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New 'Femmestival' at Garver celebrates food, art and empowerment

New 'Femmestival' at Garver celebrates food, art and empowerment

A new culinary arts festival highlighting the work of women, femmes and non-binary entrepreneurs is coming to Madison’s east side. Femmestival, a midwinter celebration of food and art, is set to take over the main event space in the renovated Garver Feed Mill on Sunday, Feb. 23.

The event is a co-production of Garver Events and Madison’s Culinary Ladies Collective (CLC). Proceeds will benefit both CLC and Centro Hispano.

It plans to be family-friendly, affordable — food tickets will cost $5 each — and accessible for attendees and vendors alike. There will be no entrance fee and no vendor fee, thanks to sponsors like Madison Gas & Electric and Garver itself. 

The name “Femmestival” started as an inside joke, but the goal is serious: to empower women, femmes and non-binary folks in the culinary industry, to carve out a space for their work and break down barriers to their success.

“People are feeling more empowered to be themselves, to carve out spaces for themselves,” said Francesca Hong, co-owner of Morris Ramen and a leader among the Culinary Ladies.

Hong wants the festival to be a jumping-off point for “someone who’s starting out or who is thinking of starting a food business but is nervous about how it will be received.

“They can do this one year and then down the road, maybe we see them pop up at a brick-and-mortar, or we see them doing their own online business,” she said.

“Collaboration is what is going to sustain us,” Hong added. “Keeping an entrepreneurial spirit with a community focus in mind, and working alongside other industries.”

The Femmestival application period is open until Friday, Jan. 17 for artists and food producers, but space is limited. Organizers want to keep participation to 10 art vendors, 20 food vendors and three (paid) installation artists this year, so as to better link visual artists and food artisans who want to collaborate. DJ Femme Noir has signed on to provide music.

Femmestival co-organizer Bethany Jurewicz, exhibition and events manager at the James Watrous Gallery, has coordinated many food and arts events locally over the past few years.

Jurewicz orchestrated pop-up collaborative chef/artist dinners with Arts + Literature Laboratory, planned Centro Hispano’s “Evening of Dreaming” in 2017, and marshaled the art for two years of Makeshift Festival (2017-2018) with Madison Parks. (Find out more about her philosophy on this episode of The Corner Table, Cap Times’ food podcast.)

While organizers do hope to grow Femmestival every year, they don’t want the event to get too big, too quickly. Makeshift, Jurewicz said, was “almost too big” to have the kind of artist/cook collaboration she likes best — like an Latina artist screen printing images on tamales, one idea in the works for Femmestival.

With too many vendors, “it’s hard to do a collaboration,” Jurewicz said. “That’s part of the reason we are, at least for this year, capping it at 20 and 10, so we can have conversations with people.”

Potential food items could include banh mi sandwiches, various kinds of sweets and, as mentioned, tamales. Starting on Monday, Jan. 20, at 9 a.m., Femmestival food tickets will be for sale via an app called ticketleap.

This is all part of putting vendors and their needs first. Collecting money this way, instead of at individual booths, means the CLC can handle permitting fees.

“Food and artists have a lot of the same barriers,” she said. “So much of it is not recognizing the accessibility of events to vendors, and the communication to vendors. Organizers have to seek out people who don’t necessarily want to be found, but could benefit from an event like this.”

The Culinary Ladies Collective formed in 2017 as a way for women and femme chefs, cooks, bakers, restaurant owners and culinary entrepreneurs to support each other. It hosts an annual “Cookie Grab” bake sale to benefit Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, coming once again this year in time for Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14.

Jurewicz expects 2,500 to 3,000 attendees at Femmestival. Yet she and Hong won’t be surprised if they hear from detractors, people who feel left out or who don’t understand the systemic inequities they’re trying to address.

“I know this festival is going to make some folks uncomfortable,” Hong said. “I hope Madison looks at itself as a place where it’s OK to be uncomfortable.

“You have to be uncomfortable to be able to take the steps to be a progressive, inclusive, diverse community that embraces how we’re growing.”

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