see the power of all women onstage, and it's really empowering for us performing as well!

‘I thought it would be incredible to put on an event that showcased and celebrated the talent of many women* across Oxford - the music scene is dominated by male students, but that doesn't mean that talented female and non-binary performers don't exist.’

‘I've seen first hand how inspiring it is for women in music to have a platform.' - Jess

AWOMENfest stemmed from a desire to celebrate ‘radical softness’ as Raniyah explains, ’I think that we often forget that feminism is a loving movement and celebrates but also brings to the fore that we are all human.  AWOMENfest was a joyous celebration of all individuals however they identify, to understand complex ideas of vulnerability, solidarity, desirability and spirituality.’

'We got thinking about art as a way of creating change, bringing in artists and spoken word performers' - Charlotte 

After watching the powerful documentary ‘100 Women I Know’ at Underwire Festival, Charlotte was inspired to contact the filmmaker, Phoebe Montague, to talk about hosting an event together. That event became ‘The Art of Consent’ and featured a screening of the documentary and a launch of a book of the same name as well as a panel discussion and a series of spoken word performances.

‘I bought a ticket to this year’s Underwire Film Festival, the subject of that particular day was ‘consent’. There I saw the film 100 Women I Know by Phoebe Montague – it had a real effect on me.

‘I contacted Phoebe afterwards and asked if we could put no an event together. We got thinking about art as a way of creating change, bringing in artists and spoken word performers, as well as panellists for a discussion about consent culture.’

Be confident in your message

Once you’ve figured out what you want to say, don’t be afraid to say it and stick to it! As Jess says, ‘your cause is an amazing one, and if you believe that then other people will too!’

Charlotte was convinced that the message of the documentary, 100 Women I Know, needed to be brought to a wider audience and this belief was, in part, the springboard for ‘The Art of Consent’.

‘The film isn’t available online, but I had such a strong feeling that more people needed to see it.’

‘Know your vision. Know what you want to achieve, why you’re putting on this festival, and what you want festival-goers to take away from it.' - Raniyah 

For Raniyah, keeping site of AWOMENfest’s mission was crucial to the success of the festival.

‘Know your vision. Know what you want to achieve, why you’re putting on this festival, and what you want festival-goers to take away from it. Once you have this basic framework stick to your vision’ As long as individuals left, engaged and thinking then our mission was done.

Don’t try to go it alone

For Jess, working with a team of like-minded people saw Sisterhood event evolve into more than just a live music event.

‘As a university, Oxford is full of students wanting to get involved with great causes - and it's full of feminists!’ ‘we started off thinking it would just be live music, but it's now evolved to include a 'festival' area of arts and crafts and other stalls, and we are even producing our own zine which will be available on the night. It's been inspiring coming up with ideas with the other girls on the committee and seeing what happens. I'm especially excited for the Frida Kahlada, one of our special Inspiring Women themed cocktails!

Creating a team of ‘loving and committed’ people who understood AWOMENfest’s vision was crucial in setting the right tone for the event, as Raniyah explains. ‘With an event that is politicised by its very nature, it’s crucial to understand exactly what appeals to an audience but also have a clear vision of what would be the correct tone for the event.

‘As many ‘hands on deck’ as possible and a loving and committed team, who understand the vision and the message, can achieve anything.’

On the practical side, Charlotte suggests making Google Sheets ‘your best friend’ to make group collaborations that little bit easier.

Make your space inclusive

For Charlotte, diversity among the people working on the festival is just as important as diversity among the festival’s performers.

‘Diversity has to be key. Try to make sure everyone is represented and catered for across the board – including the people that are working as well as performing. People really do notice and it’s important.’

'Spaces for women* where they feel safe, inspired and empowered are so important.' - Jess 

Jess took inspiration from Glastonbury’s ‘Sisterhood’ stage when thinking about how to make Sisterhood Festival as inclusive as possible for women and non-binary.

‘Back in 2016, I had also been really excited to hear about Sisterhood, Glastonbury's all-female venue. Spaces for women* where they feel safe, inspired and empowered are so important. Sisterhood Festival is quite unique in the fact that not only the performers and organisers of the event are women*, but all ticket holders are as well!  It's one thing to watch all women* onstage, but this is elevated even further if you're surrounded by women* in the audience too!’

‘Diversity has to be key. Try to make sure everyone is represented and catered for across the board.' - Charlotte 

Inclusivity was, and is, a huge part of AWOMENfest and, as Raniyah explains, was one of the most rewarding aspects of organising the festival.

‘We were firmly committed to creating a space that was inclusive, welcoming and open – we wanted to create a truly “safe space” where everyone no matter their history, felt included, welcomed and catered to.’

‘We tried to treat every attendant and performer with the respect and love they deserved, including things like a trigger-warned experience (asking guests to flag up anything that they felt would be uncomfortable within a performance, and providing an area to chill and unwind should they have felt overwhelmed).’

‘One performer personally thanked me with tears in their eyes. As a non-binary individual of colour who was a sex-worker and also burlesque performer they stated that they often felt excluded by feminist events, and on our stage, they felt welcomed, celebrated and truly beautiful and that was the whole purpose of the event.’

Look for unique ways of funding

Jess reached turned to her university network to help fund Sisterhood Festival.

‘Being in a University setting, we've been really lucky as a committee to have the financial support of different Oxford University colleges, who have donated generous amounts of money to our cause. This money has ensured that all ticket proceeds can go to our three amazing charities: The Porch Day Centre, Syrian Sisters, and Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre.’

Reach out to new potential audiences

For Charlotte, one of the most rewarding parts of organising ‘The Art of Consent’ was the reaction to the event from various, diverse groups of people and their networks.

‘So many people came to us after the event to say that what we’d discussed and presented had instigated so many conversations between themselves and their friends, bringing people closer together. Male friends of my own admitted to coming away with a different perspective. I honestly think it was enlightening for everyone.’

Without wanting to toot our own horns. I think it's fair to say that The Art of Consent was thought provoking, insightful and empowering! 👏 We feel truly blessed to have had such a strong panel of informed, intelligent, honest, compassionate people who are determined in the fight for equality, change and a better society. 🌎 This isn't a woman's issue. It is a societal one. And without including men into these conversations, we are missing out on vital perspectives and opinions. 🌟 I can't thank you enough for your support of this event. Your willingness to be involved is heartwarming! Also big up to @keziajbw who stepped in last min after our moderator was unable to make it. She done a fab job! Phoebe x • Thank you to @crmphoto for the 📸 • #TheArtOfConsent #HeForShe #equality #change

A post shared by THIS IS A MOVEMENT (@100womeniknow) on

Raniyah was determined to ensure that the message behind AWOMENfest spread beyond the circles of people already engaged with the movement.

‘I think the crucial part of any feminist festival is outreach – you want to spread the idea and concept beyond those who are already interested to those who are disengaged, whilst still creating and platforming content that captures the interest of those who are already fully immersed in feminist discourse.’

Remember to build on what you’ve created

Jess wants the next Sisterhood Festival to be bigger, better and even more groundbreaking.

Originally we had imagined The Sisterhood Festival as an all-day, outdoor festival extravaganza, but after various meetings with University staff and the staff in charge of most of the green spaces in Oxford, the venue was just going to be too difficult to secure, with numerous regulations and obstacles that we couldn't quite solve. The dream would be that next year someone takes over and manages to make it even bigger!

'We really want to engage with the wonderful and supportive community that was established during the festival!' - Raniyah 

For Raniyah, sustaining the community that AWOMENfest created is a key part of building on AWOMENfest’s success.

‘I want AWOMENfest to grow, for us to continue to serve all individuals and to explore more ideas, focus on topics that affect the daily living of individuals – we really want to engage with the wonderful and supportive community that was established during the festival! Keep your eyes peeled for what we may be up to next!’

Image | Caroline Michael/@crmphoto 


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