Art is a form of protest at the Dyke March

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      The first Pride was a riot. And although increasing social acceptance of queerness has allowed Pride to transform from riot to parade, until all LGBTQIA+ people can live openly, without fear, there is still a need for protest.

      That’s where the Dyke March comes in.

      Established 19 years ago, the Vancouver Dyke March takes place on the first Saturday of August. Participants are invited to march up Commercial Drive to Grandview Park, where a veritable festival awaits them. With vendors, food trucks, and musical and drag performances, the festival is an open expression of queer identity and joy, reminding us how far we’ve come—even as the march remains a statement of how far we have yet to go. 

      This year, the Dyke March is spotlighting visual arts by creating an open-air art gallery full of pieces from LGTBQIA+ artists.

      “We’re calling it Artist Alley to hearken to the concept of artist-owned space,” explains Kat Ferneyhough, Vancouver Dyke March organizer and the co-owner of Mayne Island’s EnVision Gallery. “Rather than it being a high-end, cold gallery for the elite, everyone is welcome to be an artist and witness art.” 

      For Ferneyhough, an exciting prospect of the Dyke March’s Artist Alley is the opportunity for artists to present their work without going through a traditional gallery—which, she says, takes a 60 per cent cut because of their high overheads. “We’re taking marginalized people and lifting them up—giving them opportunities that the regular gallery market cannot provide.”

      The Dyke March’s gallery will be a tented zone with the works presented on temporary walls, creating a cool and shady space for festival-goers to appreciate each piece. Some of the creators featured in Artist Alley will also have vendor stalls, and all art on display will be available for purchase.

      Instead of being a static space, Artist Alley is an opportunity for connection, as Ferneyhough explains: “When you get artists from all walks of life encountering each other’s work and each other, magical things happen. That’s when communities really take off.”

      Art—both visual and performance—has always been a powerful, unifying element of the Dyke March.

      “We’ve always had art flowing throughout the event,” says Danniele Livengood, another Dyke March organizer, explaining that the day begins as participants create banners to be carried at the front of the crowd. “Everyone gets to add a piece of themselves: some people put their initials or something that means something to them. And we keep those as a piece of art history.”

      As Livengood reveals, it was the pandemic that really prompted the Dyke March to spotlight visual art in particular: “In 2020 we weren’t able to run our event, so we created a zine and we had all kinds of things in there, like recipes, beautiful pieces of art, and speciality swag.” Organizers then created care packages, which they sold online and hand-delivered locally—“that way, people could celebrate their Dyke Marches remotely.”

      By 2021, the Dyke March could once again happen in-person, albeit in a reduced capacity. Unable to provide stage entertainment, the organizers created an event they called Dykes Taking Space, in which artists were commissioned to do live paintings for “a socially distanced art experience.”

      This provided Livengood with inspiration about how they could move forward: “I can’t tell you what a beautiful scene it was that day. People taking space, in protest, in celebration, without the glitz and glamour. That was such a special experience that we wanted to bring the visual arts into every year.” The live paintings commissioned for 2021 will be featured in the 2023 Artist Alley.

      With no corporate involvement, the Dyke March is still a political movement at its core—and in a year that has already seen a “whiplash of hatred,” as Livengood calls it, we need a Pride protest now more than ever. But the celebratory, artistic elements of the Dyke March do not detract from its activism; rather, they are part of it.

      “Expression is what we do when we protest,” Ferneyhough says. “Protest is expression and art is expression. They are all intertwined. It is another language with which we speak.”

      For Livengood, Pride is itself a form of art. “It’s a very deliberate curating of identity,” she says. “It’s basically all performance art: being out, being seen, and being public. It goes hand-in-hand with artistic expression.” 

      In a world full of violent oppression, the mere act of expressing queer identity andqueer joy is a radical protest against those who seek to quiet it. 

      “We are taking the voices that have been minimized for centuries,” says Ferneyhough, “and giving them a space that is all of ours.”

      Vancouver Dyke March and Festival

      When: August 5

      Where: Banner painting begins at 11am at McSpadden Park; march begins at 12pm and will proceed from McSpadden up Commercial Drive to Grandview Park

      Instagram: @vancouverdykemarch