Tag Archives: Scott Gunkel

PrideFest completes transition to year-round group

PrideFest Milwaukee recently completed its transition into a nonprofit group that will support its Milwaukee community partners in promoting their causes and educating the public year-round — and continue hosting North America’s largest lineup of LGBTQ talent.

The group’s board and production team worked for 15 months with change management consultants Lambert & Pearcy “to restructure and redefine our operation,” according to a news release. As a result of that effort, the board created a new 501(c)(3) organization — Milwaukee Pride Inc. — that serves as PrideFest’s “parent.”

Last August, the board hired an accounting firm to set financial controls and conduct audits. Milwaukee Pride hired its first executive director, Eric Heinritz, in January.

“Through this (process), we found new funding sources, strengthened relationships with community partners and connected with national organizations,” said board president Scott Gunkel. “We can now accept donations, with tax benefits for our donors. We can reinvest dollars to support important LGBTQ causes and fund critical community programs.  We have built some proud partnerships.

“Pride can no longer be contained to a weekend. People must live proud year-round and our mission and purpose must be year-round in return. We are pleased to see that mission and purpose coming to life right now.”

The organization’s efforts currently are focused on PrideFest 2016, which is fast approaching. The annual event is scheduled for June 10–12 on the Summerfest grounds. Headliners are already being announced, including Blondie, Sarah Silverman and GGOOLLDD, and tickets are being sold.

Additional headliners and entertainers will be announced in the coming weeks.

PrideFest’s metamorphosis into a year-round organization with a broader mission was enabled by three consecutive years of record-breaking attendance. More than 30,000 people have attended the annual event during each of those years.

With strong headliners and an enhanced operational structure, organizers expect to break records again this year.

This year’s event also has the benefit of better scheduling. PrideFest is usually held at the beginning of June, when chilly weather can discourage participation. The lakefront area normally heats up as the month progresses.

For nearly 30 years, the PrideFest was run entirely by volunteers. This marks the first year that a paid staffer has been in charge of the event as part of the new year-round business operation.

In later March, the board received an abrupt letter of resignation in which volunteers complained about the board’s new direction and accused it of withholding financial information, as well as “encroachment” into duties they’d handled for years. The letter said they’d been treated with disrespect and not kept in the loop with the consulting and budgeting process.

The letter, which was not signed, said the board had 48 hours to relinquish all control of the festival, to turn over all financial information and assets and to remove itself from any involvement with PrideFest.

Despite the rancor, board vice president Michail Takach said he and other leaders were sorry to see longtime volunteers choose to leave. “It’s unfortunate that this happened at a time when we’ve all made such great strides to be organizationally strong, financially healthy and absolutely transparent,” he told WiG.

The board responded to outgoing volunteers with a public letter.

“With your help, PrideFest Milwaukee has become a sustainable nonprofit organization, better positioned to serve the needs of the community every day of the year, in collaboration with local and national agencies, in fulfillment of our vision, mission and purpose,” the letter said. “We thank you for your contributions to this tremendous legacy.”

Meanwhile, the show must go on, with daily progress being made on the festival.

“I see people stepping up and working hard with togetherness to create this wonderful experience.  I wish everyone the best.  I am looking forward to another successful year,” said Kate Sherry, a longtime PrideFest volunteer and former event producer.

The event’s community partners remain enthusiastically supportive.

“At the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber, we’re so proud and excited for the work being done by Milwaukee Pride to build a year-round, community engagement-driven organization,” said chamber executive director Jason Rae.

“Their board is leading the organization in great new directions, and I cannot wait to see what they can accomplish next.”

The group has sponsored numerous local events and also plans to host additional programs, yet to be determined. The Milwaukee Pride board of directors is currently seeking leadership candidates to fill its expanded roster.

Volunteers are always needed and welcomed. To get involved, email info@milwaukeepride.org or call 414-272-3378.

PrideFest expands stages and programming

The organizers of PrideFest Milwaukee say they’ve expanded this year’s event to include a new stage along with a broader array of activities and performances than ever before. 

Last year PrideFest – North America’s largest LGBT music festival – broke 25 years of attendance records, drawing 28,137 people to the Summerfest grounds. Near-perfect weather and a strong lineup of headliners brought the event’s books back into the black after a disappointing turnout in 2011 left PrideFest’s future imperilled, said PrideFest president Scott Gunkel.

This year’s star-studded event promises to be another great success, if Mother Nature cooperates.

Out pop icon Andy Bell of Erasure is the Miller Lite Mainstage headliner on opening night, June 7. He’s the first male, opening-night headliner in the event’s history, according to Gunkel. Other first night performers include Sophie B. Hawkins and ABBA Salute.

On June 8, the legendary duo Indigo Girls hits the mainstage, and on June 9, outspoken LGBT and women’s rights supporter Amanda Palmer closes out the festival. She’ll follow a performance by Dangerous Muse, featuring electro-pop dance sounds and sexy stage theatrics never before seen on the Miller Lite Mainstage, according to a PrideFest press release.

Other artists performing over the weekend include God-Des & She, Beverly McClellan, Big Bad Gina, DJ Grind, Bad Romance, Something to Do, and Wisconsin’s own first lady of rock, Ronnie Nyles. 

The festival’s popular dance pavilion will be enhanced this year with more sophisticated sound and lighting equipment. Gunkel said an additional $60,000 worth of lighting effects will raise the dance experience to a new level of razzle-dazzle.

Numerous events are scheduled throughout the weekend, ranging from fireworks to drag shows to a leather/fetish show.

Last year, PrideFest launched Wom!nz Spot Lounge and Café, a successful new stage area toward the south end of the festival grounds. The venue, which offered poetry readings, acoustic performers, women artists and dancers in a laid-back atmosphere, “was packed all day long,” Gunkel said.

“We trademarked it and we’re bringing it back,” he said, adding that men are welcome to join the wom!n.

It’s another year, and there will be yet another new stage – The Riviera Maya Stage. Sponsored by La Nueva Ritmo, the stage will highlight the multicultural dimension of the LGBT and allied community.

“This multicultural stage is dedicated to presenting musical groups from diverse backgrounds,” board member Francisco Araiza said in a statement. “We wanted a place to showcase different nationalities, ethnicities, languages and religions, and by showcasing our diversity, we hope to find the commonalities that make the fabric that forms one worldwide LGBT and straight community.”

The stage will open on Friday night with oldies from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s spun by Kim from Club 219 and BJ Daniels from The Factory – both iconic DJs from Milwaukee’s disco era. “It’s kind of a reunion thing,” Gunkel said.

Saturday night will feature Latin music acts and DJs, and Sunday the new stage will put hip-hop under the spotlight.

The revitalized Milwaukee LGBT Community Center plans to have a high profile at PrideFest 2013. The group is taking over a two-story structure on the south end of the festival grounds near the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse Stage and the Wom!nz Spot.

“We’re sort of taking the community center on the road,” said board secretary Martin Palicki. “Everything you’d find at the center, we’re taking to the grounds.”

Palicki said the center will offer an alternative for attendees who want to spend some time at “a quieter place, where you can talk to people.”

The center will host seminars on such diverse topics as housing, retirement and gardening. There will also be a virtual gallery featuring artwork the center has exhibited and a videographer on site to record visitors’ coming-out stories. 

The center also will host family-friendly activities, including an inflatable slide for kids of all ages. An alcohol-free area for young people ages 13-24 will have a DJ and dancing. 

“There’s been a family explosion at PrideFest,” said board member Denise Cawley. “When we (she and her partner Anne) first had our son, we counted like two babies at PrideFest. Now he’s 6 and there’s been a baby explosion.” 

Cawley’s son Aidan looks forward to PrideFest, where he particularly enjoys the roasted corn, the hot dogs – and having his picture taken with drag queens, he said. 

When purchasing tickets at the gate, PrideFest visitors will be offered the opportunity to add $1 to be donated to the center.

One of the most novel features about PrideFest is that a volunteer, unpaid staff runs the elaborate event, which is the first major festival of the season.

“Every year, these folks come back and dedicate hours and hours of volunteer time to organize, and run this three-day festival,” said festival director Pete Minns. “And every year, it’s a great time.” For more information, go to pridefest.com.

Sharon Needles no-show at PrideFest was a drag

Due to her recent victory on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Sharon Needles was one of the most requested personalities for PrideFest 2012. We worked with Producer Entertainment Group, her managing company, to negotiate appearances, costs and associated riders.

Unfortunately, things did not happen as they were planned and contracted. Needles was supposed to host the entire evening at the Dance Arena, but she danced two numbers and said nothing. PrideFest, on the other hand, went to great lengths to accommodate her. When she requested changes for her performance at the last minute, including props, dance routines and scheduling changes, our volunteers raced to fulfill her demands.

At the request of the managing company, PrideFest also offered to host a meet and greet with Needles. For a $50 fee, fans paid for festival admission, entrance to the PumpWorks Dance Arena VIP platform and an 11:30 p.m. meeting with Needles. Her fans considered this an extreme honor and privilege.

Unfortunately, Needles and her manager did not appear as scheduled for the meet and greet, and we were forced to cancel the event for a variety of legal reasons. City of Milwaukee permit regulations require PrideFest and all festivals to end their performances and close the grounds by midnight.

PrideFest has never received an explanation from Needles, her production company, her manager or her stage producer concerning her behavior or her absence. PrideFest personnel repeatedly made her aware of her obligation, and she and her manager were present on the grounds until 12:45 a.m.

Because PrideFest appreciates each and every one of our guests, I made the executive decision to refund $50 to everyone who paid to mingle with Needles. I personally met, paid and apologized to all the guests who were affected.

We chose to bring Needles to PrideFest’s 25th anniversary to create a memorable experience for our fans. Our negotiations were done in the best interests of our community and in good faith that the performer and her manager would deliver on all obligations.

We are outraged by the lack of respect Needles showed for her fans, our organization and all personnel involved. PrideFest demands that Needles and her producer apologize for her conduct in writing so that we can deliver it to those who were stood up.

Every year, we bring you the nation’s largest showcase of LGBT entertainment and show-stopping headliners. With so much high-quality talent available to choose from in your world, we hope our community chooses to support only performers who respect and support them in return.

We promise you this type of disrespect for our community will never be tolerated at PrideFest Milwaukee.

Scott Gunkel is president of PrideFest Inc.