A celebration of LGBTQ identity, representation and pride, the Harvey Milk Festival has been one of Sarasota’s premier arts and entertainment events for more than a decade. This year, however, the festival is changing in some major ways, and it starts with a new name. The nonprofit that puts together the event is now known as the Fabulous Arts Foundation, and this year's event is called the FabAF-IFF Music & Arts Festival.
Last year's festival, like many other events around the world, was canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. To make up for lost time, festival founder Shannon Fortner and her team are putting together two weeks' worth of festivities—a stream of art, music, dance and film experiences featuring predominately queer artists and performers.
The party kicks off at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 23, with an art installation at 800 Cocoanut Ave., Sarasota. Artists such as John Gascot, Tate Leigh, Michael Murphy and Tylia Janei will be a part of an experience dubbed Queer Utopia, a euphoric journey through music and dance that will allow festival-goers to become immersed in the spirit of the celebration. A night of dance and exploration will take place the following day, Friday, Sept. 24, with a performance by Bianca “JustBee” Russell. Doors open at 7 p.m. at The Players Studio, 1400 Boulevard of the Arts, #200, Sarasota.
Emceed by the New York City-based drag queen and artist Selma Nilla, the music and arts festival runs from 2:15 to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25. Selma Nilla, fresh off an appearance on Netflix’s Nailed It! series, will introduce bands like Moon Kissed, who released their debut album, I Met My Band at a New Year’s Party, in 2019, and artists like SuperKnova, a transgender musician who dabbles in queer pop and hip hop, meshing the two with infectious synths and otherworldly guitar licks.
The party continues Sept. 30-Oct. 2 with a drive-in movie experience that will be set up at 800 Coconut Ave., Sarasota. The event will showcase LGBTQ-themed indie films and short films that tackle identity, inclusivity, freedom and more. The lots open at 7 p.m. each day. If you can’t make it to the in-person drive-in, there will be an option to catch a wide variety of LGBTQ movies on demand, as well.
As if all that weren't enough, the foundation is also hosting a virtual discussion at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 27, in which panelists will discuss the challenge of maintaining one's mental health. There's also a drag queen brunch and a spoken word poetry event planned, as well.
The festival may have begun as primarily a music festival, but, as this year's programming indicates, its offerings—and its impacts—have blossomed.
“We began to evolve over the years," says Fortner. "We added dance and performance art, and then I adopted the Fabulous Independent Film Festival in 2016 and that allowed us to house all of the arts, basically, within our festival. It was a really great way to expand our programming and continue the work we initially set out to do 11 years ago. With the addition of more performers, dancers, musicians and creatives, we began to push forward into more creative spaces that garnered even more eyes on the LGBTQ-plus community that we so proudly serve.”