Shannon Fortner has been busy.
The founder and executive director of the Harvey Milk Festival, the annual celebration recognizing LGBTQ artists, musicians and creatives, always works hard to get the annual event off the ground.
But this year has been even more challenging. Fortner and her staff have coordinated a rebrand for the festival — it's now officially known as the Fabulous Arts Foundation. This year's lineup of events started Sept. 23 and runs through Oct. 2.
The end goal is expansion. In addition to putting on the Fabulous Independent Film Festival, the plans are to host a drag queen festival in Sarasota in December 2022. Fortner said they're also planning to launch a capital campaign for a LGBTQ performing arts and community center.
This year's festival marks a return to in-person events, though several of the shows and programs are available virtually. The opening night party on Sept. 23 had attendees wearing "Queer Utopia" costumes that reflected their idea of a more inclusive parallel universe. The festival hosted a dance show at the Players Studio the day after.
The heat couldn't beat the music and arts festival held in the Rosemary District on Sept. 25.
The festival's lineup of artists started early in the afternoon and played into the night. Attendees kept cool in the shade by checking out artistic creations from several vendors during the day and afternoon.
Fortner was particularly proud of the diversity in the lineup, which included LGBTQ bands as well a trans singer.
"It's important for us," Fortner said. "There's such an energy when you're at the music festival … when like-minded folks arrive and it's just a good vibe."
The music show was hosted by New York-based drag queen Selma Nilla, who Fortner said was a good way to start planting the seeds of the eventual drag festival in Sarasota.
Fortner herself went on stage later in the night to perform with her band, MeteorEYES. The night concluded with a set from headliner MoonKissed.
Fabulous Arts Foundation events will continue through Oct. 2, but the work in many ways is just getting started for Fortner. She has more to do to set up for the 2022 events, but nothing excites her more.
"It's probably the most work I've ever done in my life," Fortner said. "But I'm so passionate about being able to create a safe space and have young folks in the community feel they have that visibility."