SD Holman QAF 2021

Closing Speech

Thank you for joining us to close Queer Arts Festival 2021 Dispersed:  it’s not easy being green. I’m SD Holman; my nickname is Sid, and my true name (for Earthsea fans) is Shaira – and just like my pronouns, I don’t have a preference. My people came to this continent a century ago as Jews fleeing the Pogroms of Eastern Europe. I’m grateful for the comparative safety I have here on Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh land, but I’m acutely aware we stand on occupied territory. In this time of reckoning, I again extend my deepest condolences to the residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors, including those who stand among us today as artists, board, staff, & guests. I hold my hands up to you for the enormous personal cost you bear as the rest of us struggle to reconcile ourselves with what we knew but did not want to know.

We have had a Magical Festival, and I want to give a huge thank you to my tight-knit staff for your trust in jumping off the learning cliff with me to make our first Dispersed and hybrid festival such a marvellous success. Please give Hearty Applause to my incredible staff team: General Manager Lalia Fraser, Production Manager Mark Carter, Programs and Curatorial Coordinator Ben Siegl, 2Spirit Programmer and Art Auntie Shane Sable, Operations Manager Mirim Jang, Communications Coordinator Tanya Commisso, Designer Odette Hidalgo, Graeme Boyd Digital Marketing, Events Coordinator Vince Bacarac, Administrative Assistant Clara Sismondo and my Associate Artistic Director, CS “Fergie” Fergusson-Vaux!

They work harder than you know, and I think it is tough to follow me on what might be described as Toad’s Wild Ride. Thank you! I can say you have been the best team I have had since co-founding the Pride in Art society16 years ago!

Thank you to my Board of Directors for your support: Bobbi Kozinuk, Bruce Munro Wright, Issaku Inami, Ladan Sahraei, Orene Askew (who is also spinning tonight as the amazing and talented DJ O Show) Rodney Sharman, Scott Watson, and Valérie d. Walker. You have also been the best board I’ve had in my time here.

To my visual arts co-curator this year, Jeffery McNeil-Seymour, it has been an honour and a privilege to curate the visual art show with you. Thank you!

My heartfelt thanks to our ASL interpreters, donors, sponsors and funders, and fabulous Volunteers. We  really could not do this without you. A few folks that are here with us tonight get special thanks for your longtime support: Trigger Segal, owner of our beer sponsor Off the Rail; donors Ken Gracie and Philip Waddell; and multimedia titan Paul Wong, my bromance, for opening so many doors and hearts and minds to us.

I stand here tonight with a complex mix of emotions to tell you I’m taking my leave as Artistic and Executive Director of Pride in Art. 

Whew, this is long. But you know, it has been 14 years as AD… so please bear with me.

I never wanted to be an Artistic Director. I have been a participating artist with  the Pride in Art annual visual art show since it’s inception in 1998 and co-founded our incorporation as a non-profit in 2006, but when the board asked me to be our first Festival Director in 2008, I said no. I’m an artist, not an administrator, plus I’m dyslexic, learning ‘disabled.’ They pointed out I’d been doing the job already for over a year and insisted I damn well step down from the board and get paid if we could make that happen.

Now, after 14 years as AD, I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved. When I joined the Pride in Art collective in 2006, and we needed money, each of us pulled $20 from our pockets. From the beginning, I sought to remedy that: to make it professional and curated, pay fees and salaries, and look at us now, funded by all levels of government, with International support, and employing a staff of 13. I’ve incited dozens of artistic milestones, no, Triumphs! Notably: Jonathan D. Katz’s Drama Queer curation; the 25th-anniversary reunion of the notorious Kiss & Tell collective; Jeremy Dutcher’s first full-length Vancouver concert; UnSettled, the world’s first entirely Two-Spirit-curated festival; the commissioning and world premiere of When the Sun Comes Out by Leslie Uyeda and Rachel Rose, Canada’s first lesbian opera (going to the Portland Opera for its US premiere in January); and co-producing the multi-award-winning world premiere of Lesley Ewen’s play Camera Obscura (hungry ghosts), a fantastical reimagining of Paul Wong’s early career. And Then, we established SUM art gallery three years ago, one of the only permanent spaces dedicated to presenting queer art worldwide!

We’ve also become a publisher with four exhibition catalogues released and two more in the wings. These include plates of all the art in the curated exhibitions and historic articles by the curators and artists. The catalogues are especially important to me because books travel, finding their way to those who need queer art in places and times far from here. If you don’t yet have all of these Historical documents, please head over to concession or to the QAF and SUM websites and complete your collection: Drama Queer curated by Jonathan D. Katz,  and hot off the press: UnSettled curated by Adrian Stimson, DECADEnce curated by Valérie D. Walker, and Time Lapse: a Geoff McMurchy Retrospective, curated by Persimmon Blackbridge, Yuri Arajs and me. Not a lot of folks have seen these last ones yet; they were specially made during COVID to get ART into the hands of people who could not get out themselves. Head over to to get them mailed to your home. 

I never wanted to be a leader. I was an artist, looking for a place for queer art and artists. I couldn’t find that place, so I built it (with help from so many others). And, my friends, we have changed the face of the art world. Queer art and artists are more valued and respected than seemed possible when I started. With SUM gallery, we run Canada’s only queer-mandated gallery at this time, and one of only 3 in the world that I know of. The Queer Arts Festival is now recognized as one of the top 2 festivals of its kind worldwide.

But all of this has come at a cost. To meet basic living expenses, I drew every month for over a decade from the small settlement I received after my wife Catherine died in a plane crash. It seemed fitting: Catherine was QAF’s first cash donor, she believed in art, and she especially believed in me. As time went on, I grew to rely on this work to survive her loss. Building The Pride in Art Society, Queer Arts Festival and SUM gallery has literally taken blood, sweat, and tears. 

I’m grateful to have connected with so many artists and art lovers through Pride in Art—thank you for your passion, your imagination, your courage, I have learned so much from you. I am indebted to those on whose shoulders we stand—a special shoutout to the folks who helped build the early days: Robbie Hong, Jeff Gibson, Kathy Atkins, and Rachel Iwaasa as co-founder of the festival. None of this could have happened without her, she is the best living human I know. We have come a long way baby since we wrote those incorporation documents in my Backyard 16 years ago! And there are so many others I could not even begin to name Them all.

I tip my hat to the queer-run art organizations around the world, including all those who perished through gentrification or exhaustion or both – I salute you! And I too am tired, bone-tired, tired like I could never have dreamed. I’ve supported well over 2000 artists through Pride in Art, and now it’s time to return to my own studio, my own art. 

I won’t disappear entirely. I have been asked to remain available for mentorship and organizational history, as well as work on the catalogues. I’ll see through Artistic Direction of the visual art exhibition Disappearing Act curated by Adwait Singh at QAF 2022 and subsequently touring to Montreal and South Asia; and I’ll be curator for The Queer Art of Failure visual art exhibition at QAF 2023. You’ll still see me around.

Life is short and art is long – or as the Guerrilla Girls say, its not a sprint, it’s a marathon. This work is a relay, and it’s time to pass the torch. 

We have searched hard for many years to find the right person, the right fit, to leave you in good hands, and I think we have.

So now, I am delighted to introduce to you the incoming Artistic Director of Pride in Art: Dr. Mark Takeshi McGregor. 

Many of you know Mark already: he’s been part of the Queer Arts Family of artists since 2006, and has performed and exhibited with us many times since. A gay, Japanese-Australian-Canadian flute player of international renown and a Doctor of Musical Arts, Mark also has a growing reputation as a painter. Mark co-founded Redshift New Music in 2004, which is still going strong as one of BC’s top contemporary music presenters and recording labels. He went on to become Artistic Director of the Powell Street Festival of Japanese-Canadian culture. Mark’s curatorial acumen is an excellent fit for Pride in Art: imaginative, conceptual, transdisciplinary, with a terrific record of diverse programming along many intersectional currents. 

I wish every good fortune to Mark, and to all those who come after us. As QAF and SUM grow and evolve, my hope is for the organization to stay Avant-Garde and Contemporary, while keeping our histories alive. Art changes people, and people change the world. 

So without further ado, I give you Pride in Art’s next Artistic Director, Mark Takeshi McGregor. Announced on Friday the 13th of August, joining the team September 7 and taking the reins October 1, 2021.

Keep Loving, keep fighting.

SD Holman

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