Celebrate Bisexuality Day happens every year on September 23, but on a calendar awash in days of recognition, Toronto-based visual artist Catherine Jones wanted a more memorable way to help connect and affirm the experiences of her community, one she felt was too often misrepresented and brushed aside.
“Being bisexual is particularly challenging; there are so many stereotypes. Straight people think you’re “dabbling” or “experimenting” with same-sex relationships, and gay and lesbian people think you are just “not quite out yet” and are really gay,” said Jones. “The Bi Arts Festival was born out of a desire to mark Celebrate Bisexuality Day in a really visible way, and in a way that created space for the larger bi+ community to come together.”
The three-day festival organized by an informal collective of artists featured screenings of films from Europe, New York and Canada, with a particular focus on Black and Indigenous storytelling, a showcase for poets and authors, two art shows, a one-woman play, a pop-up market and the launch of the festival zine CRUSH. “It gave bisexual artists and community members a place to be seen and heard in the fullness of their experience,” said Jones. “The importance of that cannot be understated.”
And the bi+ community responded in a major way, with most events at capacity. “Interest from the community was huge,” said Jones, “and in feedback, we heard from folks how meaningful it was to have events that spoke specifically to their experiences as bisexuals.”
The challenges of organizing such a wide-ranging event were compounded by the difficulties of securing funding for a first-time project. Community One Foundation’s Rainbow Grants program saw the festival’s potential for positive community impact and selected them as a 2017 General Grant recipient.
“Since it was our first year and our work unproven, we had a hard time getting funding,” said Jones. “Seed money from the Rainbow Grant let us book accessible space, print posters and flyers promoting our events, pay a small fee to our authors and filmmakers for showing their work, and hire ASL interpreters for our author showcase.”
General Grants are for groups and individuals without registered charitable status who have a community-building project on the LGBTTIQQ2S spectrum. These grants have funded small but important projects for decades, thanks to the generosity of Community One donors. Many groups that received General Grants in the past have gone on to gain registered charity status.
With the 2018 Bi Arts Festival set to run in Toronto September 18-23, the celebration is on its way to becoming an annual event.
“There are so few media representations of bisexuality, there’s really a great space for artists to step in and tell the stories of our actual lives,” said Jones. “For many bisexuals, there are rich, intersectional stories of what it means to be both bisexual, Black and non-binary, to be asexual, biromantic and disabled, and more. We provide a forum for those stories to be told.”