Ladyfest is coming up Oct. 8. It’s a celebration of women musicians that supports Connect to End Violence, a program of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. Connect’s mission is “to reduce domestic and sexual violence on Martha’s Vineyard by changing the social norms through education, advocacy, and community mobilization, and providing crisis intervention services including advocacy, counseling, and support services for victims.” With four full-time and three part-time employees, Connect reached 251 clients last year in over 1,800 sessions. It works in partnership with healthcare providers, schools, police departments, the courts, and other departments of MVCS.
“When Rose and I started Ladyfest in 2017, it was all about showcasing and promoting the female talent here on Martha’s Vineyard,” says Kelly Feirtag, who organizes Ladyfest with musician Rose Guerin. In its first years, Ladyfest was based at the Ritz, where Kelly worked. Ritz owner Larkin Stallings suggested that they use the event to support a cause, so they reached out to Connect. It’s been a partnership ever since, bringing together local musicians, with an emphasis on women, and an organization that’s dedicated to helping people to have safe and healthy relationships, without fear of violence.
Morgan Beausoleil is Connect’s education and prevention coordinator. She reaches out to the Island’s students through their health and wellness classes, where she and others lead healthy relationships classes. The classes were designed using the evidence-based Mentors in Violence Prevention curriculum and the Safe Dates curriculum, and reach students in middle school and high school. This year, there’s also a pilot program for fourth grade students, with age-appropriate content. Education and prevention includes talking about respect and empathy with younger students and teaching students in their final years of high school about resources for victims of sexual assault.
“We try to make it a conversation with the students,” Morgan says. “It comes down to healthy relationships in general, not just dating relationships. We help them identify safe adults, adults they can go to if they’re having an issue with someone, or if they’re trying to support someone who is going through an unhealthy relationship.”
Starting in sixth or seventh grade, students receive Connect’s hotline number, which is available to everyone. Teachers of the healthy relationship classes remind them that they can talk to school guidance counselors if they don’t feel comfortable calling on the phone. The hotline is staffed by professionally trained domestic violence and rape crisis counselors around the clock, seven days a week. When a call comes in, the counselor will find out if the person on the other end of the line is safe at the moment, and help them to figure out their next steps. Counselors work using the empowerment model, to help each survivor do what’s best for them. “We offer options instead of advice, because the survivor is the expert in their own story,” Morgan says. She also says that you don’t have to be in crisis to call the hotline. People can call if they need to process something that happened long ago, or if they’re just feeling unsafe in a relationship but there isn’t an immediate crisis. Connect also offers support to what they call secondary survivors, the support people in a victim’s life.
“We see an increase in calls following Ladyfest, just because of the awareness the event brings,” Morgan says. Last year, Ladyfest raised more than $20,000 toward stabilization living expenses for survivors. This money can help them get out of an unsafe situation by helping with rent, utilities, and other basic expenses, so that they can live a life free from violence.
This year, Ladyfest will be starting at 2 in the afternoon, making it more accessible for families with children. “It is a really family-friendly event,” says Kelly. “We just wanted to make it so everyone could participate.” The event is a lot of fun, a party that will extend the length of Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs. “There will be lots of really incredible Island artisans, jewelry, clothing, and really cool artwork, and some food vendors we’re really excited about,” Kelly says. This year, the music will include two high school bands, the M.V. Big Band and Jazz Combo: “It’s really paramount for these high school kids to learn healthy relationships.” By getting them involved, the organizers hope to help the younger generations build healthier relationships, free from violence.
Regular performers from the first five years of Ladyfest are returning, including Rose Guerin, Barbara Dacey, Mrs. Biskis, a dance performance by Island Hip Hop, and many more. This year, Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish, featuring Delanie Pickering, will be joining the lineup, along with Prune, a band based in Western Massachusetts.
The whole event is planned in partnership with Connect. “We meet with the director, Jennifer Neary, who is just the most amazing woman in the entire world,” Kelly says. They learn what’s new at Connect, and how domestic violence has changed in the past year — such as learning there was an upsurge in hotline calls during the social isolation phase of the COVID pandemic. Connect will have an information booth at Ladyfest, and there will be several speakers. Kelly says that they might have some anonymous letters read aloud, from survivors who have used Connect’s services and from staff. All in all, it’s a great time to get out, enjoy great live music, and support an organization that helps young people build better relationships and gives support to victims of violence.