INQUIRE: SD Holman Talks Queer Arts Festival + Beyond

Murray Patterson Marketing Group – April 25, 2018
The sun was shining and the view of the city was spectacular as we sat perched on the tailgate of SD Holman’s truck on the rooftop of the Chinatown building that is home to the new Pride In Art Society office and SUM Gallery (which will open for its inaugural exhibition next month). Holman, Artistic Director of the above plus the Queer Arts Festival, is a passionate and impactful MPMG client and we are thrilled to share SD’s insights and musings.

Queer Arts Festival is one of the top three LGBTQ festivals in the world. What are QAF’s differentiating qualities when compared to other LGBTQ festivals in this distinguished list?

That’s a tricky question. I don’t want to do a compare and contrast. Queer art spaces are limited and contingent worldwide, we are all doing really great work, and I’m glad for everyone that exists.

One thing that distinguishes us is the curated visual art exhibition—something that few festivals have, and which is our signature program.

I would say our longevity, as we head into our 10th Anniversary, is a differentiating quality. Some on that ‘Top 5 Queer Arts Festivals in the World’ list sadly aren’t functioning anymore. The New York festival that was featured lasted only a couple of years. I’ve had a difficult time finding much info on the Singapore one. I am looking forward to going to the other two on the list, Melbourne and San Francisco, which is the first and longest-running.

What is the importance of creating spaces dedicated to the queer community within the arts? and/or spaces dedicated to the arts within the queer community?

Our program is to create space for the things that are hard to do as queers in the art world, as well as hard to do as artists in the queer world. To paraphrase Jonathan D. Katz, North America has reached a place where we have carved out a space for queers in entertainment, but not, if you’ll pardon the term, in high art.

In art, although we’ve come a long way, there’s still homogenizing. I recently read an article about how the galleries representing Félix González-Torres have totally sanitized him. They don’t mention his partner, they don’t mention AIDS or HIV, and that’s what his work is about.

Some people say ‘well, why does this person’s sexuality have anything to do with their art?’ But of course it does—who you are informs your work. The arts are honeycombed with homosexuals. Throughout history, many of the great masters were “that way.” What would happen if the sexualities of Michelangelo and Leonardo and Caravaggio et al. were not left out anymore when they are taught in the schools? We might see less hatred and less bullying if we all grew up knowing how many of the people we admire are queers.

It’s the naming of it. There is this polite silence—queer artists are welcome, so long as we don’t flaunt it. At the Queer Arts Festival, the work itself doesn’t have to be identity based, but it’s identified as queer art. It’s not stripped of that. We get a lot of artists telling us how much they appreciate being in a festival where they can be completely themselves, and they can just do the work without having to be concerned about it being perceived as too queer.

All that said, you see why we’ve kept our name the way it is, but it comes with challenges. Creating a dedicated space for queer art, we can find ourselves fighting for legitimacy and recognition. Folks have misconceptions and a narrow view of what queer art is and can be.

How does your experience as an artist inform your work as an Artistic Director and your role as a leader?

Well, I don’t call myself a leader. You know that Bif Naked song? ‘I’m no leader, don’t wanna be your leader…”

I did this because I hadn’t found a place for myself in the art world here, so I wanted to create that space for other artists. I’m not trained as an administrator. It has all been learning on the job.

As an artist, I don’t want to think about the commodification of the art. I want to think about whether it’s interesting, important, challenging, connected. That is what informs my decisions as an artistic director.

I wish everybody went to art school — not only artists, but lawyers, doctors politicians, everyone. Art is the first step to revolution. You learn to look at the world in a consciously critical way through art.

You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you are ‘learning disabled’ and that becoming an administrator was somewhat challenging. What advice do you have for others who may not have confidence in their abilities to take on such roles?

Know that you’re in good company. Albert Einstein was learning disabled as well as so many illustrious folks.

Remember that you have superpowers. Realize that if you’re learning differently, you have a different perspective. That’s valuable.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” My favourite Samuel Beckett quote. Don’t be afraid to fail. Be a loser, embrace that, make it into an art. Read ‘The Guerrilla Girls’ Guide to Behaving Badly.’ Don’t watch the video, read it. Read ‘Art Objects’ by Jeanette Winterson, my favourite book right now, it will give you courage.

Finally, surround yourself with smart people who believe in you. You only really need one person if they truly believe in you. I found that in my late wife Catherine.

With the 10th anniversary of the Queer Arts Festival approaching, what is one thing you’ve learned as Artistic Director and what do you hope to achieve for the festival over the next ten years?

I couldn’t possibly choose one thing. I’ve learned so much.

I’ve learned to not give up. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Keep your heart open to what’s possible, even through rejection.

I’ve learned how important it is to look to history and consider who decides what marks are worth noting. We have to do this kind of palimpsest un-layering, because our histories are erased over and over, but they are there. We must continue to uncover, expose, write anew, as it keeps getting erased—resistance is important too, not because it changes anything but because it keeps us human.

In the next ten years, what do I hope achieve? Save the world of course. To have our work survive and thrive, as living well is the best revenge. I hope to continue making and presenting work that is meaningful and transformative

Our Gallery SUM has just opened, the only dedicated queer gallery and presentation space in Canada and one of very few in the world, so working and nurturing that. I hope to do some travelling to other festivals, and expand our research and connections. We have some exciting plans to connect queer presenters around the world to a greater extent.

Anything else you’d like to share with MPMG readers?

Come to the festival. Dare to be challenged. Risk being changed. You’ll like it.

Queer Arts Festival: DECADEnce
June 16 – 28

SUM Gallery Inaugural Exhibition
Karin Lee: QueerSUM 心
May 12 – August 18