Ilene Sova is an artist, feminist, activist, and community builder. She is one of the many amazing women working to make Canada a safer and better place for women. She is also the founder of the Feminist Art Conference or FAC.

I recently spoke to Ilene about the Feminist Art Conference and why it was important for her to create space for feminist art in her community.

Where did the idea for the Feminist Art Conference come from?

When I was working on the Missing Women Project [a project where Ilene painted large-scale portraits of missing women from Ontario] I was researching all these cases of violence against women and feeling really isolated. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about the systemic issues that allowed for these women to go missing.

I decided at that point that I wanted to be part of a feminist art community. I also felt that I couldn’t have this show without having a feminist discourse happen at the same time. I felt like, during the run of the show, I needed to have some kind of gathering of feminist artists to talk about the power of feminist art and what people are doing – I wanted to build community.

From there I came up with the idea to have the Feminist Art Conference. I quickly wrote up a call for submissions in November and, with the help of some friends, I got it up on social media. Once it was up it got a LOT of attention. I was getting messages from all over the world. Within a week I had 20 volunteers wanting to help. Over 150 artists applied, and we showed 90 different multidisciplinary artists at the first conference in 2013.

Afterwards, I remember just standing in the room with so much relief it had worked – we had pulled it off. But all these strangers kept asking me “when is the next one.” I initially had no plans for this to go on, but the need was clear.

Why is it so important to build this feminist space within the art community?

I would start by saying that art itself is a purveyor of social change. Art can make people stop and think. It gives visual representation, feeling, and soul to something that more traditional methods of advocacy can’t.

I think we can look at many examples in human history where artists have changed the tide of public opinion by their artistic practice.

In terms of feminist art, obviously the grand vision of feminism hasn’t been achieved – so my idea for the conference was to have a community space to support artists that are doing feminist work. Commercial galleries don’t show feminist art usually – there are some galleries that do, but they are very few and far between. And it’s very difficult to sell feminist art as a commercial product. Building this conference was meant to create a celebratory, supportive environment where artists could cross pollinate and meet one another and see that they do have a community.

Where do you want to see the conference go next?

Something so amazing that has come out of it is that we have become so much more than just a conference.

In the last year we have really focused on programming with youth education, and we also now host an annual artist residency in the spring with Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island. Last year we did two youth projects – one with teenagers and one with university students where they interacted with archives of The Women’s Kit.

What we’re finding, with the nature of this organization and its committee members, is that we have been able to offshoot from the conference into many different areas: educational programming, residency, mini-exhibitions, partnerships, and more.

The long-term vision and ultimate dream of the conference’s committee is to also add a permanent gallery space and have year-round programming. We would want to see the programming include education with youth as a big piece of that. So now it’s just a matter of figuring out the sustainability of making that happen – and our committee is excited to take on the challenge!

You can find the Feminist Art Conference on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And you can see the Artist Residency Show on May 20th, 2018 on Toronto Island – details will be coming out closer to the date.

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