MOTHERSHIP is an inclusive women’s festival and retreat that will take place over three days in October in Coachella Valley, California. The festival was founded in 2015 by Laura Wise, a therapist, activist, and experiential artist who is passionate about creating unique safe spaces for women and members of the LGBTQ community. This year, MOTHERSHIP has partnered with the Tegan and Sara Foundation and will give a percentage of its proceeds to the organization. Programming includes panel discussions, affordable tattoos, workshops, meditation, and more. It also features two days of live music from a lineup that includes Madame Gandhi, FAARROW, WASI, and LP Giobbi. I had the opportunity to chat with Laura about why she began MOTHERSHIP and what can be expected from the experience.
Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and how you came into producing MOTHERSHIP?
Sure, I am a therapist with a background in psychology. When I was in graduate school, I learned a lot about community psychology and went on to specialize in LGBTQ affirmative psychology. What I learned during that time was that people who are connected with other people in their minority group do better overall; community connection alleviates a lot of the symptoms and stressors caused by oppression. And that got me thinking about safe spaces, what exists and what doesn’t. I got really excited about the idea of creating a women’s festival fit for 2017, one that was trans inclusive and put women at the forefront — that’s why I created MOTHERSHIP. MOTHERSHIP began as a one-night festival in Los Angeles in 2015. We had one evening of music, tarot, zines and dancing. It was doing really well so we added in workshops outside of the main festival event that included public speaking, yoga with 90s music by women, just fun random workshops (some free) that felt fresh and empowering. The event completely sold out as well as all of the workshops. That’s when I knew that there was a need for something like this in the L.A. area. I decided to expand the event and take it out to the desert. That’s how MOTHERSHIP became a destination event. I realized a campout, multi-day format amplified bonding within our community and gave us more time to have lots of events and workshops as well as two nights of kickass musical lineups.
This is MOTHERSHIP’s second year as an overnight camping experience in the desert of Southern California. Each year we choose a different nonprofit to partner with and this year we’re working with the Tegan and Sara foundation whose mission is to amplify the voices and empower LGBTQ women and girls. The twins will also be at the festival doing an interactive panel event on women in music and empowerment within the music industry.
Producing a festival like this is a lot of work. Do you have people helping you or are you leading this alone?
Yeah, we now have a small team of eight women who have special skills and assist with various things. Our event is still very volunteer driven. Someone mentioned to me the other day is that they didn’t feel and us vs. them divide as a participant. That made me happy because it is a core value of staff and volunteers to build community and solidarity in the MOTHERSHIP community, not a hierarchy.
That’s awesome! In terms of programming, what do you have lined up and what can people expect from the experience?
All of our days are filled with programming from sunrise to sunset. Around sunset on Friday and Saturday night we have full set of live music by women-identified musicians. And our headliners this year include Madam Gandhi and WASI.
I organized this festival in an effort to create a space where any person can find something interesting for them. One thing that I’ve noticed in a lot of women’s events in particular is that they often have just one focus like yoga and spirituality, for example. I wanted this festival to be more active and reflective of the fact that women are multi-layered and well-rounded humans. We have such a broad spectrum of interests and the programming is reflective of that — there are many activations such as meditative yoga, BDSM and sexual pleasure workshops, drum circles, musical outlets, and arts, crafts, and lots of glitter.
I want the festival to feel empowering. Women can step into their power in this space, but also get a bit of a break because all of our values align. We all agree that Trump is fucked up and that the things happening right now are not OK. I hope that we can relax a little bit together in this space and explore it in a way that feels like we’re on the same team while allowing room to have fun.
I like that you make it clear on your website that you’re trans inclusive, it’s really important.
Absolutely, priority number one. I identify as a lesbian and have encountered a clash with the older generation of lesbians who think that trans people should be excluded from certain spaces. I feel really strongly that diversity is an asset and that our spaces can only benefit from a diverse group of women. It was very important to me that this was a clear core value of our festival.
One of the reasons that I originally created MOTHERSHIP was because I felt there was a lack of some of the political energy in L.A. that resonates in New York or San Francisco. I wanted to bring that same feminist energy here which would obviously be trans inclusive and intersectional. I feel that things are changing quickly and people are learning a lot faster now and are becoming better allies. It’s an exciting time for for me to be in L.A. and see the people around me really getting excited about this stuff too.
Do you have any advice for someone looking to organize an event or festival of this nature and bring their community together?
My advice is that you should try a variety of things that meet multiple needs for people. I think this event is an example of that in the sense that it’s a fun vacation. It’s a place for people to hear really cool music or explore interests that they’ve never explored before, but it’s also a place for people who are going to come talk about important issues and leave motivated and connected to new people in a way that might help get some things done around activism in the future.
Producing a festival like this is of course very expensive. Everything is funded by sponsors and ticket sales. We are just starting to see major growth and are not in a place where we will even dream of making a large profit. Particularly because we always want to involve and support a non-profit charity. It’s my passion project. I’m hoping eventually that it will bring a tiny profit so that I can make this a larger part of my work and continue to grow the festival. We are still very grassroots, but the response we are getting is amazing, I can’t wait to see where this goes.
How many people are you expecting?
We’re expecting about 600-800 people this year. Last year we had 400 and that was just the first year. There was a really positive response and now everyone’s feeling really motivated by what’s happening politically. So we’re hoping that it will grow in a big way.
When you’re not doing MOTHERSHIP, what are you doing? What is planned for the rest of the year?
I’m a therapist so my time is mostly spent doing that. I see primarily women and LGBT people. Women’s and LGBT empowerment and activism runs very deep within me. It’s apparent across all of my work. That’s the main thing that I work on, aside from the festival.
For more information please visit mothershipfest.com.
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