EFFE Laureate - Gender Bender International Festival
Often a festival is begun in order to draw attention to a place and then chooses an art form or theme to show it off. It is rare, however, for a theme to come first and then have a festival started to develop it. That is the case, though, with Gender Bender. The LGBT community in Bologna have had a public office and venue for more than thirty years but at the beginning of this century it was decided that there would be a great deal more understanding throughout the city and beyond if there was a festival to show the excellence of the arts that the community internationally was producing.
“When we started fifteen years ago,” says artistic director Daniele Del Pozzo, “the word 'gender' was very specific – it implied 'studies' – but now there is a much wider topical and cultural agenda because gender identities are always changing. We want to show how contemporary artists represent these identities.” The atmosphere has changed too so that now it is easier to have a celebration rather than being polemical. “For young people it’s an open debate – we can help people have an easier approach. OK, we are produced by a gay and LBGT centre but the festival is something that is open to everyone; we have to make a much wider audience understand if we are to reach our goal.”
Daniele finds his audience research figures unexpected and surprising but very positive. “60% are female and 40% are heterosexual. Artists are very surprised because it is not an exclusive audience.” He thinks that is because, “we pick artistic quality first. We use beauty as the medium and that seduces, attracts you so that you are more open.”
That is partly also a function of Bologna itself, always one of Italy's most radical yet sophisticated cities. Its huge student and post-studies population means that it is always renewing itself. Bologna loves good shops, good eating and good conversation. When I lived there (as a post student writer) in the mid-1970s it was always said that the Bolognese idea of communism was that everybody should be able to afford the best restaurants.
Daniele says that, although it has its bourgeois side, Bologna is still radical and he is pleased to be part of that. “The composition of our audience is very mixed – you don't automatically know their orientation. We were founded to have a public role, to serve all citizens, not just those in the LGBT community. You could say we are guided by the phrase, 'also but not only'.”
By Simon Mundy for EFA