Early last month, Seattle PrideFest, the organization behind the festival of the same name, announced that they would be taking the over operation of the Seattle Red Dress Party this year. The event, which has seen its share of ups and downs over its original six-year run, has been dormant since February of 2014, when the last one was held.
According to Sam Galano, the founder of the Seattle Red Dress Party, handing the event over to PrideFest was a careful decision. “Over the last two years,” he says, “many organizations have contacted us wanting to take over the party, but it wasn’t until we sat down with PrideFest to discuss the possibility that it seemed to fit.”
“We can’t wait to see where they take the event,” he adds.
PrideFest Executive Director Egan Orion, for his part, is honored to be asked to take on the event.
“We’re humbled that the founders of Seattle Red Dress would trust us with this honor,” he says. “Sam Galano and his team produced something really special with this event. We’re very mindful of their legacy and for those who have been to Red Dress in the past, you’ll find a lot that’s familiar: the venue, the spirit of the event, and of course, the signature of the event—everybody in Red Dresses raising money for local non-profits.”
Bringing back such a popular event is exciting for Orion, although he understands why it took the organizers so long to come back around.
“Lots of people dig this event,” he exclaims. “People love it, and they were super bummed that it was going away. We talked to the organizers before they retired it. I think they needed a little bit of time to mourn the loss of their event.”
PrideFest has been managing and producing what they describe as “the largest free Pride festival in America” since 2007, and have recently become their own 501c3 non-profit. Because of this, Orion sees Red Dress as an opportunity to help the organization strengthen and grow.
“Red Dress will be a fundraiser both for PrideFest,” he explains, “to help build a stronger community, and for HIV/AIDS non-profits. That will also help fund some of our work. The more connected we are as a community, the more that we have access to services that we need.”
With last year’s PrideFest drawing more than 200,000 people to Seattle Center, its undeniable that the event presents an incredible opportunity for non-profit organizations to reach and connect with a very large audience. PrideFest, as an event, and as an organization, has a strong history of working with and supporting local non-profit and community-based organizations.
“Non-profits are at the heart of what the festival’s always been about,” agrees Orion. “We really see part of our mission as connecting non-profits with people in the community that need the services from those non-profits. By having the biggest LGBT gathering in the city, throughout the year, we enable that. By having the biggest presence of any LGBT organization in the NW on Facebook, we can help to do that. There’s lots ways that we can enable that just through the sheer numbers that we connect to.”
One of the ways that PrideFest helps support other non-profits is through lowering their barrier to entry at the expense of larger, for-profit companies.
“The festival is really expensive,” Orion admits. “Non-profits can get in at a rate lower than all other vendors, and we subsidize that by getting money from corporations.”
Events such as Red Dress, though, or their recent Mad Hatter dinner party fundraiser, which brought in more than $20,000, provide PrideFest with even more sources of funding to help support and expand their year-round work.
“Having that sustained funding,” offers Orion, “has enabled us to deepen our relationship and support of organizations like Gender Justice League for Trans* Pride. Its enabled us to work with Three Dollar Bill Cinema to expand our film offerings this June. It will cost more, but now, with more sustained funding, we can do more in the way of arts programming.”
Successfully managing a festival as large, and expensive, as PrideFest, definitely gives Orion and his team, including PrideFest Deputy Director and local DJ LA Kendall, the chops to take a fundraiser like Red Dress to the next level financially.
“I would like to see a focus on having some real metrics driven fundraising,” he says, “so that people know exactly what they got out of the event. They will know that, because this event happened last year, 300 people got free HIV tests, 40 people got counseling for their crystal meth problem and take themselves out of the risk pool. There’s all these connecting points, and I want people to have a real grasp of that.”
It’s by having that level of transparency in his fundraising, he says, that he can assure people that they’re really doing some good. He wants people to know that “this is real money, that’s going towards real services, that’s really helping to end AIDS in Washington state.”
Orion recognizes the importance of maintaining the Red Dress brand, though, that now has years of effort behind building it. Still, that doesn’t mean we won’t see the party updated with some PrideFest spin.
“When people go to Red Dress,” he explains, “we want them to feel like they’ve come home to Red Dress, but with a little twist.”
“You will see me in a red dress this year,” he adds. “You may even see me in full drag!”
The Seattle Red Dress Party will take place on Saturday, April 2 at Fremont Studios. Guests include the already announced DJ Brett Law, DJ Tina T, and the fabulous Ultra Naté. Tickets range from $35 for General Admission to $75 for VIP, and are available for purchase here.