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Art and Soul SLO celebrates queer culture by hosting events that provide a safe space for artistic expression

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As San Luis Obispo Creek trickles through Mission Plaza and the chatter of birds echos across the walls of Bliss Cafe's back patio, queer artists from across San Luis Obispo filed in to set up their respective tables.

For Art and Soul SLO founders Faith LeGrande and Mia Lew, every aspect of the September 2022 event was coordinated and organized to provide artists and attendees with a safe avenue for expression and connection to their own marginalized communities.

GATHERING SPACE Local band Ner Du El performed for Art and Soul SLO craft fair visitors and vendors in September 2022 while visitors painted and colored. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ART AND SOUL SLO
  • Photo Courtesy Of Art And Soul SLO
  • GATHERING SPACE Local band Ner Du El performed for Art and Soul SLO craft fair visitors and vendors in September 2022 while visitors painted and colored.

"These events are all about building a community of artists who can truly be themselves," Lew said. "This gives them a safe space to put their guard down and just experience the art and expressions on display."

From 1 to 5 p.m. on Feb 4, Art and Soul will again take over Bliss Cafe's back patio, offering a platform for unrepresented LGBTQ-plus, Latino, and Black artists to showcase their work, while guests enjoy music from local bands and communal art tables encourage discussion and camaraderie.

The craft fair is just one of many events in store for the organization that blossomed out of LeGrande's passion for planning and building accepting avenues for marginalized and queer artists.

"Originally I had become part of the art scene here [in SLO] when I took part in a local craft fair that was run by Mia," LeGrande said. "But eventually because I battle with a lot of mental and physical illnesses that kept me at home, I eventually had to stop attending outside events—but even then I knew I still wanted to be part of the community."

LeGrande took that desire for expression through art and her need for a continued connection to the community and began planning and hosting artists in her own backyard.

FRIENDLY FOUNDERS Art and Soul founders Faith LeGrande and Mia Lew enjoy their holiday market in November 2022 under the looming mushroom sculptures currently featured in the Under the Cap exhibit at the Cuesta Student Art Gallery. - COURTESY PHOTO BY LANE
  • Courtesy Photo By Lane
  • FRIENDLY FOUNDERS Art and Soul founders Faith LeGrande and Mia Lew enjoy their holiday market in November 2022 under the looming mushroom sculptures currently featured in the Under the Cap exhibit at the Cuesta Student Art Gallery.

"I had this massive backyard that I knew I could do something with," she said. "By October 2021, the events grew to such an extent that I realized I needed to get a business license and establish Art and Soul events outside just my backyard."

Around that time, Lew, who had been running her own DIY art events, joined LeGrande to help bring the full vision of Art and Soul SLO to life.

"Working together with Faith has really allowed the organization to thrive in ways that past event coordination groups I have been part of haven't been able to," Lew said. "Without the fear of burnout, we have been able to build something that focuses on community, empathy towards others, and bringing people together in a safe space."

While LeGrande handles person-to-person communication and overall event brainstorming and planning, Lew ensures that each event reaches its potential.

"I walk through each event we host and make sure we are building a space that gives vendors and artists the space to sell their stuff while also showcasing their work to people that might not have found them otherwise," Lew said.

Art and Soul has hosted events at Bliss Cafe and Bang The Drum Brewery, and the organizers want to expand the organization's impact by inviting those outside the art scene to enjoy the work of local artists in a safe and enjoyable environment.

"A big focus of the events we put on is having some form of communal art, whether that be in the form of coloring pages or painting tables," LeGrande said. "It's something that helped me a lot when hosting events like this—I want people from inside and outside our community to be able to do something with their hands and talk to the people around them."

The group, which officially became a nonprofit in November 2022, is aiming to expand its reach and impact the community through events beyond just craft fairs.

PRIDE ALL THE TIME Cal Poly band Earthship plays for a crowd of dancing artists, vendors, and community members as part of Art and SLO's Queer Prom held at the SLO Botanical Garden in May 2022. - PHOTO COURTESY OF ART AND SOUL SLO
  • Photo Courtesy Of Art And Soul SLO
  • PRIDE ALL THE TIME Cal Poly band Earthship plays for a crowd of dancing artists, vendors, and community members as part of Art and SLO's Queer Prom held at the SLO Botanical Garden in May 2022.

"One of our biggest events is the Queer Prom, which is an annual culmination of every aspect of every event we put on, all combined into one night," LeGrande said. "From featured artists to craft sales to live music and drag shows all together in one giant celebration of being proud of who we are and appreciating those around us."

LeGrande said she sees planning events for Art and Soul SLO as her form of artistic expression and a way to give local queer and marginalized individuals the opportunity to be themselves and share that joy with the city around them.

"It's artistic expression mixed with pride," she said. "Not just for a day, not just for a month, but a celebration of who we are throughout the year."

Freelancer Adrian Vincent Rosas is saving up to support local artists. Reach him through the editor at [email protected].

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