At the heart of its mission, the Women in the Arts Festival aims to celebrate women’s creativity through art, music and poetry. As the 37th annual event returns to East Lansing’s Edgewood United Church, 469 N. Hagadorn Road, this Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11 and 12, that mission remains strong.
Julie Haan, a member of the Women in the Arts Festival Committee, said the event has a long-running history, dating back to 1986. Haan has been involved with the festival’s programming for the last 15 years.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, festival organizers hosted an all-online event in 2020 and a scaled-down, hyper-local version in 2021. The event returns in full force for 2022.
Haan spoke about the history of the event.
“This is our 37th year,” Haan said. “It [the festival] was started to showcase women’s art. At the time, there wasn’t really a venue for just women to do their performance art or to sell their artistic wares.”
Over the years, the event has grown in participation and, thanks to a partnership with Ten Pound Fiddle Concerts, has been able to book more nationally-touring acts.
Haan describes this year as the “Reunion Festival.”
“That is more of a theme of getting started again,’” she said, “getting back up to bringing in our full artist market, two nighttime concerts on Friday and Saturday evenings, and a full afternoon day stage.”
Saturday’s day stage features: The Instigators at 1 p.m.; Sistrum, Lansing Women’s Chorus at 2 p.m.; Christine Sayers at 3 p.m.; Sometimes Y at 4 p.m.; Murrdawg and the Low Down Dirty Strays at 5 p.m. There will also be members of Voices of the Revolution performing a spoken word at the beginning of each set. All events will be ASL-interpreted.
Some old friends are reuniting for this year’s festival.
Several local musicians and bands will perform, including a couple acts reuniting for special performances, Haan said.
One of those groups is Half Looking whose last album was released in 2002. The last time the musicians played together live for an audience was 20 years ago.
The band’s reunion will take place live for all to see Friday night of the festival.
The group, made up of Hez Taylor, Lisa Corbett, Holly Miller, Tammy (Blue) Cook and Murray Stewart-Jones, met in East Lansing and played their first gig at Bagel Fragel in downtown East Lansing.
“Some friend of ours made a connection and hooked us up, and it was like ‘love at first sing,’” Naylor said. “We started singing together and instantly clicked.”
After the Bagel Fragel gig, while everyone was enjoying a post-show meal at Peanut Barrel, another musician decided to join the band.
Today, group members are scattered all over the country, working as nurse practitioners, teachers, fire dispatchers and musicians, but have remained in touch. They look back fondly on their local gigs at Small Planet, Rick’s, El Azteco and the East Lansing Art Festival.
Despite the distance, the band has utilized Zoom for practice sessions to prepare for this reunion gig and are excited to play together again. And, although the last time they released music was over two decades ago, the content and lyrics of the music remains relevant for the alternative folk rock group.
“I think the key to good songwriting, in general, is that you can relate to the music,” Corbett said. “You relate to it in an experience way, a feeling or emotional way, and that still stands the test of time.”
While small references date the band, like smoking inside bars and waiting next to a landline phone, the subject matter of their music remains relevant.
“I think they really held up well and some of them have become more poignant as time has gone on,” Corbett said. “Like the song ‘I am Samantha.’ That song deals with issues that were going on at the time. We were beginning to see rohypnol [a date rape drug] infiltrating the bars and college social scenes. There was a girl named Samantha Reed that passed away at that time, she’s the main character in the beginning of that song. It goes on to talk about Columbine, and also Matthew Shepard.”
The reference to Columbine is about the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School where 12 students and one teacher were killed, and Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming gay man, was beaten, tortured and left for dead in 1998.
“Columbine hasn’t gone away – not only do we still mourn that, but it’s really blown up as far as being an epidemic in our culture,” Corbett said. “When you listen to that song now, I can barely sing it without choking up. It’s really impactful now, in comparison.”
As for the show, Taylor said there’s room for some surprises. Being in the same place jamming together will likely allow space for new sounds, creativity and changes.
Friday and Saturday’s artist market features a wide array of art work and offerings.
The artist market with paintings, drawings, photos, jewelry, sculpture, pottery, glass, books, music, etc. and Sistrum Cafe both run 5-9 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“All of the vendors are women and everything is made by women,” Haan said. Of the 40-plus artisans and vendors currently signed up, most are statewide or regional.
Tickets for the artist market, workshops and day stage are free.
There will be an in-person silent auction and online auction, featuring items from Quark!, Mad Eagle, MSU Women’s Basketball, Wharton Center for Performing Arts, Absolute Gallery, Wild Birds Unlimited, Playmakers and more.
Tickets are $15-$30 for the nighttime performances and sold online. Haan said the ticketing office acts on a sliding scale, however.
“If someone for some reason cannot afford it, they can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and request a ticket,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to not be able to be part of the festival or concerts because of income.”