SkirtsAfire arts festival offers an opportunity to hear and see exclusively female stories
In the era of Trumpian politics, daily sexual harassment outings, and a need for frequent Womens’ Marches to protect human rights, a festival like SkirtsAFire is more than just a celebration of women. It’s an opportunity for underrepresented voices to be heard through arts. Fittingly taking place over International Women’s Day, the four-day festival showcases work from transgender, LGBTQ2, as well as women of all ethnicities and abilities. Founded in 2012, SkirtsAFire has grown to feature over 100 artists and hosts over 1600 patrons in the Alberta Avenue community.
Featuring everything from visual art and live music to spoken word and theatre, the multidisciplinary affair is meant to empower diverse and daring women. The festival does so by giving artists a paid opportunity to showcase their work in an inclusive environment.
“It definitely helps to make art more accessible and brings the community together,” says sculpturist Kasie Campbell. “Art is for everyone and that’s why I love the SkirtsAFire festival, they get that.”
Campbell’s art is part of the The Wombs We Come From exhibition at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts, among the work of four other artists with unique backgrounds ranging from Indigenous to Indonesian-Canadian. All of the pieces are inspired by the artist’s relationship to their womanhood, where their idea of womanhood came from, and where women stand in society now.
“As a woman who has experienced sexual assault in my every day and while doing performative work I feel that it is my duty to share my work and speak to my experiences,” Campbell explains, “to hold people—men—accountable for their actions and to be an active supporter of women. Through my work, I hope that I can reach women who may have experienced similar instances and hope that they feel empowered.”
The theme of empowerment runs deep in the festival just by existing in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood. Once considered an area to avoid in the city, the neighbourhood has recreated itself as an arts and culture hub with its growth through galleries, restaurants, and festivals over the past decade. Key venues hosting live music during the festival, like The Carrot Cafe and Otto, have been instrumental in reshaping the area and are now vesting their spaces for women’s art.
Playwright Trina Davies was originally an Edmontonian who left in 2007 to pursue her writing career in Vancouver and has experienced how the neighbourhood evolved first-person.
“That’s where I actually lived for the last four or five years before I left,” Davies says. “One of the things that was happening to the neighbourhood back then was it was becoming very vibrant and a lot of artists were moving into the neighbourhood. In a way it was kind of a sad time for me to leave.”
Davies’ work, The Romeo Initiative, is the feature production in the festival for a good reason. Written in 2012, the award-winning play is a romantic spy-thriller taking place post Second World War Germany. Based on true situations between East German spies and West German secretaries, the play explores themes of romance and the difference in perspective between men and women.
“That started me digging into a couple things,” Davies explains. “One was the pickup artist culture … and also into the biochemistry of romantic love and what actually happens to us, and our brains, when we get into a relationship that causes us to perceive things differently.”
The festival is women-centric in all senses, yet very inclusive for all genders to come and discover how women see themselves in society, and their relationship with themselves. Women’s rights movements are a focal point of society today and there are few festivals that give artists such a strong platform to speak out and inspire other women to do the same.
Until Sun., Mar. 11
The Romeo Initiative
The Wombs We Come From
Admission by donation