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Boston student arts organization Lavanda to host first-ever pride festival

Lavanda, an LGBTQ+ music and arts organization started by Berklee College of Music students, will host its first-ever pride festival, Camp Fest, on June 28 at the Parkman Backstand in Boston Common.

Lavanda aims to support Boston’s queer community by offering a safe space for free expression and supporting LGBTQ+ arts, according to a press release. The festival is free to attend and will feature local queer talent and intimate community bonding.

Lavanda logo. Lavanda is an LGBTQ+ music and arts organization started by Berklee College of Music students, and it will host a pride festival called Camp Fest on June 28 in Boston Common. COURTESY OF LAVANDA

Emma Whitney, a senior at Berklee, founded Lavanda last fall after she and her former drag band, The Funcles, had a “really negative experience” at a few venues. 

“I’ve noticed how many queer spaces are focused on substances, and I’ve heard so many stories of LGBT spaces that are focused around alcohol having really sketchy and bad things happen,” Whitney said.  “To create a safe space, you have to be able to bring your whole self to it.” 

Unlike many pride events, Camp Fest will be substance-free, making it less “adult-centered,” said Shea Dewan, a junior at Berklee and member of Lavanda’s content creation team. 

Dewan said substance-focused events don’t “feel the safest” to her as a younger person. She said she hopes Lavanda’s pride festival makes people who are under 21, sober or curious about being sober “feel more at ease and in place.”

Whitney said the vision she had for the festival was based on the idea of a “big gay summer camp.” 

Camp Fest will feature performances by local LGBTQ+ artists and products from LGBTQ+-owned vendors, including upcycled clothing, prints, pottery and jewelry, according to the press release. Attendees will also have access to crafting kits, coloring pages and mocktails.  

Colleen Rhatigan, a senior at Berklee and another member of Lavanda’s content creation team, said she had attended a previous festival where vendors were mostly informational.

“What sets us apart is we’re specifically focused on artists, and so our vendors are all artists, people selling things that they’ve made,” Rhatigan said.

The performance lineup includes local student artists Chrysalis, Lauren Jean, Christian Inman, S and R, Good Judgment and Kühlname. Kris McCarthy, a senior at Berklee and member of Lavanda’s executive board, will also perform music they wrote this past year. 

By inviting college students to perform, Lavanda provides up-and-coming queer artists with the opportunity to showcase their talents and gain performance experience, said Grace Harkey, a senior at Berklee and talent buyer for Lavanda.

As a brand new organization founded by full-time students, Lavanda struggled to access sponsorships for the festival, Harkey said. 

To raise money, Lavanda held a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo and organized creative solutions to fundraise, such as selling crochet items, custom coloring pages and friendship bracelets, Whitney said. 

Besides raising money, Lavanda has also struggled with gaining respect from the Boston community, Whitney said. She said she thinks as an organization primarily composed of young, feminine-presenting and queer individuals, Lavanda often isn’t viewed seriously by their “cis male counterparts.” 

“A lot of people think we’re just doing a cute, little, fun gay thing, but we are working so much and so hard to make this happen,” Whitney said.

Whitney said she hopes Camp Fest creates “more traction” for vendors, artists and Lavanda itself. 

Harkey said since Boston Common is such a public space, many people are likely to come across Lavanda’s festival.

“We really want people to know that we’re here,” Harkey said. 

Despite the challenges, Whitney said Camp Fest marks the beginning of many more events from Lavanda. She said she and the team are hoping to host another pride festival next year. They have ideas for future events including open-mic nights, music workshops, craft circles and galleries. 

“[Lavanda is] really about celebrating intimate, platonic relationships,” Whitney said. “It’s about hanging out with your friends and loving your queer family that you’ve made.”

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