Market Street’s loss is NoLibs’ gain as the area’s biggest, gayest block party moves to the Piazza.
Block parties are generally an opportunity to critique your neighbors’ stickball prowess, to break up fights in the rented bouncy castle, or better yet, to skip town entirely. But this isn’t the case for all urban hootnannies, especially when the purpose extends beyond the familiarity of a single city block.
This year, one of Philly’s biggest, most socially relevant block parties almost went the way of the neighborhood library when dwindling financial support and new, steeper premiums forced SundayOUT, the fulcrum of the week-long Equality Forum, from its home on Market Street. For 14 years, the outdoor flea market and GLBT festival camped out near Penn’s Landing, drawing crowds from around the country.
This year, faced with Philly’s $18,000 city-services bill, SundayOUT had to find new digs. According to the Forum’s founder and Executive Director Malcolm Lazin, settling on the Piazza and Liberties Walk was hardly a compromise. “It gave us a stage, sound, lighting and Jumbotron in order to present both live entertainment as well as civil rights messaging,” Lazin said of Philly developer Bart Blatstein’s most recent addition to Northern Liberties.
What was once primarily a gathering of local vendors set to recorded music is now a true festival equipped for live concerts. This new setting has drastically changed the way the Forum plans their programming, says Lazin. “Unless we can do it well, we don’t do it. Neither the Gayborhood or Old City streets lend themselves for a stage and everything that’s necessary to present professionally. Now that we had that stage, it enabled us to present seven hours of remarkable programming.”
Included in this year’s programming are cabaret performances from RENT alum Anthony Rapp and the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus and dance performances from the Smoke, Lilies and Jade Arts Initiative. The Philadelphia Freedom Band offers marching percussion and brass. Other Q102 and My 106.1 sponsored performers include Swedish Idol winner and American billboard topper Agnes as well as club favorites Samantha Marq and Kristine Elazaj. The day also features live fashion shows and video presentations from the TLA.
While he’s totally pumped for that Jumbotron, asked what programming he’s most excited about this year, Lazin points to a live commitment ceremony for same-sex couples, officiated by three interfaith clergy. This presentation in the afternoon—as well as a closing mass in the evening—are the centerpiece of the Forum’s Project 1138, a discourse on the 1,138 marital benefits denied to same-sex couples, even those who are legally married, in states throughout the U.S. That the Piazza’s stage provides a limelight for civil-rights issues as well as those acclaimed pop artists is vital to the Equality Forum’s mission statement. The intent is to set a new standard for similar GLBT events nationwide.
“I think that what we’re going to represent is a whole new dimension for a gay festival,” Lazin says. “The Piazza is really remarkable. There’s no other urban space quite like it in the country. My guess is that other cities will see what’s happening here, and the opportunities presented for public gatherings by the space will inspire developers to create similar venues.”
Despite the new bells and whistles, Lazin assures the spirit of the annual event remains consistent, celebrating local performers and organizations with Philadelphia’s GLBT community. Local vendors, artists and community organizers will be in attendance to showcase their wares and individual causes. To ensure that everybody from the Gayborhood can make the hike, free shuttle buses will depart every 15 minutes from Knock at the corner of 12th and Locust streets.
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