FEmnFEST: An Unapologetically Feminist Festival

by Lindsey Anderson

Festival lineup culture upholds this idea that there isn’t room for everybody and there’s especially not room for womxn, people of color and any other identity that doesn’t fall in the category of white, male, able-bodied and/or cisgendered. With ‘more notable’ acts in huge letters and ‘less notable’ acts in the tiniest of print, festival culture can feel very unwelcoming and off-putting. The organizers of FEmnFEST have taken note of the imbalances within fest culture and have put together a festival that’s truly one of a kind.

‘NO HEADLINER. Because Patriarchy.’ read the header of the press release that popped into my inbox from the FEmnFEST organizers. While struggling to pin down a headliner that satisfied all attendees, Abigail Mlinar & the FEmnFEST team quickly realized that the search for the perfect headliner defeated the purpose of their festival.

FEmnFEST is kicking off it’s first run this weekend in Duluth, Minnesota and the Tom Tom team couldn’t be more excited for them! With a mission that we can 100% get behind:

To seek and promote gender balance in the arts industry by displaying dynamic diverse representation, increasing visibility, and amplifying underrepresented voices.

As well as a plethora of activities for attendees to take part in, FEmnFEST is on the verge of being one of the most inclusive and welcoming festivals in the country. I got the opportunity to have a quick chat with Abigail Mlinar, one of the fest organizers, about the process as well as goals for the festival’s first year and beyond.

TT: Was there a certain moment in time that moved you to put this festival together?

AM: The day after the last presidential election, I accidentally started a club that is now a non-profit. I’ve been in the business of supporting womxn and gender equity in general for 10 months now, since November 9th. Through my work with that organization, people have been coming to me with various ideas. A friend of mine, one of few female rappers in Minnesota, came to me with her idea to have an event that highlights womxn performers. We were sitting in a coffee shop brainstorming this idea and it turned into a more tangible concept that supports not only womxn musicians but womxn artists in all capacities such as cooks, educators, business owners, etc.


TT: How did you go about gathering the team that’s putting together FEmnFEST?

AM: It started out as just me and my friend and we knew that we wanted to involve other womxn who work in the music/art industry. It’s already difficult for womxn to acquire jobs in the industry so we wanted to make sure we were providing an opportunity for them to get involved. We reached out to the womxn that we knew worked with music, music festivals, promotion etc. We also had a launch party where we hoped that folks that didn’t know about the fest would show up and that’s exactly what happened! That launch party introduced us to Diona Johnson, an educator who we recruited to help run workshops. So, it was part recruitment and part purposeful events that we hoped would attract those that wanted to participate.

TT: How’d you go about choosing performers and building the festival content?

AM: We sent out a survey to the public asking them what they’d want to see at a feminist festival. The FEmnFEST organizers also did group brainstorming and chatted about what workshops we’d like to see at a festival. We consulted universities, specifically their gender studies programs, to get feedback from those folks and we actually have educators from those universities facilitating workshops at the event!

Musician-wise, we started with a big push towards trying to get a nationally known performer but then we decided it was best to start on the home-front first. All of the performers have ties to Minnesota in some way; so we made hometown/community performers the focus for the 1st year. We have a mix of folks that reached out to us and folks we personally reached out to. We wanted a diverse lineup in every since of the word so the event was a fully intersectional feminist event. It was something where we couldn’t accept everyone who asked because if that was the case, we’d get end up with a predominantly ‘white folk artist’ event and that’s not what were aiming for.

TT: What are your hope(s) for year 1 of the festival?

AM: My hope is that this event moves womxn who’ve considered being a musician/artist to pursue music. We want to make a space that provides opportunities for womxn while also opening up the world to make more space for womxn; a ‘if you see it, you can be it’ concept. The statistic that 90% of festival performers are male, still holds true to events in Minnesota even though we’re a pretty progressive state. When we started out trying to find a headliner that’d make everyone happy, I realized that this is exactly why we’re doing this; there aren’t many womxn headliners so our options were already limited. You may not recognize a number of the names on the lineup but that’s okay because that’s why we’re doing this; to provide a platform for womxn artists to share their art and gain support from the community! We need more womxn perfomers center stage.

TT: Are you already thinking about the 2nd year?

AM: I would LOVE to have this happen again. We’re working hard to make this a sustainable event that happens year after year and grows larger and larger so more folks can be supported by it. We’re also keeping in mind the cost and energy that goes into running a 3 day festival where we’re properly compensating artists for their labor so, it’ll be a challenge to make everything happen but we’re excited about it; it’s about the cause and not necessarily about the success.

TT: Anything else you’d like to add?

AM: We really want to open this up to community response. We’re super open to feedback on what you’d like to see next year and any other tips and tricks folks would want to share!

FEmnFEST is this weekend from September 15-17th

Grab tickets here

If you decide to go, shout out Tom Tom on your social media platforms!! Would love to see you having a blast at this great fest!

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