Interview: Festival of the Beautiful

Lauren talks to Eric Schnell of Galveston Artist Residency about the launch of Festival of the Beautiful, a fresh take on Mardi Gras to be held on Saturday, February 18th. Join us as we ditch the plastic beads and corporate sponsors and reimagine Carnival festivities with our neighbors. The event is an open collaboration between Galveston Artist Residency, Galveston Arts Center, the National Hotel Artist Lofts. Art: Dan Schmahl

Lauren: What inspired Festival of the Beautiful?

Eric: Living in Galveston, it seems like there is always a festival coming around the corner, but something always seems missing. For a couple of years, I was really struck by the idea of a festival that is about mindfulness and generosity, free of profit-driven ideas and open to personal visions of what is beautiful.

The first thought was something like, “What if instead of bored people throwing plastic beads someone walked up to you and handed you a small hand-carved wooden sculpture that they had made with great affection, and then they walked off without saying anything or expecting anything in return?”

The event begins at Galveston Artist Residency at 6pm on Saturday, February 18th. What happens from there?

We are asking people to make and wear some sort of costume, but it should not be a big deal. It should be fun and no stress and inexpensive. We will walk to the National Hotel Artist Lofts to meet that crew and the Galveston Arts Center crew; we then will meander back to GAR, gathering a few revelers along the way. As soon as we get back, there will be a concert by Studded Left and Vockah Redu! If the true spirit of Mardi Gras gets unleashed at some point that night, that would be magic.

What was it about Studded Left and Vockah Redu that seemed like the perfect fit for this event?

Studded Left used to be known as Indian Jewelry and they played our first ever live music art event in the GAR back courtyard. There was this electro- shamanic- pagan- strobelight- drumbeat thing happening that night, it was really great, and I wanted them to come back and bring that energy to the Festival of the Beautiful. Tex Kerschen of Studded Left thought Vockah Redu was a perfect fit and reached out to him. I can’t wait ‘til the 18th!

How did the partnership of Galveston Artist Residency, Galveston Arts Center, and the National Hotel Artist Lofts happen?

It’s really important to me that this is a collaborative project. The Festival of the Beautiful should not belong to anyone, it should strive to be ego-less as much as possible.

Talking with Dennis Nance and Becky Major, I could tell that they totally were like-minded. They were both like, “Hell yeah, let’s do it!” I feel super lucky to live in Galveston, where strange utopian ideas are pretty normal and quickly embraced.

In lieu of beads, Festival of the Beautiful encourages a handmade gift (or gifts) for a friend or a stranger. Was the environment a consideration there, given that millions of pounds of plastic beads are imported each year?

Yes, we don’t need any more of those plastic beads!

What are some examples of homemade gifts that you have heard about so far?

I have been making necklaces from mostly broken seashells or other objects found on the beach, they are pretty goofy! Dennis Nance told me someone is writing poems to hand out. That is so perfect and thoughtful.

There are also rumors of handmade streamers and magnetic electro-fireflies, sounds like it’s getting interesting! It can be anything really, as long as it’s made or repurposed with affection. The gesture of giving something personal is what counts.

I read that Mardi Gras beads are made by teenage girls in China at extremely low wages. That probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to hear, and yet it’s the last thing you’re thinking about during a street party. Do you think we have a responsibility to be more aware in the year 2017?

Yes! We are so busy these days, anything that can slow us down and help us see our impact on each other is a good thing.

Houston's Studded Left (formerly Indian Jewelry) will be performing after the parade returns to GAR. Photo: Studded Left

Where did the idea of burning a few objects at the end of the festival come from? I’ve read about burning effigies as both a protest act and as an old European tradition to hasten the arrival of Spring.

I love rituals and throwing something into the fire is all about cleaning out the old baggage so you can start fresh. But there is also this idea that if people from these different groups or organizations each offer a part of themselves to the fire, in the ash we will be mixed thoroughly, we become one. This is a magic bond.

Any word on what those objects will be—or symbolize—at this point?

The object for the fire could be personal and may keep its secrets.

Today in Europe, they sometimes create satirical floats that feature enormous caricatures of politicians. Do you think that would go over well in the United States?

I hope so! Maybe for next year we could all team up to make an overtly political float and really kick some ass.

Do you feel like the art community has fallen out of touch with major cultural traditions like Mardi Gras and other holidays? To put it in another way, does it seem like mass-made trinkets have displaced artists to some degree?

Yes, it’s hard to feel connected with a cultural tradition if you don’t feel like it represents your values! But that’s why we can start new traditions that allow everyone to express their creative side, not just artists. Or maybe in the beautiful future we are all artists.

Festival of the Beautiful:

2/18 at Galveston Artist Residency

Begin at GAR or GAC at 6pm and proceed to the National Hotel Artist Lofts. The procession then returns to GAR for live music by Studded Left and Vockah Redu in the back courtyard. Atendees should wear festive attire and bring a handmade gift to give to a friend or stranger during the event.

Studded Left:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

Vockah Redu:

Reverb Nation | Facebook | Twitter

New Orleans-based bounce rapper Vockah Redu will join Studded Left for a live music performance. Photo: Vockah Redu