The Rochester Erotic Arts Festival is a home grown event that started five years ago and has grown into a huge event hosted at the Raddisson Hotel. We had a ton of fun covering the Rochester Erotic Arts Festival last year. This year we got a chance to catch up with one of the Co-Founders, Rauncie Ryan, to talk about starting the festival, the new attractions, and how the city responds to Kink culture.
How did the original idea for the festival get started?
Susie and I have known each other for over ten years. She is from Syracuse, when I met her I lived in Ithaca. We met through an alternative community. After I met her, her and her husband introduced me to my husband who lived in Rochester. I ended up moving to Rochester to be with him.
We started going to parties together and eventually Susie and I began throwing theme parties at our houses. We would have these great pirate parties, or Arabian nights’ parties. After a while we decided to throw bigger parties; we have done some parties at the Rochester Kink Society; but we wanted to go bigger.
We started planning our first festival. We are both really into the arts so the idea for an erotic arts festival. We went for it all the first year. We had dinners, and all kinds of entertainment. Over the years we have been able to figure out exactly what people really wanted in the festival.
Did you have a vision in mind about everything R.E.A.F. was going to include? Now you have live shows, galleries, art collections, and a ton of attractions all happening at once.
It has certainly changed over the years. The first year we had just one end of the Radisson Hotel. Now we are taking up the whole second floor. We have thirty workshops this year as well as a huge lounge area. This year we have thirty vendors, which is all we can take.
We have hypnosis fire dancing, a bull whip performance, a snake dancer, Burlesque shows, belly dancing, and a pole dancing performance. Eight Beat Measure is also singing. They are an acapella group from R.I.T. who comes to our festival and sing dirty songs in acapella, its great.
One of our focuses this year is to bring more women friendly attractions to the festival. This is a women created festival but a lot of the art work is more geared to men. We have an exhibit from the Society for Women in Erotic Art Today (S.W.E.A.T); they picked out a bunch of art with is a huge array of art including men.
How do you find the art work?
We put a call out for art, and we advertise. We get new artists every year. People from all over the world apply to have their artwork shown. Not everyone gets in; we are looking for artwork that makes you think. Some people get the wrong idea about what our art show is all about; we don’t want it to become a porn show. That is not our intention at all, we want something you have to pause and appreciate.
Was the Festival meant to be geared to those who are already involved in the Kink community?
From the very beginning we wanted to this to be geared to those who are not in the BDSM community. We wanted to reach out to normal everyday people, of course it does attract the counter culture communities, and those are the main people who come. But year after year we are seeing more people who are not part of the kink community.
We want normal joes and soccer moms to be comfortable with sexuality. In a sex positive community you avoid getting hurt, diseases, and bad relationships simply by being open and comfortable about discussing what makes them happy.
Last year we had a couple who said they would feel comfortable bringing their twelve year old to the festival. Of course they couldn’t do that, it is illegal, but it shows what kind of atmosphere we create; we try to make it classy, and educational.
Is it hard to break the stereotype that the festival is just a porn show?
It is something that we struggle with. Our society is so puritan, that as soon as you say erotic people jump to smut. Last year we had a singer perform; one of her friends approached me and asked if her friend’s performance was part of a dirty show. I spend a lot of time explaining exactly what we are trying to do.
We spend a ton of time creating a safe atmosphere, we really enforce that. We don’t invite unwanted touching or contact. We had a couple guys come a few years ago who thought this was just a giant strip club; they wanted to know when they were going to get their lap dance. Now we do have a lap dancing workshop, but that was more for wives to learn to lap dance for their website.
I remember last year a high school swim team was spending the night at the hotel and there was a team of security guards ushering the kids past the show.
I think it was more about the hotel worrying about kids sneaking into the festival more than anything else. There are more problems with underage kids sneaking in than anything else. One year someone in a school mascot outfit snuck in so there was a school shark mascot wandering around the festival for a little bit.
The Radisson is great, they are very accommodating to the R.E.A.F and they always want us back. The hosted the Furry convention this year as well, the hotel is very open to all sorts of conventions and galleries.
This city has a conservative reputation but in reality it is very progressive. I think it has a lot to do with the colleges and the arts we have in this city.