NOT wanting to get any cooler is usually not a sentiment you’d associate with an arts and cultural festival, but given its name, Brisbane’s MELT is looking to achieve quite the opposite.
Back for its sophomore year and showing no signs of losing any momentum from its debut in 2015, MELT — Brisbane Powerhouse’s foray into the world of queer art — continues to set its hopes as high as the city’s summer temperatures.
“The idea that we, Midsumma and Mardi Gras all had with the creation and timing of MELT was that artists could travel between all three cities with a continuous tour, which travelling artists know is much cheaper and easier,” Gardnir told the Star Observer.
“There are a few shows in MELT this year that are doing that circuit so it’s really nice to see the journey the tour circuit of queer artists grow and be supported in those three major cities.”
It is that sense of fostering support for LGBTI artists that is of particular interest to Gardnir.
“I like to think of MELT as an arts festival that’s full of gays rather than a gay arts festival,” he said.
“There are some artists in the festival this year who haven’t made ‘gay’ shows before but they are gay themselves, working at the top levels in Australia and we’ve got them here. That’s tremendously exciting.
“I’d love to create an avenue for queer artists for the future of their work that doesn’t just have to be confined to ‘queer’ festivals. We’ve tried to cater for queer artists that want to share their work that may not necessarily be queer-focused or have any specific content pertaining to being gay.”
Anticipating that some may see this as an attempt to “straight-wash” the LGBTI festival, Gardnir said there was no downplaying of queer subject matter at MELT.
“It’s not a denial and it’s not some form of reverse homophobia, it’s more like seeing gay artists as professional artists who happen to be gay, and we’re going to support that,” he said.
“Artists that have defined their work or identity through their sexuality, and whose sexuality comes first or is equal to their art, are of course encouraged at MELT, we would never dissuade that.
“We just think there needs to be a space for any queer artist to present their work in whichever form it takes.”
Reflecting on last year’s success, the makeup of the festival’s audience came as a pleasant surprise to Gardnir.
“One thing we learnt from last year is that straight audiences absolutely love MELT,” he said.
“We didn’t survey people who came or anything like that cause that would just be weird and awkward, it was just a certain feeling that we got from observing the crowd and our people on the ground. That was a really exciting thing for us to discover.”
The other of Gardnir’s hopes for MELT is to become a community-driven event and not just something for the art circles.
“One of the ideas I’m really keen to see expand with MELT is large participation events with things like the picnic or beauty pageant or the visual arts prize,” Gardnir said.
“I want the community to see that anyone can be apart of something like MELT and its success is dependant on the community.
“I’ve kind of termed MELT this year as an invitation and a celebration. The theme is ‘Join the Party’… It’s an invitation to members of the queer community already wherever they are and whatever they identify as, and to the straight and ally community.
“Then the celebration part is marking what the queer community has achieved, what’s happening, what’s still to happen and more; to celebrate how far we’ve come in a joyous, happy and creative way.”
Building on that desire for queer artists to take their work beyond that of the LGBTI arts and cultural festival scene, Gardnir sees a move into the mainstream on the horizon.
“One of the goals of MELT is an attempt to build on the coming of age for our community and I think it’s on the current generation to do that,” Gardnir said.
“The generations in front of us who fought the cops on Oxford St, survived an epidemic and came out the other end with incredible medical advances, and those who used to have their names published for being gay.
“It’s our generation’s responsibility to push the community forward again into professional and more mainstream realms, and with MELT, instead of just being this funny little queer festival that runs for two weeks a year, we’ve got to see ourselves as esteemed, serious and fully fledged members of any industry.
“It’s about being welcomed into the mainstream and ranking amongst the top names out there but not at the sacrifice of our identity and what has made us stand out so much from the rest of society.”
MELT: A celebration of queer arts and culture 2016 runs from February 3 to 14 at the Brisbane Powerhouse, New Farm.
For full details and tickets, click here