Harvey Milk Festival's Exhibition Unites Art with Activism

Arts & Culture


Tomorrow marks the opening of Attention Please, the Harvey Milk Festival’s art exhibition hosted at Ligon Fine Art on Lemon Avenue. This year’s exhibition blends in-person and virtual showings to feature artists from a variety of disciplines, including poetry, painting, textile and performance. The identities of these artists are composed of complex intersections of gender, sexual orientation and race, and their work explores the way these demographics have endured, overcome and continue to fight against the biases and injustices of a society still working towards greater acceptance.

“First of all, I think we’re a little late in the process of advocating for the BIPOC community,” says Angela Ligon, owner and operator of Ligon Fine Art. As a socially progressive person, Ligon is humble enough to admit that the spirit of her progressive views has not always translated into action. But she has taken this particular moment in the nation’s history to walk the talk and become a more fervent ally. “I’ve become so much more aware of my privilege,” says Ligon, “I never had to wake up thinking about what I’m going to wear or how I’m going to carry myself the way that these artists do.” She says that level of self-reflection was inspired by the stories and art of the exhibition’s artists.

Ligon says it’s a pleasant and illuminating divergence in both aesthetics and messaging for her gallery. While all of the artists she represents create works capable of evoking emotional responses in the viewer, many do so in a more abstract way rather than with the explicit force of the Attention Please artists. “The work of these younger generations is more thought-provoking, culturally stimulating, more willing to question societal norms,” says Ligon, “it’s all very mission oriented.” From bold renderings of black and brown bodies on canvas to poetry that explores the unique challenges of growing up Black in a predominately white society, the art aims to inspire change on both the micro and macro level.

For the Festival’s founder Shannon Fortner, that’s exactly the point. “For a lot of the artists, activism is a big part of their work and their lives,” says Fortner, “so it aligned perfectly with our theme this year of amplifying LGBTQ+ and BIPOC voices.” By providing a platform for visibility, Fortner hopes the beauty and energy of the work can make the region a safer space for the historically disenfranchised populations represented in the exhibition. “All of the artists are advocating for free expression,” says Ligon, “and it has been so enlightening for me; I hope visitors feel the same way.”

In-person viewing is free, but (free) tickets are needed to ensure social distancing can be maintained in the gallery. Some art will be shown at the gallery while other works will be available through the virtual gallery on the Harvey Milk Festival’s website. A live stream will begin tomorrow at 7 pm from the Festival’s Facebook page and website.

Ligon Fine Art, 20 N Lemon Avenue, Sarasota, 832-361-0308. Photo courtesy of Bianca Russell, one of the artists represented at the exhibition.

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