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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 27, 2007

Fate of the Ohio Lesbian Festival is still uncertain

Columbus--The future of the Ohio Lesbian Festival is still in doubt after an urgent meeting to decide its fate was held on April 11. The group there came to no conclusion, and more meetings will be held.

“I’m hopeful that it will continue,” said Chris Cozad, security coordinator for the festival and de facto moderator at the meeting.

The day-long gathering is held in late summer at Frontier Ranch in Kirkersville, just east of Columbus. It has suffered from declining attendance in recent years, leading to fears that it has outlived its usefulness.

Another concern is that the same core group of women have been responsible for organizing it for much of its 17 years without “new blood” coming in to replace the old in case of burn-out.

The two most recent festivals have lost money. For the four years before that, the festival broke even.

In the last four years, the festival went from 903 paid entrances in 2003, to 525 in 2004. It rebounded slightly in 2005 with 717 paid admissions, but then dropped to 564 in 2006.

None of those years was close to the approximately 2,000 women who went to the festival in its peak years.

The meeting was attended by 15 women who are not already affiliated with the event. One of the issues raised is that some of the younger women see it as an older women’s event, and that the acts might not appeal to a younger crowd.

That observation brought up the quandary of appealing to younger women without alienating those who have supported the festival year after year.

One thought was to expand the artistic reach of the festival by including spoken word artists and comedians, and perhaps putting more of a focus on local acts, which might also help save money in the transportation budget.

Another concern was scheduling the festival near the end of the warm season.

By the time the festival rolls around, people have already had the opportunity to attend Pride festivities and the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, and might not be able to afford another one at that time.

One idea put forward is scaling back the festival in most years, with larger ones in “multiple of five” anniversary years. Lowering ticket prices was also suggested, to make the event more accessible.

Another issue was public knowledge of the festival, and the possibility of partnering with LGBT centers and community organizations across the state to increase name recognition in areas outside Columbus.

One of the underlying concerns, however, was whether the festival was still relevant and needed.

Originally a picnic bringing women together in a time when the LGBT community was far less active than it is today, the concept of “women-only” space was prized. The older women in the community have carried the value of that construct with them, but younger women may not find it as useful.

In the end, however, the two major challenges are a lack of “up-front” money needed to get the gates open, and people willing to take on the coordination of the festival. Many of the women organizing it have been doing so for many years, and they filled multiple roles.

“We clearly got the sense both from folks at the meeting and from women who called and emailed various ones of us, that there is still an interest in the festival,” Cozad noted. “The question is, are there women interested in stepping into a large enough leadership role?”

She said that those fresh faces would be necessary to “refresh the festival, look at it from a little different perspective,” and “make it more open and more appealing to a wider variety of women.”

“The bottom line is that someone needs to agree to be the coordinator or chair,” Cozad opined. “It’s somebody who sort of shepherds the rest of the group--the follow-up phone calls, making sure things get done.”

“There is no one at this point who has volunteered for that role, and quite frankly that is they key element. If we don’t have someone who is willing to take on that level of leadership and take on those elements, we won’t get off the ground,” she concluded.

More town hall meetings will be held in the future to try to keep the festival going, although no date has yet been set for the next gathering.

However, more information will be available on the website of the Lesbian Business Association, the group behind the Ohio Lesbian Festival, at www.ohiolba.org.

The LBA also maintains an email list for updates. Send a message to webmistress@ohiolba.org to be added.

 

 

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