‘Midwest Queeritivities’ goes beyond the rainbow

Artists and curators invite an open conversation about being queer in the Midwest

%22Hands%2C%22+by+Melissa+Wilkinson%2C+is+one+of+the+pieces+displayed+in+the+gallery.+Wilkinson+used+watercolor+on+paper+to+create+the+image.+

Photo by Melissa Wilkinson

"Hands," by Melissa Wilkinson, is one of the pieces displayed in the gallery. Wilkinson used watercolor on paper to create the image.

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“Midwest Queeritivities,” an exhibit at UW-Eau Claire’s Ruth Foster Gallery, is an invitation for viewers to experience how artists express and discuss queer culture in the Midwest. The gallery’s doors will open at 10 a.m. on Friday. 

The idea of creating an exhibit about queer culture in the Midwest originally came from Cedar Marie, an assistant professor in the art and design department and project coordinator of “Midwest Queeritivities.”  

“It was a very fluid process, and there was a lot of conversation to narrow it down and find students who would be interested in collaborating with us,” Marie said.

The original concept of the exhibit was hatched back in January, 2019, and at first was very broad. Together with Stephanie Turner, co-curator and professor in English department, Marie conceptualized what they wanted to create. 

 “The concept of being queer itself is a hard-to-pin-down idea, the core of it being that it doesn’t go with the Midwest, that Midwest to us seems bland and homogeneous, with limited world view, conservative. Queer is questioning all of those assumptions.” Turner said.

 The curating process of “Midwest Queeritivities” involved collaborating with students from both the art and design and english department, reaching out to various art and writing organizations for submissions and putting together artwork to create a shared narrative.

 “We need to see all ranges of people — black, white, old, young — within the queer community. With this exhibit we are trying to display as much diversity as we can,” Turner said. “It is important that we create a safe space for people to express different gender and sexual identities. I’m excited about the conversation and the direction it’s headed.”

 It was a learning experience for the involved students as well. Kristina Tlusty, a graphic communications student, participated in the process alongside Adam Yarish, a critical studies and literature student, and Sarah Ferraro, an art student. They communicated with artists and selected artwork from Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.

 However, before putting out any artwork Yarish and the other student co-curators wanted to see if there was any significant documentation of queer culture in Eau Claire historically.

 “Taking the trip to the archives was very eye-opening for all of us to see that there is very little information about the queer culture in this area over the past 50 years. Now here on campus, there is a thriving LGBTQ community and to us it is important to document and tell that story through artwork,” Yarish said. “This is the first exhibit in the Foster Gallery that is specifically geared towards queer art. It is long overdue that we start prioritizing minority experiences.”

The lack of queer presence in the archives also indicated that it was not a topic discussed in an academic setting. Marie pointed out how the situation has changed over time.

 “Years ago we didn’t have these conversations in a classroom, but now students are more open about these topics. I can be myself in the classroom and my students can be who they are,” Marie said.

 The curators of “Midwest Queeritivities” hope to clearly communicate that there is a queer presence in the Midwest now more than ever.

 “We want people to engage in the narratives and think about how one contributes to queer culture in the Midwest. It is an opportunity to learn about it directly from queer artists and recognize it is present around us,” Tlusty said.

 Marie, Turner and the student co-curators were not alone in the process. The exhibit received financial support from the art and design, music and English departments, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council and the Informalist.

 “Midwest Queeritivities” will be open to the public from Feb. 14 to March 11 at UW-Eau Claire’s Ruth Foster Gallery. 

There are several upcoming events at the gallery. Free Garbage, a band, will perform live from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 20. There will be a queer panel called “What’s Sex (Gender, Race, Place, Love) Got to Do with It?” with Jeff Morin, William Chambers, Jonathan Rylander and Andy Adams from 10 a.m. to noon on Feb. 28. Jackie Buttafuoco and Jonathan Rylander will host a live reading and open mic from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on March 5. 

The opening reception will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 27.

Kļaviņa can be reached at [email protected]