Creating Art in the Aftermath of Disaster
Growing up in Redding California, summer wildfires have become a part of my normal routine. Every year there is a portion of July and August that smells like campfire and turns the sun into an unnatural looking crimson dot in a horizon of ash. I’ve learned to deal with a week or two of smoky days, and the anxiety that comes with knowing destruction is happening just outside of my periphery.
Nothing could have prepared me for the Carr Fire Disaster. Watching the fire lines cross into the city limits on local news felt surreal. Needing to evacuate my family from my house that is two minutes from an airport and a hospital didn’t seem possible. As the evacuation period closed, we were among the fortunate few who had a house to return to. I feel forever grateful to have been spared the loss and chaos of losing a loved one and/or having all of my earthly possessions destroyed. However, once the immediate danger passed, and the reality set in, I remembered that I was responsible for creating the first ever Redding Fashion Week in less than two months.
I am the co-executive director and co-founder of the Redding Fashion Alliance, a non-profit organization located in the heart of downtown Reddings’ Cultural District. For months myself, and our other co-executive director Jan Kearns had been working towards creating what would become the first fashion week north of Sacramento. Before the fire ever started, I had my doubts about how exactly we would create something that had never been done before, in a place not known for fashion, for a small community whose attention is split in so many charitable directions in the fall. After the fire, I knew that going forward with our plans would be a risk and I don’t think there has ever been a time that I felt less confident about planning an event, or for that matter, 6 days of consecutive fashion related events. I was having a hard time with fathoming the layers of complexity.
When faced with making a decision about whether or not to move forward, my gut kept saying: “It’s now or never.” There was cautionary advice, there were naysayers, but there were also hopeful designers, local businesses, and a community that needed a pick me up. More than ever it became apparent that some positive press for the Redding area could be a temporary antidote to the endless smoke and stream of bad news. So, we built the airplane as we fell off the cliff, and at the last second we made a bumpy landing. Redding Fashion Week wasn’t perfect. We learned a lot of hard lessons. We also did a lot of hard work that paid off. People are still talking about the Fashion Show Gala, as they should be. Not only did we create a professional fashion show with a big city vibe featuring 11 fashion designers (myself and Jan included) and almost 50 models, we also fundraised and created a scholarship fund and an emerging fashion designer fund. We made it look good, and most of all, we made it feel fun.
Making something out of nothing is tough. Conjuring something fabulous out of devastation is almost impossible, but it sure makes a powerful statement.
Photos by Nigel Skeet, Fash Bear, Michael Flanagan, and Rachel Hatch