Kathleen Hanna, feminist icon and founder of punk riot grrrl bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, made it her mission while touring to make sure that women got to be in the front her audiences. It was a way to create a safe space for women in a male dominated subculture, typically known for its aggression and violence. It’s an opportunity to bring women to the front and share their experiences and their art.
Hudson Valley-based group CelebrateWomxn845 shares a similar message and expanded upon it by making efforts to put women, femme and non-binary people at the forefront of arts in the region. They held an open mic event on Thursday, March 5 at local restaurant McFoxlin’s with that mission in mind.
CelebrateWomxn845 was founded in 2018 by Jamie Sanin, a 2014 SUNY New Paltz alumna with a Bachelor’s in visual arts. CelebrateWomxn845 originally started out as a one-off art show, but the one-time event grew into an organization as Sanin began to receive very encouraging feedback.
“When I first organized the first event, that was hosted by Celebrate … I wasn’t thinking super long term, but then people were like ‘What is this? There should be more! What’s next?’” Sanin said.
“[The organization] kind of grew by itself. I was like ok, so I’ll make it a thing. It grew really organically, and I think that’s because there was maybe a need, and that’s not to say that there aren’t women-friendly collectives or organizations, but I think that [this is] through a more contemporary lens,” Sanin said. “When I say contemporary lens, I mean, where do femme folks fit in? Where do non-binary folks fit in?”
There was live music, poetry readings, and even some stand-up at McFoxlin’s that evening. While the event itself was focused on supporting women, femme and non-binary people, they could come up and perform whatever they want on the mic. The first two acts were from local singer-songwriters show-casing their vocal and guitar playing talent, warming up the restaurant with their music.
The poetry was wide and varied. One person recited her amusing escapades in New Paltz after dark, hopping bars and going from apartment to apartment. Another delivered poems that were dark, somber critiques on misogyny and Christian fundamentalism. A third poet talked about the anxieties and stresses of her day to day life.
The final act of the evening was some brief stand-up/spoken word by a non-binary individual, detailing their experiences before and after coming to New Paltz, and throwing out suggestions for things people to do while in the area.
Chloe Cannon, another New Paltz alumna, was one of the performers that sang and played guitar that evening. She works as a voice actor, audiobook narrator and as a musician with multi-instrumental talent. Cannon started playing at a young age and learned how to play piano, guitar and bass among other instruments.
“I became aware of CelebrateWomxn845 through mutual friends, local artists and social media,” Cannon said. “Jamie is a great friend of mine and I have performed in almost all of her open mics, but this was the first event I have headlined.”
The ultimate aim for these open mic nights is to provide a space for women and non-binary people to have their time in the limelight.
“CelebrateWomxn845’s open mics provide a much needed safe and diverse space for more varied gender,” Cannon said. “The environment is also so supportive and engaging that artists who otherwise would not feel safe or comfortable sharing their work feel more eager to share here. I cannot express enough how invaluable that is to the community.”
“People feel really free to take up space [during open mics], especially cis men feel a lot more free to take up space in those environments. Women, femme folks and nonbinary folks, maybe they don’t feel as safe to take up that type of space in that type of environment,” Sanin said. “There’s just been something really special about, well anybody can come, but here’s who holds the mic. And they’re really magical, and everyone is supportive of one another.”
CelebrateWomxn845 will be hosting other open mic nights and art events through this month and the next. More information can be found at celebratewomxn845.com/upcoming.