2018 was a rollercoaster for young queer women. We quit our jobs, came out to our family, broke up with our partner who we were on the verge of moving in with and marrying, and relocated to a new city—and that was just the Spring. Recently single, publicly out, and jobless, we hoped to see art, make art, and find community. And we did! We went to shows and openings, we met new people, we kept our ears to the ground about what was out there in this brave new city that’s actually twenty cities with roads that don’t make any sense. As we close out and reflect on this eventful year, what were the best, most interesting, useful, or impactful of these art-adjacent ways we spent our time? Here’s my Top 10 of 2018—coincidentally, my Top 10 to watch out for in 2019.
Not a queer woman? It’s okay! Most of these aren’t queer-specific, and for the ones that are: queer artists need the support of our cishet friends, allies, and advocates! (We go to your events; come to ours!)
10. Free visits to see contemporary art at established institutions
Seeing the works of popular and emerging living artists and those of the recent past is a) really enjoyable and b) helps hone your craft and contextualize your work. Yet museum visits can get a little pricey, especially for a millennial who just moved to a new city. While I knew about the ICA’s free Thursday nights (with that waterfront view, it makes a great date night idea), after moving here I learned about two lesser-known venues that are always free: 1) the galleries at the School of the Museum of Fine Art (SMFA), the studio art school recently acquired by Tufts—I’d highlight their free artist talks from their visiting artist series—and 2) the MIT List Visual Arts Center.
9. Smoke & Shadows monthly burlesque and variety shows at The Rockwell
Boston has a robust burlesque scene, from the annual hit The Slutcracker to weekly shows at the Oberon. For those of us from small rural villages who’ve had to repress our sexuality for years, even the word “burlesque” itself sounds intimidating. Smoke & Shadows is a monthly variety show that served as my wonderful, welcoming entry into this community. Supplemented with comedy, live music, and sometimes drag, from local, national, and international artists, this variety show has a lil somethin’ for everyone. It’s also a little cheaper than a lot of burlesque shows around here, making dipping your toes into the scene or even attending monthly a little more budget-friendly.
8. The Cauldron meet-up at HausWitch
The Cauldron is an initiative for women and feminine-identifying people of all genders started by Kate McBride, Carlie Bristow Febo, and Mary Taylor to form an empowering, feminist space with food, discussion, and bonding. While I’ve yet to sign up for one of their monthly dinners, I made it out to a meet-up at HausWitch in Salem. Wherever you encounter them, whether in the physical world or via their magical Instagram presence (@thecauldronboston), the Cauldron community is a) a fun good time, b) revitalizing, c) full of creative people to network with, collaborate with, and, often, discover the artwork of, and, d) a perfect place to commingle with the bats and learn just the spell you need to smooth over life’s rough edges.
7. Work-study shifts at The Dance Complex
The Dance Complex, located in Cambridge’s Central Sq., isn’t just a building. It’s a site of community, and the energy is palpable when you step inside. Host to drop-in dance and movement classes, performances from local and visiting artists, and studio space you can rent out for rehearsals, it’s a dream come true for a girl who just wants to dance (that’s me). To top it off, the Executive Director, Peter DiMuro, is a proud member of the queer community! I encountered this space because of their work-study program, which offers free classes or studio space in exchange for working the front desk, interfacing with the community. [Disclaimer: I love The Dance Complex so much, I got a part-time job there.]
6. Queer Femme Folk Fest at Aeronaut Brewing Co.
Queer femme folk music just might be my love language. Music is vital, and spaces for queer femmes to play and be highlighted are far too few. Enter the Queer Femme Folk Fest, put on last May by Weird Folk Fest (@weirdfolkfest on Instagram and Facebook). I went there alone, without knowing anyone, to enjoy folk music and support fellow queer femmes—and I left with the start of my community of friends. I’m hoping this festival will recur next year, but while I wait I’d like to give a shoutout to the shows at Atwood’s Tavern, a cozy bar that has recently hosted two of my favorite local queer-fronted bands, Alec Hutson and Anjimile.
5. Boston Art Review (BAR) Issue Two Launch Party at Best Bees
BAR (Insta: @bostonartreview) is a volunteer-run publication filling a noticeable gap in the Boston art environment. The BAR Issue Two launch party provided an opportunity to meet featured artists, magazine staff, and have a general get together of Boston’s art community. BAR also knows how to throw a party—there were what seemed like several hundred people enjoying the late summer air and the food, drink, and company BAR brought together. And there were bees! The venue was seriously hip and I hope to see more events happen at Best Bees.
4. The Boston Art Book Fair at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA)
I have a thing for art books and book artists, the details of which I should probably leave for @_personals_. The Boston Art Book Fair at the BCA last October was a big, fantastic room full of art books and book artists. While there were some big presses and established artists, there were also a ton of independent zine makers, small art collectives, local arts magazines, and emerging poets. I stayed there for most of the day, looking at art, reading, chatting with the artists, attending insightful panel discussions and workshops, and resisting the urge to buy everything. Sidenote: the BCA is also host to Pride Lights, an annual celebration of queer art each June.
3. Space One Two One’s Frankie Symonds’ “Carbonated Projections” Viewing
Space One Two One (SOTO) is an apartment-based gallery curated by the inspiring Rory Fitzgerald Bledsoe. Featuring underrepresented artists, and often site-specific works, SOTO is an opportunity for solo shows that explore the depth and complexity of a body of work in a way not often given to artists of marginalized identities. SOTO isn’t just a testament to local minority artists—it’s also an expression of the art of Bledsoe’s curation, a rare opportunity to see local queer work curated by a local queer artist with a keen eye for art in a personal-is-political world.
While you can arrange to see exhibits by messaging @spaceonetwoone on Instagram, I recommend going for the openings if you can, a chance to meet with the other people drawn to this gallery and the artists themselves. This summer’s Frankie Symond exhibition also featured a showing of their film “Carbonated Projections,” a fantastic film containing critical commentary on queer culture.
2. Events at Spaceus: “I Hate Wednesdays” Movie Series and Ally Schmaling’s Post-Photoshoot Open Mic
Spaceus is part art store, co-working space, gallery, and event space. From zine-making workshops to album releases, art crit sessions to holiday parties, Spaceus and their members put on a constant stream of (free!) events (following @spaceus.co is a great way to get regular updates)!
My favorite was the “I Hate Wednesdays” movie series curated by Lauren Klotzman, which at times felt like a queer feminist Mystery Science Theatre 3000. The films were often strange and thought-provoking selections from the Criterion Collection that I may never have encountered were it not for this series, but what really kept me coming back week after week were the collection of dedicated movie-goers and random walk-ins joining us each time.
Spaceus was also home to the most powerful queer art event I’ve been to this year, an open mic facilitated by queer-portrait photographer Ally Schmaling in conjunction with their photoshoot supporting the Boston Alliance of LGBTQ+ Youth (BAGLY). Featuring an array of incredibly talented queer musicians, writers, and drag performers, with a focus on trans and non-binary artists, the night was incredibly vulnerable, raw, and open. The energy, solidarity, and living community was so palpable, it’ll have a warmly prominent place in my memory for a long while to come.
1. Allston Living Room Read (ALRR) poetry series
ALRR takes the number one spot for three reasons: 1) quality, 2) value, and 3) community. Another apartment-based art initiative, ALRR is organized by poet Julia Lattimer. The monthly series has consistently great artists whose beautiful words blow me away, moving me through a breadth of emotions. Lattimer gathers a strong, diverse group of queer artists, who are often trans/non-binary or polysexual, with a variety of marginalized lived experiences informing their poetry; readers range from students and local community poets to recognized names like Torrin A. Greathouse and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize-winner Romeo Oriogun. The audience, supportive and energized, fills the room—often overflowing into the hall—and Lattimer builds space for genuine connection and conversation among attendees before and after the reading. For a priceless experience, Lattimer only asks for a $5 donation—to pay the poets for their labor, a rarity I appreciate supporting. Follow ALRR on Insta @allstonlivroomread for future readings!