Milwaukee isn’t just cheese and beer.
Jade Charon wants to change the perception of her hometown into a place of art and performance.
Charon, a graduate student in the world arts and cultures department, hosted an arts gathering called Restore Weekend in her hometown Friday and Saturday. The gathering, which was specifically geared toward women of color, included events designed to create spaces for women of color to express themselves and grow as artists by gaining feedback from their peers.
“There are a lot of women of color who don’t always get the opportunities, especially if you are not from New York or Los Angeles,” Charon said.
Restore Weekend featured three different events, beginning Friday with the “I Love Myself” fundraiser and networking night. The fundraiser was designed to raise money for Charon’s nonprofit organization and her fashion line, which offers dancewear for women of varying body types.
The second part of the weekend was the Gem Project, a four-hour event that gave girls from the ages of 11 to 18 the opportunity to participate in various dance, film and painting workshops. The event also included an open mic spoken-word session and a discussion led by mental health experts about dealing with anger and trauma.
Restore Weekend culminated in the Restore Arts Festival on Saturday, in which women of color showcased their own dances to a panel of judges who were also women of color. Performers auditioned for the festival by submitting a dance routine and a written component that dealt with a social justice issue. One dancer improvised a solo based on her life following her service in the army. The performance provided the dancers with the opportunity to examine their work, something Charon said is important for them to grow and get better at their craft.
“They are judging or critiquing (the performance), but in a way where they are pushing you to the level you aspire to be,” Charon said. “Having people who have the experience look at your work is great.”
Charon said she was inspired to organize Restore Weekend because there are not many women of color teaching in higher education. Charon said she has been able to connect with other women of color as mentors in the arts, but understands that many other women have not had the same opportunities as her.
Although the fundraiser and workshops were open to all women, Charon said the arts festival was open only to women of color, in order to give them a space specifically designed for them to foster love and support for their art and experiences.
Jayme Montgomery, the project manager for the event, said she believes having fellow women of color provide feedback offers a fresh perspective compared to critiques from other people, because women of color have a shared experience of searching for validation and the right to exist.
“When you are presenting work from a particular perspective in front of people who do not share that perspective, it can be really difficult for them to understand,” Montgomery said. “It can be hard to provide feedback when you don’t understand where I come from, but at the same time it is also challenges you to create this world and conversation.”
Desiree Cocroft, the host of the fundraising event, said Restore Weekend also provided a space for women to talk about issues they face in their community and around the world. Cocroft said not many spaces like Restore Weekend exist, in which women can be fully expressive of their emotions.
“There is social media and people do videos but those are not necessarily spaces,” said Cocroft. “Those are places where people can vent and not have the opportunity to be surrounded by people who can really uplift them.”
Aside from giving women of color a space to showcase their work, Charon said she also wanted to highlight social justice issues through dance. Charon said incorporating social justice elements into the weekend helped people to reflect on and analyze dance through a social perspective.
“I think with everything going on in the world right now, we need some hope and inspiration and some conversations that need to happen,” Charon said. “I hope that this weekend makes people want to talk about change and be inspired to have many difficult conversations.”