Big Plans

Sarasota Activist Shannon Fortner Wants to Build an Arts Center Focused on LGBTQ+ Voices

Fortner hopes to create an arts and mental health hub where queer and trans voices can shine and thrive.

By Kim Doleatto July 8, 2022

An illustration of Shannon Fortner founder of Sarasota's Harvey Milk Festival, which has evolved into the Fabulous Art Foundation.

An illustration of Shannon Fortner. Fortner founded Sarasota's Harvey Milk Festival, which has evolved into the Fabulous Art Foundation.

Image: Sophie McTear

Sarasota musician, activist and community leader Shannon Fortner is the founder of the Fabulous Art Foundation, or FABAF, as well as the Harvey Milk Festival, and for years has used entertainment and education to amplify the voices of LGBTQ+ people.

Now, she says, the time has come for Sarasota to build a full-time performing arts space dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and she's planning a fundraising campaign to do just that.

According to Fortner, while there are several local art spaces and theaters that make Sarasota a destination beyond its beaches, she wants the new facility to both host performances and act as a rental property for local and visiting artists. She envisions the space containing between 500 and 750 seats and being located on the edge of downtown Sarasota.

In addition to the theater space, she'd like the facility to include rental opportunities for local and visiting artists. It will also offer mental health services—in high demand amid a dearth of providers equipped to respond to trans and queer folks, who call it affirming care.

“It's about holding space and helping them feel seen by doing things like addressing them with their correct pronouns," says Fortner, who uses the pronouns "she" and "they." "There are therapists that don't offer that type of care and induce trauma instead. Parents will call me and ask me about help with their trans child and there are only a few therapists and they're booked out. It’s hard to watch that struggle.”

Grace Korley (left) and Shannon Fortner (right) marching the Ringling Bridge in honor of Pulse nightclub victims and the lighting of the bridge for Pride Month.

Grace Korley (left) and Shannon Fortner (right) marching the Ringling Bridge in honor of Pulse nightclub victims and the lighting of the bridge for Pride Month.

When built, the new theater would host all of FABAF's existing programming, including the annual Fabulous Independent Film Festival, the Drag Culture Fest and more.

The theater still doesn’t have a name, but what it does have is passion behind it.

"Watching members who haven't felt seen and struggle with authentically being themselves transform and claim their space keeps me energized," says Fortner. “Once we have a space, if they have a dream and the time and effort, we want to make their dreams come true.”

Mark Your Calendars for These FABAF Upcoming Events

The 12th Annual Fabulous Independent Film Festival, from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1. People are invited to set up chairs and blankets at this outdoor drive-in film festival.

Drag Culture Fest – Drag History Exhibition, from Nov. 22 to Jan. 23 at The Ringling. Check out drag culture history dating back to the 1600s.

Drag Culture Fest – The Sarasota Opera House, Dec. 2. Watch drag performances at this historic venue.

Drag Culture Fest – Mini Ball, Dec. 10. A drag ball is in the works. Check in for more details to come.

For more info, visit the FABAF website.

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