Elizabeth Colón Nelson had performed on the Las Vegas Strip for five years when she had a revelation one day in rehearsal. “I looked around, and I was the only woman in the room,” Nelson says. “And then I realized I was the only woman of color in the room.”
At the time, Nelson, who had performed in The Miss Behave Gameshow along with Spiegelworld’s Absinthe and Opium, says she was also the “only female clown of color on the Strip.” She asked herself what it would take to create a space for Las Vegas performers who were also women of color.
“There isn’t much space for women of color, especially in comedy,” she continues, adding that women in the arts are often overlooked. “For women of color, the statistics go down even more.”
Nelson recently moved to Humboldt County, California, to become a physical art schoolteacher, but her imprint on Las Vegas continued to grow out of the conversations she had with other women of color artists and performers here.
The inaugural four-day Women of Color Arts Festival kicks off March 5, just days after Black History Month and coinciding with International Women’s Day on March 8. The festival is the result of Nelson’s original vision: a place where female performers and artists of color can network and foster an ongoing dialogue. She serves as the fest’s creative producer.
“It’s really important that, as people of color, we have visibility,” Nelson says. “But we also want to create connections. One way of connecting with people is to meet [each other] and learn what they’re doing.”
Woven into the festival’s schedule are workshops that do just that. The fest begins with the Art of Us exhibition opening reception inside the Arts Factory Warhol Loft, featuring works by Fawn Douglas, Krystal Ramirez, Sapira Cheuk, Zully Mejia and more, followed by a panel discussion with women of color from the UNLV arts department faculty. Day Two features a storytelling workshop by author and California Library Association’s Library Hall of Fame inductee Binnie Tate Wilkin at the Las Vegas Theatre, plus workshops on planner making, Afro dance and zine making. A live theater production and a live jazz show round out the schedule. All events are free to the public.
“We’ve only scratched the surface of what Vegas has to offer from women of color,” Nelson says. “So often, so many of our teachers are from Eurocentric Anglo-American men, and seeing women of color in positions of power saying, ‘Hey, let me show you how I created this, let me bring you into my world and show you my art.’ That’s when real change and real dialogue happens.”
Women of Color Arts Festival March 5-8, times vary, free. Multiple locations, facebook.com/womenofcolorartfestivallv.