Qinfolk festival

A community reading provided by poet Hana Shafi at Buffalo Street Books as part of the Qinfolk Festival this past weekend. 

The inaugural Qinfolk Festival, held this past weekend at several venues around downtown Ithaca, isn’t looking to be the typical film or book festival. 

First, it boasts far more facets than any one topic or medium; the festival contains a multitude of discussion topics, types of events and venues. 

Second, and most importantly, its aim is to promote and champion the work of queer and transgender people of color, as well as provide a rare space for them to connect with each other and discuss issues inside and outside of their community. 

Event founder and organizer Candace Edwards said that, as a queer person of color herself, she found herself having to travel to New York City constantly in order to find events or platforms dedicated to that community. Knowing that Ithaca had a similar community that certainly could use more outlets for their art, Edwards began to reach out to people in that community in the area. They reported the same sentiments: why were they having to travel hours, spending plenty of money, in order to find those types of events?

“On one of my trips [to New York City], I was thinking ‘Why do I need to travel so far to get these important and community-based events that center on queer and trans people of color?’” Edwards said. “I was thinking that Ithaca would be a perfect place to hold a space like that for people with these multiple identities. I looked around to see if something like that existed already and I wasn’t privy to it, but I didn’t think that space really existed.”

Thus, Qinfolk Festival was born, led by Edwards with a team of site managers and over 20 volunteers chipping in to help conduct the festival on Saturday, Oct. 5. To their delight, Edwards said they had over 100 attendees between the workshops, short film festival, readings, panel discussions and the keynote event at Ithaca High School. Beyond that, Edwards said they had over 20 presenters, artists and filmmakers who identified as queer or trans people of color, highlighted by parts of the event like the short film festival, which curated work solely from that group. 

“Of course, there were folks who traveled from the city as well,” Edwards said. “But it was definitely an event for upstate, queer and trans people of color who are looking for that kind of community.”

Edwards said all the feedback she has heard from the event so far has been positive, particularly from attendees who are from Ithaca and had long wanted to see an event of this nature actually in the community instead of some far-off metropolitan area, where they would be more common. Of course, the event’s success has led people to ask Edwards, even just in the few days since it took place, if she plans on holding another Qinfolk Festival next year. Edwards wouldn’t commit to anything, but said her only real concern is that any future Qinfolk events stick to the goal of this first festival. 

Those goals, Edwards said, were generally accomplished. When imagining the festival, Edwards said she wanted it to be a “build your own adventure” experience for people in attendance, which factored into her decision to intentionally have events at different venues around the city, with help from those venues in the form of staff and programming assistance in Buffalo Street Books, Cinemapolis, the History Center of Tompkins County, the Community School of Music and Arts and Ithaca High School. That way, attendees could customize their own path through Qinfolk, likely able to participate in every event without missing something, if that’s what they wanted to do. 

Edwards credited the host venues with “buying in” to her and other organizers’ vision for Qinfolk, as the community did as well. As mentioned above, reception has been so positive that while Edwards is going to take a few days to rest, she feels confident that in some form or another, Qinfolk has laid the foundation for similar events to take place and succeed. 

“The only thing I feel bound to with Qinfolk is centering and uplifting queer and trans people of color, and our voices and our stories,” Edwards said. “So I don’t feel bound to having a festival in the same format, it just needs to center the community. So in that sense, I definitely think that we will continue. It might not look the same, but that’s not an issue to me, that’s what makes something like this exciting.”

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