Be Fabulous music and arts pride festival celebrates 14th anniversary

Fab AF executive director Shannon Fortner (far right) and their band MeteorEYES. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Fortner)

The Fabulous Arts Foundation (formerly Harvey Milk Festival) changed its name in 2021, but the Sarasota nonprofit has been working to elevate LGBTQ+ voices since 2009.

Founder and Executive Director Shannon Fortner has confirmed this. LGBTQ+ and arts advocates have overseen the organization since its inception, with events including the Fabulous Independent Film Festival and Be Fabulous Music & Arts Pride Fest, a three-day celebration with its fourth in May. Returning from 2nd to 4th.

The gathering hosted thousands of people before the pandemic but was reorganized last year out of necessity. Held at the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center and billed as “a special gathering place for people in Sarasota who truly appreciate music and community,” it will once again culminate.

Fortner estimated last year’s party hosted about 500 people.

“Fogartyville has smaller spaces compared to the larger parks in the city centre, but we are still able to retain space for the community and bring people together in a safe space,” they said. “Working with the people at Fogartyville has been great Pleasant and has been at the forefront of equity and inclusion work, so it’s a pleasure to align our mission. ”

In a bid to repeat last year’s success, organizers will once again “elevate LGBTQ+ people by nurturing emerging artists.” [and] Discover ways to heal through art. The celebrations will begin on May 2, with the month-long “Empowered” event kicking off.

The art show will be in partnership with the Social Equity Education Alliance (SEE Alliance), located at 615 S. Orange Ave., to celebrate the “vibrant creativity of LGBTQ+ artists.” Community and youth voting.

“This exhibition aims to create a platform for LGBTQ+ artists to share stories and perspectives, promoting understanding, empathy and connection among audiences,” it describes. The opening is from 3 to 10 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

“Our purpose is to support the community and help them feel the power of unity through art,” Fortner said. The event will feature spoken word and other performance pieces, with artists from Tampa Bay and beyond showcasing their work.

The theme of the second day was Swamp Yell, a queer art collective under Fab AF.Their mission is to “bring together queer artists with radical openness and unfiltered expression [and] Harnessing the power of process and community to uncover the personal and collective truths we discover…providing a platform to bear witness to a variety of voices and experiences.

Artists include Jess Pope, Gabriele Keusch, Mike Murphy and others “whose work focuses on dance, movement and sound, exploring intersectionality and embracing change.” The group will be at the Arts at 1400 Blvd. from 7 to 9:30 p.m. #200 of The Players Studio Shows

Fortner said the organization was formed out of the pandemic, when Fab AF was looking for ways to support artists and push them outside of their comfort zones. They hope the collective can do the same for nonprofits, creating more performances and productions in the future.

The third day is the return of the festival. Fab AF will welcome supporters to Fogartyville on May 4th from 3-10pm for a celebration of LGBTQ+ events and entertainment, hosted by Board Member Jay Moore.

“This is an exciting year for Be Fabulous Music Festival. It’s an election year and we’re honored to be able to bring our community together,” he said. “I look forward to engaging with the community, discussing some important LGBTQ+ topics, and answering any questions people may have about the trans community or the trans experience.”

This year’s keynote address will be delivered by Jules Rayne, a community organizer for Equality Florida in Sarasota and a skilled musician, among others. Vendors and other speakers are also expected to attend.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to do – make sure people have a platform to communicate any issues that need to be addressed to the community,” Fortner said. “Either uniting or educating the community. We try to provide a space for people to share what they’re doing.

Musical performances this year will include Fortner’s band MeteorEYES, Summer Hoop, Zeta The Babe, Brittany Zeff, Nowincolor and Gracie Cespedes. There will be a drag performance for 18+ in the last hour, and more surprises are expected.

“It’s important to create safe spaces and visibility in our state so our community members feel seen and heard,” Fortner said. “Especially artists who are able to express themselves. Art truly has an indescribable language and we want everyone to come out and explore it, learn from artists and find community.”

“This is really important, especially in an election year,” Fortner added. “We need to get together as much as possible.”

This mindset is one of the reasons why Fab AF will host the Friendly City Pride Festival, a new LGBTQ+ celebration, on May 26 in Bradenton. They will do this in partnership with the Sister Cities Foundation.

The nonprofit works to “create relevant and accessible opportunities for emerging and undervalued communities in Bradenton/Sarasota” through programming and provision of resources. The inaugural event will be held from 3 to 10 p.m. at Oscura Concert Hall, 816 Manatee Ave. E. in downtown Bradenton.

The festivities will welcome Valerie Fisher, founder of the region’s Manatee Pride Festival, to the opening ceremony. The celebration was ultimately awarded to ALSO Youth and was last held in 2023 before being taken over by Project Pride and folded into this year’s upcoming Sarasota Pride festival outside of Manatee County.

As for Be Fabulous Music & Arts Pride Fest, Fortner revealed the event will return to Five Points Park in 2025 to provide more space for celebrants and said other exciting projects are in the works. They noted that Fab AF is closer than ever to establishing a community center that they will use to host events throughout the year.

“We’re excited,” Fortner said. “Our main goal is to meet the needs of the community… We are always striving to be inclusive and find ways to work together to achieve that goal.”

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