Friday, October 1, 2010

PrideFest Organizers say Downtown Move Drew Out a Larger Crowd

Listen to the full audio here.

Photos by Ashley Angel

Last Saturday, downtown Richmond’s Kanawa Plaza played host to PrideFest 2010. No doubt a colorful occasion with a rainbow column made of balloons at the entrance, a big rainbow flag banner, upbeat music bumping in the background, and all kinds of people expressing themselves through fashion. The event was organized by the VA Pride Board, setting aside the last weekend in September for Richmond to embrace differences and celebrate individuality.

PrideFest has been happening in Richmond for over thirty years but on a much smaller scale. The Gay Community Center of Richmond opened up its doors as a venue in years past, proving to be a suitable setting at the time. This year, the VA Pride Board decided to relocate to a public park to encourage more attendance through visibility and accessibility.

Amy Lockett, VA Pride Board Chairmen and Director of Development said they ran into a few snags along the way including finding a location, funding, and breaking down after the event but for the most part everything came together naturally.

“We’ve been working on it for eight months, probably thousands of hours of work between everybody, and it all came to fruition last Saturday, and it seemed like everybody really had a good time," said Lockett. "I’m impressed with the way the community pulled together to give what they could, it was just a very hard year to make a big move.”

Lockett said it was the enormous amount of genuine volunteer involvement that made the event possible.

“The Gay Community Center of Richmond was right on board financially and with supplies for us this year,” she said.

Lockett said they had actually tried to organize a street fest this year but plans fell through the and the VA Pride board decided to go with Kanawa Plaza. She explained how the moving the event to a public space made it easier to approach sponsors who hadn’t signed on in the past years.

“We were able to tie in a lot of sponsors this year, and that’s something where we’ve tied in sponsors in previous years but this year we --- really aimed at that," Lockett said. "We were able to get nationwide for example, Capital One, Bank of America, a lot of national sponsors this year.”

Lockett credited the VA Pride board as being the driving force behind getting all of the components together.

“We have a very committed board, it’s a working board, we don’t get paid, it’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of passion and commitment,” she said.

Although PrideFest is billed as a festival, beyond acting as a celebration for the GLBT community, Lockett wanted to promote awareness and equality by enabling the citizens of Richmond to view the event as more than just a big gay party.

GAY RVA, Richmond’s news, entertainment, and nightlife website, was the media sponsor of PrideFest this year. Kevin Clay, Founder and Editor of GAY RVA said the event was a success.

“We had such a great attendance, this helps the community as a whole move forward, which creates more awareness, celebrating the city's diversity,” he said.

Clay said that by reporting entirely online, GAY RVA is able to give a bigger picture of what’s going on. He explained how GAY RVA was able to promote awareness while sponsoring the more festive elements of Pride Fest.

“We had that photo booth, my team was out there welcoming people to pride, really being able to bring them back to the website so there can be more conversation and engagement on GAY RVA on issues that effect our community,” Clay said.

The festival began at two in the afternoon and ran until eight before continuing on in true celebratory fashion with a slew of after parties at Richmond area nightlife hot spots. Free transportation was provided by the To The Bottom and Back bus, which ran as “The Pride Bus” for the entirety of the day

Jim Porter, founder of To the Bottom and Back, explains what makes the free bus service that travels through Richmond an ideal resource for non-profit event organizers.

“We’re a great way to move people back and forth from events, if you’re an event organizer it shows you have some concern of crowds moving back and forth, and making sure that people have the option of being responsible,” Porter said.

He said people were just happy to be out having a good time and secure in knowing they had a safe way to get around.

“I met of really nice people, a lot of families out there, we moved a lot of children around, everybody overall was really nice,” and “whether is was morning or evening, you know the crowds, they get heavier at night, but it’s the same energy, it’s the same type of people that enjoy going out and being responsible,” he said.

Porter’s bus ran down Cary and up Main along his ordinary route while accommodating pride attendees. He said there was a lot of interaction between strangers.

“They were able to move back and forth between the route that we ran between the bars, that did the bar crawl, and our regular route and people got to meet everybody and intertwine, and talk back and forth, it was very enjoyable.”

Porter’s bus along with a new location and new sponsors amplified the Gay Pride Fest this year, continuing a tradition that has been a part of Richmond for more than three decades.

/Sarah Freiseis

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