SGN – Voices Rising celebrates LGBT artists

by Shaun Knittel – SGN Staff Writer

July 31, 2009

The LGBTQ community in Seattle is diverse. For Voices Rising founder Storme Webber, ‘that’s a beautiful thing.’

In July of 2007, Storme said she saw a real need for an arts project that would promote LGBTQ artists of color. Turning her observation into action, Storme founded Voices Rising, a program designed to promote and nurture the arts and culture of LGBTQ people of color, and to build community across cultures.

‘I saw many incredible artists who deserved and needed support,’ Storme told SGN. ‘LGBTQ artists of color are often marginalized – [Voices Rising] is a place where we are celebrated.’

So far, the program has presented the work of almost 40 artists of diverse disciplines and cultures in five shows.

Dakota Alcantara-Camacho, 18, performed at a June 6 Voices Rising show at Richard Hugo House. Storme saw Dakota perform at an earlier performance and asked the Latino spoken-word and hip-hop artist to be a part of the program. Dakota agreed, and his performance at the June event was an absolute showstopper.

“Art is, for the most part, solidified. It is sort of permanent,” Dakota told SGN during a phone interview from Madison, Wisconsin, where the teen attends school on a scholarship. “Music that is recorded is permanent, art that goes on a wall is permanent.”

For Dakota, a performance can also leave a lasting impression, if done right. This is why the recording artist says he always wants to stay connected to the purpose of “why I create art.” He said his art is about telling stories, and “telling stories is liberating.”

“There is a magical ‘something’ that is born at every show,” he added, “as artists and audiences collaborate to create a modern ritual of truth and beauty.”

The June Voices Rising show, which drew a full house, featured spoken-word performances by Crystal Ybarra and Landon Longhill, a spoken-word and music performance by Mikeya Harper, and was emceed by THEESatisfaction. Dakota performed a number of his songs from a forthcoming CD. Storme was able to enlist legendary spoken-word emcee Mami Watu for the show, as well as dance sensation Emiko Sugiyama.

During the show, Storme offered the audience “Lesbian Langston,” a poetic meditation and praise song of Langston Hughes and the artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Storme said these “ancestors were unashamedly black, sexually free and proud before any movement. They were a world-shifting movement unto themselves.”

Storme said Voices Rising is also a community resource. Each show includes tables and vendors from community organizations such as Safe Schools Coalition, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, United Indians of All Tribes and Left Bank Books. Storme draws on the strengths of the diverse LGBTQ community to make the Voices Rising shows as interesting and enlightening as possible. Her goal is the same as those of the artists she nurtures: to “present fabulous, fierce shows where we celebrate together” – something Storme is accustomed to, as she has created events like Voices Rising in every place she’s lived over the last 30 years, including San Francisco, New York City, London, Berlin, and now Seattle.

Voices Rising is made up of a core group of 10 advisors who volunteer their time from the arts, activism and media sphere. Storme said the contributions of Joyful Freeman (American Friends Service Committee), Naomi Ishisaka (graphics and media), Magenta Mari (art and logistics), Stephanie Fox (King County Neighborhoods), and Dean Jackson (REI), among others, have been crucial to the group’s success. She said grants from The Pride Foundation, King County Neighborhoods, and City of Seattle Office of Arts & Culture have been tremendously supportive.

Dakota said it is important that groups like Voices Rising and Youth Speaks Seattle exist because they inspire youth and LGBQ people of color to perform and be heard.

“I feel like my inspiration comes from every experience that I’ve had, and every experience that I’m having,” he told SGN. “It comes from the people I am around and the people I am with. It represents the struggles and the joy and the pride that I’ve had in all of them, for all of them, and with all of them.”

Dakota said he wants everyone in Seattle to realize they are beautiful. “People don’t hear that enough,” he said. “I just want them to know that.”

Storme is in the process of getting a show together for September. Storme said the next Voices Rising show would feature a nationally known musician along with local artists. She said they are also planning a Two Spirit show for November, which would feature Native American artists.

“I just saw a widely entertaining and subversive show last week at a Montana Two Spirit gathering,” Storme said. “I am negotiating to bring those artists to Seattle.”

Storme said Voices Rising is welcoming to anyone who believes in the project. She said people are welcome to write the group and come to future meetings to share ideas and energy. Anyone interested in contacting Voices Rising can do so through e-mail at

“This truly is a community project and exists for community benefit,” she said. “Artists, don’t be shy; we need you.”