Girls Block puts women’s talents in the spotlight

Allen Wallace photos.

Friday was International Women’s Day. Saturday, women took over a block of Columbia’s Main Street for the inaugural Girls Block festival. The timing was no coincidence.

The all-inclusive block party was designed to expose and elevate underrepresented voices in South Carolina, and was born from a conversation between two local women who found they had similar ideas and decided to make them happen together.

Girls Block Executive Director Catherine Hunsinger wanted to have an all-woman concert or block party, and discovered in December that her friend, Creative Director Kati Baldwin, had a dream of a lady festival. With only three months before International Women’s Day, their chosen time for the event, they faced a stiff challenge, partly because of the societal forces the festival hopes to defeat.

“It’s ingrained in all women that we’re kind of afraid to take a first step, that we’re not worthy,” Hunsinger said. “We’re talking about having to just take chances and go for it, and when you do you find this huge surprise of ‘I am trustworthy and people are actually taking me seriously.’”

Hunsinger and Baldwin found support from the community exceeding their hopes, and an event which might have been a relatively simple bar crawl blossomed into Saturday’s day-long festival featuring women and femme artists, performers and entrepreneurs displaying their talents along the 1600 block of Main Street. As night fell, the focus turned to music, with more than a dozen bands performing at Lula Drake, the Space Hall and Hendrix.

“It just kept building. People kept saying yes to us,” Hunsinger said. “It’s been women supporting women supporting women supporting women, and men too. It’s so uplifting to see the community of women come together like that. There’s a narrative that women are catty and don’t want to support each other, and this just does not fit that narrative. It’s giddily exciting.”

Support came from all over the community. The male owners of Hendrix asked to be part of the festival, offering Hunsinger and Baldwin any support they wanted. The Nickelodeon Theatre will host a Sunday screening of Dreamgirls and a performance by musician Danielle McConaghy, with The Whig hosting an after party. The Women’s Rights and Empowerment Network led a panel discussion Saturday.

When Baldwin and Hunsinger started the process of acquiring the needed permissions to close a block of Main Street for a day, they found an expert on the procedure eager to help: Heather Curtis of Soda City.

“She’s been integral to the process, even though she knew she couldn’t be here for the event. I think that’s incredible,” Hunsinger said. “That’s the kind of support that has been nonstop from both men and women.”

Girls Block has drawn attention from all over South Carolina, and its organizers hope to make it an annual event in Columbia, and perhaps beyond.

“The idea of doing satellite concerts and taking this huge arsenal of lady talent that we have and putting it in other places, being able to serve as a springboard for people’s careers, even, that’s just a really cool idea that we’re loving,” Hunsinger said.

The Girls Block website also now includes a blog which Hunsinger said will “keep showing women’s art and let women really speak to what being a woman in the South is like.”

Those interested in being involved with Girls Block as vendors, performers or volunteers can find more information at GirlsBlockSC.org.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Business, Columbia, Lexington County

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