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Celebrating Women, Power and Community

Off the Cuff with Riverwest FemFest’s Olivia Doyle and Mary Joy Hickey

Jan. 10, 2017
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Music, spoken word, comedy, performing arts and burlesque are among the art forms showcased at Riverwest FemFest to celebrate women, femmes and feminine-identifying groups. The festival returns for a third year, running Jan. 18-22 at a half-dozen venues in the Riverwest neighborhood. Funds raised will benefit the Milwaukee Women’s Center, Pathfinders and the Coalition for Justice. Off the Cuff spoke with founder Olivia Doyle and co-organizer Mary Joy Hickey.

What made you guys want to join forces in the beginning to make the fest happen?

O.D.: I was freshly moved to Milwaukee from Chicago and my boyfriend was in school, and I wasn’t, and I wasn’t really meeting anyone. I was getting really depressed—like I didn’t know what I was doing here. I didn’t feel like I was doing anything and then I started going to house shows and met Mary and other friends and it was just like, “Wow, all of these women are so expressive!” and it was like, “I can do those things, too.”… Originally, FemFest was just supposed to be a show in my basement but my roommate Scott Cary, who was in Dinny Bulca, said, “No, this is a really good idea and you should make it a fest—it should be two days”… We ended up having 14 bands at Cocoon Room and then two bands at the after-party, which was at the Public House. That’s how it all kind of got started.

It was very overwhelming for me last year. The amount of support was just so overwhelming—so, so overwhelming. It was like happy tears consistently the whole weekend.

Why do you think it is so important to start grassroot organizations?

M.J.H.: I think it is about creating an authentic space. I mean, there are a ton of organizations out there where companies are trying to latch onto the concept of female empowerment but their message on how you can achieve female empowerment is usually tinged by some sort of capitalist concept. Like if you can sell something to other people to get your self-esteem that way. I don’t believe the authenticity of that message because it’s just damaged by the money that is motivating it. FemFest is just about people showing up to be themselves. It’s not about what you wear or what makeup you have or if you’re thin or you’re fat or whatever!

For the full lineup at FemFest visit rwfemfest.com

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