Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the location of Michelle Tea's appearance. She will speak at the Lawrence Arts Center.
For the first time in its history, the Free State Festival will be accessible to University students during the fall semester.
The Lawrence Arts Center’s seventh annual festival of music, film, visual art and ideas starts this Monday, Sept. 17, and will continue through Sept. 23. It typically takes place in August, but founder and director Marlo Angell said she wanted this year’s event to be available to a younger audience.
“We really wanted to engage our universities, so the University of Kansas and Haskell, because they've been involved with the festival for years,” Angell said. “So we decided to make the move and really try to see if that will attract a younger audience.”
It’s a big change from a year ago, as Angell said it was uncertain the festival would happen at all in the face of budget cuts. The programming mostly included film to save money, and the festival was temporarily renamed the “Free State Film Festival.” But “Film” has officially been dropped from the title, and the festival is interdisciplinary once again thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant even allowed the Lawrence Arts Center to make a significant portion of the lineup free to attend.
Fewer films will be a part of the festival’s programming this year, but attendees will still be able to experience a full week of film, comedy, music and plenty of ideas.
The 2018 festival will kick off Monday night with Cheech Marin, the comedian, actor and activist behind half of the iconic comedy duo Cheech and Chong. Marin will spend an evening discussing his expansive collection of Chicano art.
“[Marin] is really what the festival is: he's an interdisciplinary artist,” Angell said. “Somebody that you might think of as an actor, but really he's this passionate art collector and has this incredible collection of Chicano art, and his whole mission is making it so that the country acknowledges that Chicano art is American art.”
Art and activism is the theme of this year’s Free State Festival. The lineup of art and artists include the film “BlacKkKlansman," a film about a black police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan;” “Mankiller,” and “Warrior Women,” two documentaries about two Native American women activists; and a talk by University professor Laura Kirk, who recently authored a book about women screenwriters in the era of silent film. Angell said each piece of this year’s festival was selected to promote discussion of political and social issues.
“We really looked at what spoke to our audiences, and we're a very active community,” Angell said. “Sometimes you're feeling powerless; you feel like you don't have a voice, so being able to experience a film and talk about it with your community is really important to us.”
Ron Stallworth, the real-life inspiration behind “BlacKkKlansman," visited Lawrence for the Department of Film and Media Studies’ annual kickoff event, Film Rally.
In addition to moving the start date, Angell said she and the other organizers looked into creating an immersive experience to attract students. They decided to “eventize” certain film screenings to give them an “irreplaceable, unique feeling.” For example, a tequila tasting at Genovese Restaurant will follow the screening of “Agave: Spirit of a Nation,” a documentary about the spirit’s tradition and current trendiness.
In its sixth year, Free State Festival has become a mainstay in Lawrence's arts community. The festival began as a independent film festival but eventually grew into what we know it as today.
Other highlights of the festival include an appearance by memoirist and fiction writer Michelle Tea. Tea will appear at The Lawrence Arts Center in conjunction with The Raven Book Store and The Commons on Sept. 20 to talk about her frequent literary work with LGBTQ issues.
Tea was invited to be a part of this year’s festival by Emily Ryan, director of The Commons at the University. The Commons is also sponsoring Red Hot Research, a regular feature of The Commons’ programming that will also be featured in the 2018 Free State Festival. Ryan said The Commons’ mission to bring artists together across disciplines — arts, science and humanities — overlaps with that of the Free State Festival.
“Michelle Tea as a writer, scholar, arts advocate — she’s a great example of how to turn research and, in her case, expertise in creative writing, how to turn that into a palatable or accessible format that people can understand,” Ryan said. “And with Red Hot Research, that's a good way for us to demonstrate a way that research is fun to engage with and fun to experience and not intimidating necessarily.”
A full schedule of Free State Festival events can be found here.
—Edited by Nichola McDowell