The Isolation Artists

As Summer Approaches, Can Streaming Festivals Fill the Arts Void?

Two ambitious events kick off in the next week.

By Stefan Milne April 22, 2020

Something like a stage. 

In the last month or so we have witnessed the return of something I’d figured long since gone: the telethon. Maybe you were one of the billion or so who tuned in this weekend to One World: Together at Home and saw Elton John play to an audience of basketballs. Or maybe you dropped an edible and dropped in for Willie Nelson’s Come and Toke It on Monday.

Virtual concerts, as I wrote a few weeks ago, come with an extra emotional accent currently, but for me the novelty has quickly faded, even as their role—part artistic outlet, part fundraiser—remains important. Normally we’d be preparing for music festivals, but Northwest Folklife Festival and Capitol Hill Block Party have been canceled. Is streaming, for the time being, a viable placeholder? In the next week, two local organizations will find out, presenting increasingly ambitious streaming events.

“I think people are already feeling burnt out on all these virtual shows,” says Ricky Graboski, executive director of the Vera Project. So when the nonprofit, all-ages music venue started planning a benefit for the city’s DIY music spaces, it tried to shake up the model at least a little. Live From Our Living Rooms, which Vera presents with Artist Home, starts at 7pm on April 24 and runs for three hours, featuring prerecorded work from musicians like Jeff Rosenstock, Kimya Dawson, Sol, SassyBlack, and Lisa Prank. There’ll also be animation from Clyde Petersen, workshops on things like screen printing, and virtual tours of the DIY venues. “It’s almost like a Muppet Show setup,” Graboski says. “Like a DIY, punk Muppet Show.” 

The goal is to raise $25,000 through donations for 25 DIY venues in the Pacific Northwest, including Seattle spots like Black Lodge, Push/Pull, and Greenwood Collective. Vera’s staff quickly found that many involved with those spaces weren’t eligible for the local and federal funding that has cropped up as relief. 

Those venues are vital rungs in the venue ladder—spots where new bands cut their teeth. They’re also more pragmatic to help through crowdfunding than the major venues, like Neumos and the Showbox, that recently formed a coalition seeking government aid. Vera settled on $25,000 as a starting goal because of the 25 venues. “That's not to say we can literally save every single one with $1,000 each,” Graboski says. “But honestly, it’s a lot closer to that than we expected.” 

Five days later, an even more ambitious event kicks off: the Capitol Hill Arts District Streaming Festival. It runs from April 29 to May 3, with hour-and-a-half programming blocks from 12 Capitol Hill organizations such as Hugo House, Washington Ensemble Theatre, and Photographic Center Northwest. The schedule hasn’t been completed quite yet. But Vivian Hua—the executive director of Northwest Film Forum, which is presenting the festival through its streaming platform—is especially excited about work from BeautyBoiz. The LGBTQ production company will show drag films that are as dynamic as music videos, Hua says.

Is there concern about exhausting people’s interest in streaming festivals? I asked Hua. Perhaps, she says, but that hasn’t been NWFF’s experience so far. “I feel like people are still excited about festivals. Maybe long term it’s going to be a problem.” So far, the move to online has been a small boon for NWFF. Last week the theater did Cadence, a video poetry festival. It streamed an architecture and design festival before that. In part because the online format means non-local viewers, Hua says “both of those, ironically, brought in way more people than they did both previous years.” All NWFF’s online festivals are on a sliding price scale ($0–$150 for the Capitol Hill festival), but Hua says most who’ve watched online have paid for the content. The response has been so positive that streaming options are, even after gathering restrictions lift, “absolutely gonna be our trajectory for the future.”  

Live From Our Living Rooms
Apr 24, Donations Encouraged 

Capitol Hill Arts District Streaming Festival
Apr 29–May 3, $0–$150

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