Harvey Milk Festival Celebrates 10th Anniversary in Sarasota

Thursday April 25, 2019

Sarasota's Harvey Milk Festival is a three-day coalescence of visual and performance art, dance, and music that uplifts the LGBTQ community and honors the legacy of festival namesake Harvey Milk - the United States' first openly-gay elected official.

Following a series of performing arts and dance exhibitions, Harvey Milk Festival culminates on its third day in a free and family-friendly outdoor indie music concert and art festival at J.D. Hamel Park. With approximately 5,000 attendees, the festival brings Sarasota's LGBTQ community and allies together in a celebration of love, inclusion, remembrance and self-expression.

This year marks Harvey Milk Festival's 10th anniversary with more offerings than ever, and an eager eye on the future.

Harvey Milk Fest 101: All About the Arts
"If you've never been to Harvey Milk Festival, the first thing to know about us is that we are an organization that looks at the arts as a catalyst for change," says festival founder, Shannon Fortner.

Harvey Milk Festival takes place each May during the heart of Pride season in Southwest Florida. Scheduled between regional Pride celebrations in March and June, Harvey Milk Festival stands out with its arts focus, drawing headlining bands from across the globe. The festival also partners with the Fabulous Independent Film Festival in September.

2019 Schedule of Events
In celebration of its 10th anniversary, the Harvey Milk Festival will launch the inaugural Run4Love "Fun-K" walk-run across the Ringling Bridge, taking place at 8 p.m. on May 4. Participants are encouraged to wear rainbow attire and to carry colorful luminaries to light the bridge in a rainbow glow — a community effort to honor the trailblazers for LGBTQ equality.

Harvey Milk Festival also launches its first historical exhibit, "Before Harvey: An Exploration of National LGBTQ History", on display at Art Center Sarasota, May 9-11.

"In recent years, we've really started to focus on youth outreach, as well as educational components across the board," says Fortner. "By doing so, we're hoping inform the Sarasota community how to create a more inclusive and safe space."

Some of that outreach will include a new year-round educational #WeSupport campaign that informs local businesses on best practices for LGBTQ-inclusive spaces. Businesses who join the campaign receive access to staff training through the Harvey Milk Festival, and will be able to display #WeSupport window decals.

For its dance and performing arts component, HMF 2019 introduces The BASSment — a night of visual art, dance, and spoken performance art hosted by choreographer, dancer, and HMF emcee, Lisa "L-Boogie" Bauford. The BASSment kicks off on May 10 at 7 p.m., with an after party to follow at 500 Tallevast Rd., Sarasota.

The main HMF music festival component takes place at J.D. Hamel Park on May 11 from 2 p.m. until midnight. Headlining bands are glam dream pop band GGOOLLDD (Baton Rouge), hardcore acoustic doo-wop band Pinc Louds (Brooklyn), ambient electronic band LANNDS (Jacksonville), Linqua Franqa (Athens), MONTERREY (Miami), and Sarasota's own MeteorEYES, Divine AF, The Pretty Dirties, Kristopher James, and Lemón Royale.

HMF 2019 features as a keynote speaker, Nathan Bruemmer: Executive Director for Sarasota's ALSO Youth and an Equality Florida TransAction Advisory Board member.

"Harvey Milk Festival is unique and special in that takes place in a beautiful beach town, and offers events that allow a spectrum of opportunity to explore our diverse and inclusive arts community," Fortner says. "It's an incredible way to meet all the people who are passionate about making Sarasota a more vibrant place."

How it Began: Harvey Milk Fest History
Fortner attended the National Equality March in Washington, DC in October 2009, where she found inspiration in the words of activist, Cleve Jones. Known for his work establishing the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, Jones placed a call to action during the Equality March for grassroots organizing.

"I've always liked that I share a birthday with Harvey Milk," Fortner notes, "so when I went to the Equality March in DC, I fell into this serendipitous mentality."

Fortner worked with local LGBTQ organizations to host a civil rights rally at the Sarasota Bayfront, and the turnout inspired her to expand her vision of a civil rights-focused art and music festival.

"It was successful and it was empowering because a lot of organizations worked together, and a lot of people showed up for it," Fortner says. "The community provided the passion that fueled me."

The inaugural Harvey Milk Festival in 2010 took place in the Rosemary District, drawing around 1,500 attendees, which grew to more than 2,300 in its second year. In 2012, the festival moved to Five Points Park, where attendance nearly doubled. HMF would grow to include film, as well as dance and performance art components. Following steady growth, HMF relocated to its current location at J.D. Hamel Park in 2018.