Smile Politely

You Belong Here and the art of Pride

Thanks to the Uniting Pride Center of Champaign’s exciting new programming initiatives, our beloved C-U Pride Parade has blossomed into a full week of celebration, collaboration, and community engagement. There are also some great opportunities to experience art by LGBTQIA+ artists including You Belong Here, a queer youth art exhibition at the magical Anita Purves Nature Center, and, the return of To Survive on this Shore, the documentary photo exhibition centering the stories of older trans and gender nonconforming adults. Plus, on the day of the Pride Parade, October 1st, you won’t want to miss the debut of The Lavender, the new crowdfunded queer newsletter or a chance to paint at your pace with the folks at Prism Studios. 

I visited the Anita Purves Nature Center on a beautiful fall afternoon. As I made my way towards the You Belong Here exhibit, I was greeted by the golden colors of late blooming prairie plants against the still green leaves. 

Native prairie grasses and.plants surround blue and clear bird feeders outside of the Anita Purves Nature Center.

Photo by Debra Domal.

The bird feeders were full of visitors. There was an ease to this stretch of protected habitat.

Trees and native prairie plants and a red bird house surround the walls of the Anita Purves Nature Center.

Photo by Debra Domal.

This nature walk, however brief, worked its magic on me and I could feel my mind slow down and my heart open up.

A painting with Pride rainbow color filled black outlined boxes containing the letters Y O U A  R E E N O U G H framed and hung against a white wall.

Photo by Debra Domal.

Boxes, by Max (They/Them), age 16.

Artist statement: I want people to know that they are enough, no matter what. 

The work of You Belong Here hangs on the walls of the building’s corridor. There is a special quality to corridor installations. They may not have immediate impact or the precision of a traditional gallery installation. But what they have instead is perhaps more important. We walk through them and with them and we carry them with us as we make our ways to our destinations. They are integrated into the space, while transforming it. Like the building’s surrounding habitats, they are welcome, they belong here. 

A photo with a clown face painted over it is mounted in lavender and hung against a white wall.

Photo by Debra Domal.

Joke’s on Me, by Maxwell Burton-Mills (Ze/Zir), age 12.

Artist statement: I used paint pens to draw a clown face on my school picture. It shows the silliness of being displayed. I want people to think about how they portray themselves and how they see others. 

Sometime during my second pass through the corridor I found myself crying.  There was so much talent, so much thoughtful self expression, so much queer pride and joy in this welcoming and safe space. 

Two digitally drawn self-portraits one upright in dark colors with the words

Photo by Debra Domal.

All of Me, by OutLoudandProud (They/Them), age 13. 

Artist statement: This is a self-portrait designed to make you think about what and how you feel.  I’ve had this idea for a while and this is the first time I’ve put it into art. The colors are designed to express different emotions and thoughts. 

At a time when queer and trans youth continue to have their rights and safety threatened, witnessing this work, unapologetically taking up space, filled with me hope. 

Two long vertical Pride flags with the words

Photo by Debra Domal.

With its intentional installation within the Anita Purves Nature Center, You Belong Here positions LGBTQIA+ youth and their work in their rightful place within the vibrant natural world. 

Bushes with yellow prairie flowers up against the walls to the corridor where the You Belong Here exhibit is installed.

Photo by Debra Domal.

Whether you are a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, an ally, or someone open to learning from the visual narratives of queer and trans youth, go see this exhibit. You Belong Here is a reminder of who and what we’re fighting for, and what the future could, and in my opinion, should look like. 

Thanks to a programming change, the McKinley Foundation’s Artists’ Alley has brought back the triumphant photo and interview series, To Survive at this Shore. I am thrilled to see it return within the context of Pride 2022. Read my 2021 review of the exhibition here. And if you missed it then, cross the divide into Campustown and see this groundbreaking documentary-style exhibit which centers the narratives of older trans and gender nonconforming adults. Get more information here.

A photo of the late Mama Gloria in a fur coat standing on a snow-covered city street.

Photo courtesy of the McKinley Foundation’s Artists’ Alley.

And on October 1st, the day of the parade, stop by the Prism Studios paint at your pace pop-up at the Rose Bowl Tavern from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Supplies will be provided for a sliding scale fee from $1-$20. You can also experience a guided painting class from 2 to 4 p.m. at the same location. Supplies, including an 8 x 10 inch canvas, will be included for a $20 fee.

Prism Studios booth from Pride 2021 featuring completed art, art supplies, and groups of people painting.

Photo from Prism Studios Facebook page.

The Lavender, an exciting new queer newsletter, is making its debut at Pride. In the words of co-founder Jada Fulcher, “The Lavender is Champaign-Urbana’s premier queer newsletter. Inspired by C-U’s own Lavender Prairie, a trailblazing lesbian publication from the 1970s, The Lavender aims to become another central location for local queer folks to find community and safe spaces in Central Illinois.” Fulcher invites you to stop by The Lavender’s Pridefest booth “to learn more, pick up [the] first issue, and become a monthly subscriber to support local queer news! Get a sneak peek of what The Lavender has in store on their Instagram.

Illustration of The Lavender newsletter with a white square surrounding a circle filled with lavender and corn against a lavender background.

Image from The Lavender’s Instagram.

And last but not least, if PrideFest takes you to the new UP Center office at the University YMCA, check out the collection of work by Marc-Anthony Macon installed there.

The Uniting Pride office at the University Y featuring the logo painted on the wall, large windows with curtains, office furniture, and on the wall behind the seating area is a collection of brightly colored mixed media work by Marc-Anthony Macon.
Photo from the artist’s Facebook page.

Happy Pride y’all! 

You Belong Here
September 24-December 17
Anita Purves Nature Center
1505 N Broadway
M-F 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sa 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Closed Sunday

To Survive on this Shore
September 29-Novemeber 18
McKinley Foundation’s Artists’ Alley
Presby Hall
405 E John
M-Su 9 a.m.-8 p.m.

Top photo by Debra Domal.

Arts Editor

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