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Reelout Shutout of Women’s Art Festival

July 8, 2010

Kingston, ON Canada

The Reelout Arts Project Inc. a not for profit charitable organization that hosts Kingston’s largest and longest-running film festival has been denied participation in this year’s Women’s Art Festival this August.  Reelout Festival Director Matt Salton was informed Wednesday, July 8 by organizer Shirley Dowell by telephone that she had met with five committee members to discuss Reelout’s application to participate and that their application was denied and that the $30 entrance fee would be returned forthwith.

As a result of this April’s strategic planning session, Reelout’s Board of Directors, staff and membership laid out initiatives to foster the organization’s relevance throughout the year with a greater emphasis on community outreach to the larger community.  The organization hosts a gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender film festival and provides educational and resource films to libraries, public schools and rural counties to promote tolerance and sexual and gender diversity education.  “It’s ironic that we applied to be a part of the Women’s Art Festival so that we could reach out to the community and share what we do on a year round basis and then be told by the very same organization we assumed would embrace us, that we were not welcome,” says Salton.

Reelout’s application and deposit was received by Women’s Art Festival organizer Shirley Dowell who telephoned Salton to express her concerns before returning his cheque.  “I explained to her that we originated as a grass roots organization with a very strong feminist agenda and over the past twelve years we have championed the work of independent, women artists working in the film and video discipline and that we pride ourselves on creating not just queer positive space but safe space for women and women who love women,” Salton explains.
The original application was completed and submitted with a request to be close to a power source so that Reelout could project short films by independent women artists .  When told that this situation would not be possible, Salton asked Dowell if instead Reelout’s all-women volunteer team could hand out literature  detailing their community outreach projects which include a community lending library and the Reelout in Schools program.

“Shirley admitted she was stumped,” Salton says.  “ She told me that it was tough call that would have to go before her committee but she told me that they were not big fans of people flaunting their sexuality and related an example of a woman from a couple of years ago who made certain parts of the female anatomy out of paper mache and the organizers of the Art Festival were not very happy about that.”

When asked why the committee unanimously agreed to deny Reelout’s access to the festival, Salton said, “Shirley told me that they had all agreed that we just were not the right fit for their festival especially with children around.  I thanked her politely, hung up the phone and then picked my jaw off the floor.  To imply to my face that because we are a queer organization that we must be a threat to children and that we will be flaunting our sexuality is a prime example of the homophobia that still exists in broad daylight in our city.”

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About Reelout

We host an 11-day queer film and video festival in Kingston, Canada in January/February each year!

13 responses to “Reelout Shutout of Women’s Art Festival

  1. dinahmohum ⋅

    I am saddened and disappointed by this news. You have my support.

  2. Sheryl Felhaber ⋅

    This is disgraceful. How in the world is it possible that educated people can even consider homosexuals a threat to children? Or that sexuality in general is a threat to children? How are any of us to learn acceptance if we shut out any group or organization, due to lack of knowledge and fear. Makes me sad to think of the generations of women who fought for their rights and the generations to come, fought only for us to look like idiots who can’t formulate rational thought.

  3. Iris Little ⋅

    Reading the above, I’m shocked. Being the Mother of a lesbian daughter (who I love dearly) I can’t believe that this organization would deny entry to a group who are trying to educate the public.
    Do they ask each person who submits an application what their sexuality is??? How many other gays and lesbians are showing at the festival? Does it really matter? Obviously Shirley doesn’t have ANY relatives that are gay, or maybe they’re ushered to the closet.
    This is a sad world when the decisions are left in the hands of bigots!!!!!
    Iris Little

  4. femme ⋅

    wow. so really this festival is about lip service and isn’t truly an art film festival but a religious festival. Sounds like a lucky escape, maybe the queer community up there should begin their own to show them how to do this the right way.

  5. Tired of reactionary second wave feminists ⋅

    Great. Are there any other women-types the festival organizers’ have decided do not “fit” the agenda? And what are they actually protecting children from?

    There’s essentially a trickle down system of rights in all this, isn’t there? First, we socialize children to be comfortable with straight, middle class womanhood in all its glory, then we gently introduce the idea that not all women are women in the same way? This one-oppression-at-a-time logic hasn’t made sense to me since the 80s – when I thought we’d buried it.

    This should be fought tooth and nail.

  6. Maureen Addie ⋅

    Response from Women’s Art Festival Collective

    Hi Matt,

    I am the music co-ordinator for the Women’s Art Festival. I have been on the collective for 15 years, but I have been in Toronto for the last 5 years. I come back each year to organize the music for the day. I have just received an email from Shirley, who has received at least 7 emails from people about the conversation that you had with her with respect to your application to the WAF. I would like to express to you how sorry I am that you had such a negative experience when you made a submission to the WAF.

    We are a volunteer collective. Shirley has been the treasurer since before I joined. In the last couple of years, she has also had to take over the application process, because nobody else would do it. In fact, there was a danger that the festival would stop operating, after some 25 years. The collective has always been made up of a combination of straight and lesbian/queer women and has generally functioned very well. It has been a huge stretch for Shirley to take over the application receiving and vetting. She was confused by your application for a few reasons. First, we only accept applications from women artists. Second, it is not possible for us to provide power to run a tv set, nor is it possible to set a generator. If we allowed people to run generators, it would be overwhelming. Third, we do not provide space for organizations to set up booths. The exception to this practice is that the organization who are sponsored each year are allowed to set up a booth about their programs. They do not sell anything.

    I have spoken with Shirley to seek some clarification about the conversation that you had with her. She tells me that you started the conversation by saying that you had a penis and that she got very flustered. She is an older, grandmotherly-like woman and she did not know how to react. Further, she did not understand what reelout was or why you were applying. The problems with the application are the three reasons stated above. I do believe that Shirley went on to say some inappropriate things and for that I apologise to you. I am a lesbian myself and I have been at the receiving end of both intentional and unintentional homophobia and it is a very disturbing experience. It is my understanding that Shirley responded in the way she did because she was uncomfortable with the topic of sex, rather than sexual orientation.

    The problem with the application from Reelout is that it did not meet the criteria that I set out above. We do not provide space for any promotional booths. The general practice is that the art in the booth should be the product of the artist. The film festival is a whole different medium from what the festival is set up to do, which is to provide a space for women artists to show and sell their work. Any person who identifies as a woman is welcome to apply to the festival to have a booth to show and sell her art. That is what we are and what we do. We have had many discussions over the years about different sorts of applications we have received, which have stretched the boundaries.

    In the same way, we have a policy for the stage that only women can perform, even as back-up players and singers. This policy has caused some controversy in the past and we have had many discussions and decided to stick with this policy. Any person who identified as a woman would be welcome to perform.

    I am very sorry for the negative and inappropriate response you received about your application to the festival. I would be happy to discuss the issues with you, or any other person who has issues with the criteria that we have set out for applications to set up a booth at the the festival. It sounds as if the reasons that were related to you by Shirley were not well-phrased, and were even offensive. If Shirley did express these three reasons to you, it appears that she did not do so effectively and for that I apologise on behalf of the collective.

    Thank you for your attention.

  7. Maureen Addie ⋅

    A Postscript:

    http://www.womensartfestivalkingston.ca/rules_regulations.htm

    Please check out the rules and regulations listed on our website, which clearly states:

    WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO EXHIBIT IN THE WOMEN’S ART FESTIVAL?

    *The festival is open to women artists who design and create original art work. The total body of work must be handmade by the woman artist who registers.

    *Each woman registers separately and the non-refundable $30 fee applies to the artist, not the space. Once individually registered, artists may choose to display together, but all artists must be present to interpret and sell their own work on festival day.

    IS THERE ANYTHING AN ARTIST MAY NOT SELL?

    *Artists may not sell other artists’ work, food products, plants, kit/production lines or imported goods. Artists who attempt to sell these items will be asked to remove them from their display. Please go to the ABOUT section for more information about this festival and its mandate.

  8. Claire

    Dear Matt, this announcement circulated amoungst the students of Queen’s new Cultural Studies program via our student list-serve. This is a complete outrage, and a chilling reminder of how much work still needs to be done in our community. Please know that the Reelout Arts Project has our profound support and concern.

    I wonder if the Artel is free that weekend? I personally would contribute to renting the Artel space, if you were to host a concurrent film showing in celebration of diversity and in resistance to the so-called “Women’s” Art Festival. What the hell are they thinking!? Perhaps a protest should be staged….I’m pretty sure we covered this ground about 60 years ago. WAKE UP KINGSTON!

    Keep us posted,
    Claire Grady-Smith
    MA Candidate, Cultural Studies

  9. Suzanne Carlstrom ⋅

    This is outrageous! Just who exactly is this festival for? Only particular women whose art does not offend the sensibilities of the women in charge! This is ridiculous and very disappointing. I think more people should know about this and be given the opportunity to let the art fest committee know how they feel. This reminds me of the exclusion of MTF transgendered peoples from the Michigan Womyns Music Festival. It’s time these organizers woke up to the reality of who makes up a community.I thought the womens art fest was about the freedom of expression within a safe space. Not about sensorship and exclusion based on maintaining some kind of touchy feely art scene. That is not what art is to me. Thank you for letting me know.

  10. Shirley Dowell ⋅

    Letter of Apology to Matt and Reelout

    July 14, 2010

    Dear Matt and the Reelout Board,

    I am writing this letter to apologize for the comments that I made to you over the phone about your application. I have come to understand how the comments have been interpreted by you and others and I am immeasurably sorry to have caused hurt to you, the people at reelout and the rest of the members of the public who have communicated their distress with the words I spoke during our phone conversation. The comments I made were not directed towards the gay and lesbian community in any way, nor were they the opinions of the Women’s Art Festival Collective. The comments I made reflected my own personal opinions about “overt sexuality” in public places — by anybody — gay or straight. I did not mean to suggest that lesbians and their art were not welcome at the WAF — in fact, we have always had active and important participation on the collective and at the festival of lesbian artists. I come from an older generation of people, who grew up in a different time. When you spoke to me about your penis, I was very flustered and upset and I did not manage to get past the shock in our conversation that followed. I am uncomfortable looking at and talking about overt demonstrations of sex of any kind — that is my own perspective and not that of the collective.

    What I meant to communicate to you is that we have a specific focus at the festival, as you can read on our website at http://www.womensartfestivalkingston.ca/rules_regulations.htm)
    “WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO EXHIBIT IN THE WOMEN’S ART FESTIVAL? *The festival is open to women artists who design and create original art work. The total body of work must be handmade by the woman artist who registers.”

    Your application did not meet these two criteria – this is the message that I should have communicated to you in a simple and direct fashion. The reason I called you in the first place was because I was not familiar with your organization and I wanted to speak to you about it rather than refusing the application out of hand. On the face of the application, it did not meet our very simple criteria, shown above. Even after our conversation, I did not fully understand how your organization would qualify, given the criteria shown above. In my attempts to understand and explain, I spoke off the top of my head and I said things that I now understand were very hurtful to you. I did not mean to say anything against the gay and lesbian community and the reelout festival; I fully support each person’s right to love who they love and live openly as who they are.

    The discussion that I had with some of the other women in the collective related specifically to the fact that they agreed that the application did not meet the criteria of “women artists who design and create original art work” which is “handmade by the woman who registers.” We did not discuss any views about overtly sexual material at that time — those were my own opinions and I should not have tried to explain them over the phone because they had nothing to do with the reason that the collective could not accept the application.

    If Reelout would like to submit an application that meets the criteria of “women artists who design and create original art work” which is “handmade by the woman who registers,” we will accept it with open arms. As a possible suggestion, the woman who applies could be a director, actor, producer or some other contributor to a film, who would like to come and show that film and sell DVDs. At the booth, she could also have materials from the Reelout festival, to put the film in the larger context.

    I hope you can accept this apology for the hurt that my comments caused you. I have learned a hard lesson about how continuing a conversation in a state of feeling flustered can result in miscommunications that can cause hurt and misunderstanding. I wish you all the best in your preparations for your festival this year and in the years to come.

    Shirley Dowell
    WAF Collective – WAF Applications

  11. reelout

    Dear Matt and the Reelout Board,

    I am writing this letter to apologize for the comments that I made to you over the phone about your application. I have come to understand how the comments have been interpreted by you and others and I am immeasurably sorry to have caused hurt to you, the people at reelout and the rest of the members of the public who have communicated their distress with the words I spoke during our phone conversation. The comments I made were not directed towards the gay and lesbian community in any way, nor were they the opinions of the Women’s Art Festival Collective. The comments I made reflected my own personal opinions about “overt sexuality” in public places — by anybody — gay or straight. I did not mean to suggest that lesbians and their art were not welcome at the WAF — in fact, we have always had active and important participation on the collective and at the festival of lesbian artists. I come from an older generation of people, who grew up in a different time. When you spoke to me about your penis, I was very flustered and upset and I did not manage to get past the shock in our conversation that followed. I am uncomfortable looking at and talking about overt demonstrations of sex of any kind — that is my own perspective and not that of the collective.

    What I meant to communicate to you is that we have a specific focus at the festival, as you can read on our website at http://www.womensartfestivalkingston.ca/rules_regulations.htm)
    “WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO EXHIBIT IN THE WOMEN’S ART FESTIVAL? *The festival is open to women artists who design and create original art work. The total body of work must be handmade by the woman artist who registers.”

    Your application did not meet these two criteria – this is the message that I should have communicated to you in a simple and direct fashion. The reason I called you in the first place was because I was not familiar with your organization and I wanted to speak to you about it rather than refusing the application out of hand. On the face of the application, it did not meet our very simple criteria, shown above. Even after our conversation, I did not fully understand how your organization would qualify, given the criteria shown above. In my attempts to understand and explain, I spoke off the top of my head and I said things that I now understand were very hurtful to you. I did not mean to say anything against the gay and lesbian community and the reelout festival; I fully support each person’s right to love who they love and live openly as who they are.

    The discussion that I had with some of the other women in the collective related specifically to the fact that they agreed that the application did not meet the criteria of “women artists who design and create original art work” which is “handmade by the woman who registers.” We did not discuss any views about overtly sexual material at that time — those were my own opinions and I should not have tried to explain them over the phone because they had nothing to do with the reason that the collective could not accept the application.

    If Reelout would like to submit an application that meets the criteria of “women artists who design and create original art work” which is “handmade by the woman who registers,” we will accept it with open arms. As a possible suggestion, the woman who applies could be a director, actor, producer or some other contributor to a film, who would like to come and show that film and sell DVDs. At the booth, she could also have materials from the Reelout festival, to put the film in the larger context.

    I hope you can accept this apology for the hurt that my comments caused you. I have learned a hard lesson about how continuing a conversation in a state of feeling flustered can result in miscommunications that can cause hurt and misunderstanding. I wish you all the best in your preparations for your festival this year and in the years to come.

    Shirley Dowell
    WAF Collective – WAF Applications

    • reelout

      Jul 19, 2010 Dear Ms. Dowell,
      We acknowledge and accept your apology. The staff and board of directors of the Reelout Arts Project Inc. accepts that we do not meet the application requirements and ask in the future that the Women’s Art Festival post these rules on the application form and that the next person responsible for vetting applications make reference to these guidelines when rejecting an application. We have been both shocked and hurt by this experience and hope that both organizations are now able to move forward and support the work of women artists in our community. This letter marks a turning point – one that we hope brings about positive change at the Women’s Art Festival. However, your letter does highlight a couple of continuing concerns.
      We believe it is erroneous to judge an application based on the assumed gender of the administrator of an organization when his or her work is not on exhibition. You may wish to blame our Festival Director’s choice of the word “penis” to excuse your offensive remarks but, at the end of the day, your remarks were homophobic and cannot be justified by being shocked by someone else’s reference to his anatomy. Furthermore, assumptions and policy structured on gender should be monitored often to ensure that you are not discriminating against a person or persons based on their gender. Matt did not identify himself as male or female in the application nor on the telephone until he told you that he had a penis, a statement of fact nothing more or less and still not indicative of gender.
      You mention “overt sexuality” in relation to Reelout. Although our original application clearly states our intention of showing family friendly short films by women for women, you still equate Reelout with “flaunting sexuality”. Nowhere in our application and subsequent conversations did we mention sexuality but only the word “queer”. We believe this highlights a serious problem within the WAF vetting process and needs to be addressed immediately.
      Despite these concerns Reelout fully supports the continuing work of the WAF as it reflects our own mission to foster the development of independent artists. We have been gratified by the amazing outpouring of support from both individuals and organizations in the Kingston community. We believe this indicates both a support for the queer community and an emotional investment in how the WAF conducts itself. We will advocate for change from within and are calling upon all women artists to step forward and help WAF at this point in time to become an organization which is sex and body positive as well as committed to gender justice and sexual diversity.
      We hope that in the future the WAF and Reelout can participate in a healthy and fruitful collaboration not unlike our partnerships with our friends at the Raise The Roof Women’s Music Festival and the Skeleton Park Music Festival. Our mission statement includes creating challenging dialogue within Kingston. We appreciate that your experience within this dialogue may not have been comfortable or entirely positive. It is our hope that we move forward from this experience with a shared desire to strengthen both the WAF and Reelout in our community. Please feel free to forward our secretary Alice Robinette-Woods alice@reelout.com any information on how women in the Kingston community can get involved with volunteering for your organization.
      Sincerely, Reelout Arts Project Inc. Board of Directors

  12. Maureen Addie ⋅

    Thanks from the WAF to Reelout Re: Acceptance of Apology
    July 20, 2010

    Thank you for your acceptance of Shirley’s apology for the comments she made to Matt when they were discussing his application to the WAF. As you have read in her letter, Shirley has taken full responsibility for those statements and made clear that they do not represent the views of the Women’s Art Festival Collective. Although this has been a challenging experience for all of us, we appreciate the opportunity we have had for dialogue and the resultant impetus to review our protocols for the vetting of applications for the WAF.

    As a result of the issues that arose from this incident, we will be making some changes to our application protocol. We will certainly undertake to include the statement of who is eligible to apply to the WAF at the top of our application form, and we thank you for this suggestion. Further, we will respond to all applications in writing; if further information is required to assess the application we will send a letter, rather than making a phone call. This process will ensure that there is a record of interact ion, which will allow for more thoughtful exchanges and assessments.

    We would like to respond to the continuing concerns you raised in your letter, in hopes that we can offer some clarification.

    1. We believe it is erroneous to judge an application based on the assumed gender of the administrator of an organization when his or her work is not on exhibition.
    It was not specifically Matt’s gender that triggered the further inquiries into this application; if that had that been the case, it would have dismissed and returned to him on the strength of that issue. Shirley did not know anything about Reelout and so she called Matt to give him a chance to explain. The reason the application did not succeed was because it did not fit the application guidelines stated on the website: “*[t]he festival is open to women artists who design and create original art work. The total body of work must be handmade by the woman artist who registers.” If the issue had been a judgment based solely on assumed gender, the application could have been sent back on that ground alone. It wasn’t; Shirley made the call to ask follow-up questions.

    2. You may wish to blame our Festival Director’s choice of the word “penis” to excuse your offensive remarks but, at the end of the day, your remarks were homophobic and cannot be justified by being shocked by someone else’s reference to his anatomy.
    We did not suggest, at any point, that Matt’s use of the word penis excused the comments that Shirley made. That information was included in order to provide context for the conversation that took place between Shirley and Matt. In all of the communications between our organizations, Shirley has taken full responsibility for both the inappropriateness of the content of her comments and for not identifying them as her own views, rather than those of the Collective.

    3. Furthermore, assumptions and policy structured on gender should be monitored often to ensure that you are not discriminating against a person or persons based on their gender. Matt did not identify himself as male or female in the application nor on the telephone until he told you that he had a penis, a statement of fact nothing more or less and still not indicative of gender.

    The Collective has never turned down an application on the basis of gender, possibly because it has never arisen. If any person sends in an application, our assumption is that they are a woman or woman-identified – we do not make inquiries about gender. We understand that gender identity is not determined by anatomy; it is a question of self-identity.

    4. You mention “overt sexuality” in relation to Reelout. Although our original application clearly states our intention of showing family friendly short films by women for women, you still equate Reelout with “flaunting sexuality”. Nowhere in our application and subsequent conversations did we mention sexuality but only the word “queer”. We believe this highlights a serious problem within the WAF vetting process and needs to be addressed immediately.

    We have operated for 30 years and this is first time such an incident of this kind has taken place. We are genuinely sorry and we have apologized. We understand that Shirley’s comments were hurtful and homophobic. She has taken responsibility for these comments and acknowledged that they did not reflect the views of the collective.
    The WAF has always had a substantial queer presence, both on the Collective and in all aspects of the Festival. The Women’s Art Festival has been beacon of acceptance and celebration for lesbians for thirty years, among the artists, the musicians, the supported organizations and the people who attend the WAF. One isolated incident does not undo three decades of breaking barriers by the courageous lesbians who have been involved and out as part of the Women’s Art Festival and the WAF Collective.

    Conclusion:
    One of the reasons we have thrived for thirty years is that our mandate is so simple. We are a venue for women artists to display and sell their handmade art. We raise money for women’s organizations in the community. Each of the organizations, which are chosen to receive funds, are asked to put up a booth to show what they do in the community and how they will be using the money the festival raises for them. We have a women-only performance stage, with musicians and dancers.
    We do not, however, accept applications for promotional booths. There are two main reasons for this policy. First, we want to maximize the space for women to show their art. Second, as a volunteer collective, we do not want to divert our energies into vetting who should and who shouldn’t get a booth.

    We welcome the support of your membership and we wish you all the best for your festival. We would welcome an application from any women involved with the film and video community. This woman could show the film on a laptop, sell DVDs and also provide promotional materials about the Reelout festival. Second, the Reelout festival could apply for funding from the festival for a specific project for next year’s festival. If your project is selected, you will be asked to set up a booth about the organization and the project at the WAF Festival.

    Information about these applications for funding is available on the website. We will also add a section on our website for women who would like to get involved with the WAF Collective. As we mentioned earlier, we will add our criteria for qualification at the festival to our application form. We will also implement a process whereby we respond to all applications by way of writing, rather than over the phone, even if we are just seeking further clarification about the nature of the proposed artwork.

    We wish you all the best in your upcoming festival, and those to follow. We hope that both of our organizations will use this experience to reflect and grow in understanding about how we can effectively communicate with and support each other, so that we can focus on our respective festivals and goals.

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