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Midsumma Festival 2014: A celebration of queer culture

ANNUAL queer festival Midsumma returns to Melbourne with another huge year of festivities planned. Hieu Chau and Sarah Khazaal caught up with Midsumma’s Adam Gardnir to talk about the festival’s plans for 2014. 

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Words: Hieu Chau
Interview: Sarah Khazaal

For more than 20 years, Midsumma has been the biggest promoter of queer culture in Melbourne and regional Victoria and has grown to become one of the biggest attractions of Melbourne’s festival calendar.

Held annually since 1988, Midsumma celebrates queer culture in all its facets throughout the month of January. Adam Gardnir, Chair of the Midsumma Performing Arts Committee and Midsumma Patrons Co-ordinator, is proud to be a part of the Midsumma’s celebrations.

“As a gay man, I enjoy seeing the different versions of queer that we have in our community [represented] in a space where everyone is welcome,” he expressed.

As one of the top five LGBT arts and culture festivals in the world, ranking alongside cities including New York, San Francisco, Vancouver and Singapore, Adam explains that Midsumma’s success can be attributed to its attendants.

“It’s the biggest cultural festival in terms of numbers, where others are the largest parade – we have the largest attendance of people at our events. This is because we have 80 Melbourne venues that we spread around as well as sports, music and other projects.”

Performers at last year's edition of Midsumma. Photo: Pomegranate02

Performers at last year’s edition of Midsumma. Photo: Pomegranate02 via Flickr

Indeed with more than 80 venues spread all across Melbourne, it’d be pretty difficult not to find a Midsumma event happening near you. The festival’s reach in Melbourne also reaffirms Midsumma’s primary agenda – to bring about awareness of the queer community.

One of Midsumma’s brightest attractions is its selection of entertainment. With a strong emphasis on championing the local arts scene here in Melbourne, Gardnir explains how some of these performers shape the ideas that Midsumma positively promotes.

“There are performers that have grown up with Midsumma over the past five to ten years in some cases. Artists like Trevor Ashley or Dolly Diamond who are so popular in Melbourne now [have become] instant sell outs [and got their start] at Midsumma. We really encourage the innovation in the community.

Gardnir also explained that Midsumma’s selection of queer artists don’t always “have to be queer, but they [would] need to be talking to a queer audience.”

Photo: Midsumma's official Facebook page

Photo: Midsumma’s official Facebook page

Some of the big events at this year’s Midsumma include the Miss Gay & Miss Transexual Australia Beauty Pageant and the Australian Same Sex Dancesport Championships.

Subtitled the ‘alternative amazing pageant’, Gardnir explained how the Miss Gay & Miss Transexual Australia Beauty Pageant may appeal towards minority ethnic groups.

“[R]ace division isn’t supported here, though Southern Asia – specifically Vietnamese groups – seem drawn to this event, as we observed when we attended an event last year. We’re not specifically targeting, excluding or including particular groups – it is open to everyone – although we are approaching groups in ways that we have noticed they would want to participate.

Gardnir also adds that these particular events “are about attracting more than the inner city queer community and branching out to other groups” as well.

As for the Australian Same Sex Dancesport Championships, Gardnir expressed that “people are flying in from overseas” just to participate in the competition.

“It is essentially ballroom dancing but because same sex couples are so rare in the dance sport scene, whenever there’s an event that caters to this, it becomes very popular. We went last year to the event in St Kilda and there were about 50 odd couples competing: 20 from Melbourne, 10 interstate, and 20 internationals,” he said.

In addition to these events, other planned activities one can expect at Midsumma include the Little Queer Film Festival, The Laugh Out Loud Big Gay Comedy Night, the One Day-Camp Fest on the riverside lawns of Footscray Community Arts Centre and of course the free Carnival that kicks off Midsumma which will feature a full day of free live entertainment and more than 100 stallholders.

And while a festival such as Midsumma is all about having fun, regardless of sexual orientation, over the year’s Midsumma’s politicisation has changed according to the times.

“We are conscious about how we deal with ethic groups in the queer sector, and how we deal with foreign, refugee and minority groups. So where we began as a big gay rights parade in the ‘80s – which was essential for that period with the HIV/AIDS crisis being prominent in a gay male sense – our politicisation has developed towards different ethnic groups and families which is one of our biggest focus,” Gardnir said.

These days, Midsumma does its best appeal to families and children growing up in gay homes where events have included book reading days and family play days, which is something that Gardnir feels would not have been possible 25 years ago.

With plenty on offer over the three weeks that Midsumma will be running, those wishing to experience a queer festival unlike most others will find the perfect avenue to do so with this queer cultural and arts festival. And with plenty of places to visit, it’s undoubtedly an opportune chance to explore Melbourne and its suburbs.

Midsumma will be taking place between January 12 – February 2 across more than 80 different venues all across Melbourne. For more information about the festival, check out Midsumma’s official website.

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