In today's episode, I welcome Sandy Woodson! Sandy is a filmmaker and photographer who recently quit her 9-5 to be a full-time documentarian. She discusses her experiences helping to share the stories of those whose voices have been historically silenced in Kansas City, including in the LBGTQ communities, and also about her passion for widening the audience for all artists in KC, whether they produce art for major companies or for their own small shows. (Fun fact: the cover image for this episode displays a tulip flag from Womontown, which you can read more about in the full episode notes.)


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More about Sandy's project "Womontown:" In the late 1980s, Drea Nedelsky and Maryann Hopper had a vision.  They imagined a neighborhood where they could be themselves without fear,  a place where women could walk hand in hand down the street without the judgments and criticisms normally encountered in the straight world. Drea picked the Longfellow / Dutch Hill neighborhood from 30th to 27th, Harrison to Charlotte, because it was cheap. This was a neighborhood that had once housed Kansas City's elite but had fallen on hard times by the time the 80s rolled around.  Drea saw the economic benefits and security home ownership could provide and wanted to make that available for the people like them who were on the edges of society and faced countless discriminations not only because they were lesbians but because they were women.  In the late 80s and early 90s, a woman in Kansas City could not get a home loan on her own.  She needed a parent or husband to cosign. Being handy, Drea had no fear buying a house with no windows, electricity or plumbing even though it was next to an apartment building that housed drug dealers. Drea could see a future of like-minded women, buying these beat up, cheap houses and helping each other fix them up to make homes.  So Drea and Maryann put the word out and lesbians from all over the United States responded by coming to KC, buying houses and setting up a new community. As an organized effort, it lasted about 5 years, but the ripple it created is something that 30 years later can still be seen and felt.


Episode 73 - Sandy Woodson

[00:00:00] Lindsey Dinneen: Hello, and welcome to Artfully Told, where we share true stories about meaningful encounters with art.

[00:00:06] Krista: I think artists help people have different perspectives on every aspect of life.

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[00:02:11] Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Artfully Told. I am so excited to have as my guest today, Sandy Woodson. She is a documentarian, which I am so excited to hear all about how that journey came about. But thank you so much for being here, Sandy. I'm really excited to talk with you about art.

[00:02:35] Sandy Woodson: I'm excited to be here. Thanks for the invite.

[00:02:38] Lindsey Dinneen: Of course, absolutely. Well, Sandy, you know, you and I met through Kansas City Fringe Festival, which I have talked about many, many times on this podcast because I think it's such a special thing. But I would love if you wouldn't mind, maybe we could start there, sharing a little bit about how you've helped the festival over the years and even your own participation and then go from there.

[00:03:01] Sandy Woodson: Okay. Yeah, it was somewhere around 2009 or 2010. We haven't really been able to remember between Cheryl and I, but early on, I was in a freelance mode. I was contracting with KCPT or KCPS. But I was just contracting and I had some open time and somehow or another, I think I first talked to Cheryl because I wanted to create an app that all the festivals in Kansas City could be listed on. I knew through the film festival, Kansas City Film Festival, introduced me to Cheryl to talk about that. And then as always, you know, if you talk to Cheryl, you become a volunteer pretty quickly for the Fringe Festival. So that's what happened. And at the time I had extra time, so I got involved with, you know, I jumped in with both feet and also, that was the first time I really started displaying photography. I've always been interested in it. I've always had it as a hobby. And I actually did some photography for Fringe that year. I believe it was that year. And I've pretty much done it every year since then. I haven't been as involved in the last couple of years, but in all the years leading up to that, I was pretty involved in the organization side of it.

[00:04:17] Lindsey Dinneen: For sure. Yeah. And, oh my gosh, I know you, you know, basically once, well, even beforehand, but certainly once the festival starts, you're hitting the ground running like literally almost 24/7.

[00:04:30] Sandy Woodson: Yeah. For a lot of years, it was like that. And then, like I say, the last couple of years, I kind of stepped back a little bit because my work started to get more intense. And so I didn't have as much time as I used to.

[00:04:44] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, for sure. Well, are you planning to still, you know, participate in some ways and, and continue to exhibit your own work?

[00:04:53] Sandy Woodson: Yeah, absolutely. And hoping to get now that I'm not nine to five, full-time somewhere. I'm hoping to get more involved with the festival next year, too. I'm happy that it looks like we're going to be able to meet in person again. That'll be awesome.

[00:05:09] Lindsey Dinneen: Oh, hallelujah. I'm so ready for that. Okay. Yeah. Well, yeah. Thank you for sharing a little bit about that. And then, you know, specifically with your artwork, do you want to share what you kind of focus on as far as your photography?

[00:05:26] Sandy Woodson: Yeah. So early on, my big thing was kind of spawned by the fact that I've, you know, had the way I put it-- I went to one too many bad photography exhibits where it's nothing but naked women. And I was like, so where all the naked men, you know, so I kind of got started on that path and did that for quite a few years. I was helped by that with not only Fringe where I could literally post, you know, or hang whatever kind of photos I want to do. At the time April McInerney, who I love, had a gallery called Slap and Tickle Gallery. And so she really opened things up for me. There was one time where she let me take over the whole gallery space and I hung, I had probably four or five different themes or years of work that I hung up. And then I set up a little area with rope and stanchion and a TV and a recliner and a cooler. And I said, I had a sign that said the "North American Male in his Native Habitat." And I had different guys show up every half hour to sit in the chair and do whatever they wanted to do. I was like, I don't care what you do. We just kind of want to here's guys. And here's what they do because that kind of went with the theme of all the photography I'd been doing the years leading up to that.

[00:06:46] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Well, and that is an interesting thing. Again, native habitat. I like it. Yeah. And what a cool opportunity to get to take over that gallery, so to speak and that's awesome.

[00:06:56] Sandy Woodson: Oh yeah, she was so awesome. I mean, she let the gallery go a few years ago. But you know, with Fringe, I was always able to do two sets of photography every year because they had a blue gallery or the gallery where the naked stuff went and so for Fringe, I'd always have something everybody could see and then something people not everybody could see. And April, her gallery, it was like whatever I wanted to put in there. Yeah, so it was an awesome time. And in the years since then, particularly in the last couple of years, I have been documenting LGBT history in Kansas City or what I'm hoping, you know, history in the making, things that are happening now that in the future, hopefully somebody will want to look back at and see, but so that's mostly what I've been doing with my photography since I haven't. Since Fringe has been virtual-- well I say that-- this last Fringe, I hung ballroom photos, and I can talk about that too. That's one of my documentary, documentary projects that I'm kind of working on.

[00:08:04] Lindsey Dinneen: Oh yeah. I'd love to hear about that.

[00:08:07] Sandy Woodson: Well, and when you hear ballroom, people think of men and women dancing in a kind of a formal way. This is more the African-American trans community ballroom. And like, if you ever saw the documentary, "Paris is Burning," from the eighties or what really kind of brought it all back up was the "Pose" series that was on FX, I think. And that's really how I got to know the people in Kansas City that are part of that community is I went to that screening. They were screening it at Tapcade, a weekly show for, I don't know, 6, 7, 8 weeks. And so I would go and, and I started to meet the people who do ballroom in Kansas City. And they've been very nice in letting me. There was a ball two years ago that they let me videotape and photograph. And for Fringe this last year is when I hung those ballroom photos. So that's been a big interest of mine over these last couple of years.

[00:09:06] And I met Michael Robeson, who was co-creator of "Pose" because he's related in the ballroom community to a guy here in Kansas City named Xavier and Xavier is actually the Grandfather of Ballroom in Kansas City. So anyway, it's been an awesome experience. The people I've met are amazing and very kind and letting me poke my nose in their business. And now that COVID is getting better. I hope to get a couple of more. You know, recordings of balls that I know are coming up.

[00:09:49] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. How exciting and what a cool opportunity. And it's great that you're keeping track of, of history there because, you know, we, we would want to be able to look back on that and really, you know, dive in. So yeah. Yeah. I definitely think so and well, and that's a perfect segue. I know you've had, you know, a really amazing career in a lot of different ways and venues and all sorts of fun stuff. But I know now you're kind of on a, on your own trajectory again, you know, as far as I know, not working for other, for a specific other person anymore or other company. And so, you mind sharing a little bit about your kind of dreams and plans for your future?

[00:10:30] Sandy Woodson: There are so many right now. I'm just loving everything right now. So I worked at KCPBS off and on for the last 25 years or so. And there were two other times where I went freelance and contracted with the station and did some other things that I was working on at the time. So this time I, the station had approved me, given me the go-ahead to do a Womontown documentary. And I can explain that topic in a second. And so what I did is I got all of it, everything's shot and kept not being able to spend the time editing it because my full-time job was too crazy for me to be able to do that. So I was going to buy a house. I took some money out of my retirement account, the house didn't come through. And I was like, "Hey, I got enough money in there. I could live for a while off of that." So that's what I'm doing. And I have four documentary projects ahead of me.

[00:11:29] Well, and, and if you don't mind, I'd like to explain. I mean, so a couple of years ago for Fringe, I was in San Francisco. I was walking down the street and in the sidewalk, I saw a heart with two men's names in it, and I thought, "Wow, I've never seen that before." And it got me started down a path of trying to document men who'd been together 20 years. And I did that as a photography project. I did audio- recorded interviews with these men as to how they met, their favorite things about each other. I was keeping it short and sweet because when you were at Union Station looking at the photos, you could scan a QR code and it would go to the site where you could listen to their interview. So when I was interviewing them, all of them had had met at the Cabaret Bar. And I started hearing about the Cabaret, which I'd never been to. When the Cabaret was around, I was, you know, living north of the river and having kids. So I didn't really know anything about it and got very interested in that.

[00:12:33] And then somewhere down the line, I decided I wanted to talk about HIV aids in the eighties because I didn't, you know, I know people have done documentaries on that for other parts of the country, but not for here in Kansas City. So I got excited about doing that. And then I was talking to Rashaan Gilmore and he's like, "This is not just a history thing in my community. This is happening now." Because in the African-American community, if the rate continues as it is from what he told me, there will come a time where one out of every two African-American men will be HIV positive. So it became the history and the current state of HIV/AIDS in Kansas City.

[00:13:16] So because I'm straight and I don't know anything or didn't know anything at that time, a couple of years ago when I first started this, I just started meeting people, talking to people. I'm talking about the Cabaret, talking about what it was like to be gay in Kansas City in the early days, what's it like now. I started documenting Drag Queens and female impersonators and that met the ballroom community, started documenting that. So it's just kind of taken off from there. And I think for me, I'm real passionate about this because I feel like the people in the LGBT community until somewhat recently, it wasn't safe for people to be coming out. So all of this history that's gone on for all of these decades, very little documenting has been done about it, particularly with video. And I started partnering with the Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America with Stewart Heinz and just meeting tons of people. And so that's been, that's how all of that kind of got started.

[00:14:20] Lindsey Dinneen: Wow. That's amazing. Yeah. Well, I'm, I'm so glad that you're choosing to tell stories that are, have traditionally not been told and, you know, historically have been sort of, like you said, kind of underground, hidden, whatever. You just didn't talk about it. So I think it's, it's cool that, that your endeavor is to, you know, meet these people and tell their stories.

[00:14:43] Sandy Woodson: Well, and it's been really awesome for me. I mean, I'm glad that I was doing all of this on my own and, you know, outside of my full-time job and, you know, because of that, it has been a couple of years since I really began all of this, but you know, still in all it's, you know, there are still people who are afraid to talk about it. There are people who are afraid of talking about HIV/AIDS. There's, I mean, the thing that blew me away when I started thinking about it was every person I spoke to about the HIV/AIDS crisis and about those early days, they started to cry. I mean, it's, it's one of these things that no, it's almost been 40 years and nobody's really talked about it. You know? They, it's not a general topic of conversation and it's just kind of a, such a sad thing that it's not talked about as much. And I think it's, it's almost like opening a wound. And I've asked people when they've gotten teary, whether they regret having agreed to talk to me. And they said, "Actually, it's kind of therapeutic." So 'cause they hadn't thought about it or talked about it in almost 40.

[00:15:58] Lindsey Dinneen: Wow. Wow. Oh my gosh. Yeah. That's, that's great that you're doing that and, and yeah, telling your personal story really does matter to someone who's willing to listen and not just listen, but like, ask questions, and "how was this experience for you and be empathic and that's, that's cool. So, awesome. Well so I'm, I'm curious then-- so going back, what got you involved in art and photography and all of those things, you know, at, at the beginning, what got, what sparked your interest?

[00:16:32] Sandy Woodson: Well my dad does photography and so growing up, I was always looking at photography books and museums and artwork and reading. And my grandma, one of my grandmas painted. So there was always a lot of that for me when I was growing up and, but I got, I got pregnant and married very early at 18. And so-- well I was going to say things were put on hold, but they weren't. I got, I went right into theater at that point and got very involved in sets and props and doing tech backstage, sound and lights, and anything and everything really. I just loved being involved in theater and I love the process and the team effort that goes into it. And I just loved everything about it, but at one point 10 years later, I was going through a divorce and I thought, "Oh, I'll never make any money in theater. So I better stop that."

[00:17:33] And I went into video and I started in corporate video. But all the things that I had learned in theater, some of those things translated, you know, these still need costumes, you still need props. You still need sets. You still need to organize how this all is going to come about and schedule people and crews and all of that. So that's how I became a video producer. And, but I didn't really do much except, you know, like I say, kind of playing around as a hobby with, with photography or writing or any of that until I got involved with Fringe, which was another 10, 20 years after that. And it's because, you know, as you know, Fringe is so accepting and they're all about, you know, we're not expecting everything to be perfect all the time. I started to understand what it means, what it means to go through the process. I mean, you have to get doing to grow and Fringe is so accepting of all of that, then it made me feel comfortable enough to start trying to do some things a little more seriously when it came to photography.

[00:18:42] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah. I'm, I'm such a big proponent of the Fringe Festival concept of, you know, these are unjuried, uncensored projects or shows that are being put forth. And so it is a very welcoming audience of, you know, it's, it doesn't have to be perfect the first time or, you know, you can experiment at Fringe and still have ,yeah, and still have such a great audience. And their feedback is so helpful, but you know, they're, they're there with you cheering you on, I would say. And so it's a really place to produce art.

[00:19:24] Sandy Woodson: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And like you say, to experiment. I mean, I've seen people try a lot of different things that they wouldn't have any other place to do that.

[00:19:35] Lindsey Dinneen: Absolutely. I completely agree. Yeah. So I'm curious, I'm sure that there are many moments that might come to mind, but are there any specific stories that you can think of, of times of when either you were witnessing some artwork that really touched you or you witnessed someone witnessing your artwork and, and sort of a story of, of maybe those moments to remember, just because they're really special?

[00:20:00] Sandy Woodson: Well, the most recent one that I can remember is, I went with a group of people to Italy and I'm a huge museum freak. I just love museums. I could spend all day in museums, not only because of the artwork, but they're just as a whole, they're very peaceful, beautiful places. So, but we went to-- gosh, what was the guy's name? It was some famous Italian guy, it was his villa. And I saw the Botticellis. They're like 10 foot tall by 10 foot or 20 feet wide. And it was "Spring Primavera," which I think I've always thought of as a Venus in a half shell or something. I saw that and another one and I was just like, "This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen." And, you know, I actually felt the same way one time when I was in Amsterdam and saw Van Gogh. There is --it's called "Apple Blossoms". I think it's "Apple Blossoms" and it was the first time I'd ever seen it. Now, since then, I see it all over the place in posters. I have an iPad that has a cover that has that artwork on it.

[00:21:08] But I realized as much as I see this artwork in books, it is nothing to compare to when you get to actually see it in person. And the Van Gogh was one of the first-- well, my first and all of these happened in Europe. I know there are things in Kansas City that I've seen at the Nelson that every time I go, I have to go by and look at it. But the ones that made the biggest impact were the ones in Europe, because I had a whole series of books on art museums. And I would just go through those things over and over again. And to see these things in person just blew me away. So, oh gosh. And "Winged Victory." I love sculpture. "Winged Victory" at the Louvre just stopped me in my tracks to just-- things like that, that you just see them, it's like, "Oh my God. That's beautiful."

[00:22:01] Lindsey Dinneen: Wow. Yeah. I, I agree is it's like, I mean, I can definitely relate to what you're saying about, you know, artwork and seeing it in person and the originals and such versus a photo. And I feel that way about art in general is just, if you can experience it live, there's nothing like that. It's so much better than, you know, it incorporates your senses and you just have these special-- I think it's cool too, because you often have-- I mean, I have many times gone to an art museum by myself and wandered around and, you know, enjoyed it thoroughly. But I think some of my favorite moments are connecting with people with art. I think that's a really special moment, you know?

[00:22:43] Sandy Woodson: Yeah. And a lot of that for me is more like when I'm going to a play or going to an art movie or something that, yeah, there's definitely-- you can't compare watching it at home on TV or listening to it by yourself at home then that communal... That's I always love Shakespeare in the Park here in Kansas City. I love that, you know, all of us sitting outside and usually dying of heat, but you know, I, I really liked those experiences too.

[00:23:15] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, absolutely. Well, this has really been a lot of fun. I have a couple of questions that I like to ask my guests if you're okay with that.

[00:23:24] Sandy Woodson: Sure.

[00:23:25] Lindsey Dinneen: Okay. So first of all, what is one change that you would like to see in the art world? Whether that is, you know, specifically through one of the mediums that you have enjoyed and, and worked on over the years or whether that's like, you know, art in general, just what's one change you'd really love to see?

[00:23:48] Sandy Woodson: I don't think-- probably because my experience with Fringe, I get really tired of the fact that we in this community, we seem to focus on what is considered "high art." You know, it's not like I dislike any of these people or anything, but I'm just going to say it, you know, with the Ballet and Opera and Symphony, those people get enough support. I mean, I know they need to raise money every year, but when you're looking at these artists that are part of the Fringe Festival to me, that's real art, you know, and I don't think it gets enough attention and I think people poo poo it. And I think I've seen some of the most amazing things.

[00:24:28] There was something I saw that Kyle Hatley did. I think it was called "Head" one of my first few years at Fringe. And I, I was so blown away by it. You see amazing things being done by high-end artists in Kansas City during Fringe, and they're just as amazing there as they are anywhere else. And they're helping to support their friend who's writing a play for the first time or somebody who's doing some choreography for the first time. And, and, and /or people like Kyle Hatley who wanted to experiment with a play idea that he had. So I just, to me, that's where the real art is, and I don't think it gets enough attention.

[00:25:09] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Oh, I love that answer. And yeah, attention and funding, I think are our biggest complaints.

[00:25:16] Sandy Woodson: One comes with the other. You get the attention first and then hopefully the funding.

[00:25:22] Lindsey Dinneen: Yes, exactly. And then also, is there something arts related that you've wanted to try? Maybe another form of art, but you just haven't yet. Or, you know, it's kind of been intimidating to, to start. What's one other art thing that you'd love to do?

[00:25:38] Sandy Woodson: Absolutely. When I saw-- well first I saw it here-- Nick Cave did it during open spaces using multiple projections. And then I saw it when I was in France. That was an experience with-- in fact, right now there's something going on in Kansas City with Van Gogh, that's doing multiple projections in a space. But the one in France was an old hollowed out quarry with 50 foot walls. And I don't even know how many projectors they had in there, but anyway, it was such an amazing-- that kind of an immersive experience. I love projections, Stephen Goldblatt, who does this stuff for quixotic. I love that. I think it adds so much to the performance when, when they use those projections. So video projection is probably something I would like to try at some point.

[00:26:28] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, that sounds awesome. I did see an ad for that Van Gogh experience and I was like, "Oh man, I, I, if I can get up there, I'm have to do it."

[00:26:38] Sandy Woodson: Yes.

[00:26:40] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah, absolutely. And then my final question is, at the end of your life, what's one art-related experience that you would want to experience again for the last time?

[00:26:52] Sandy Woodson: Gosh, I mean, to me, I almost see art everywhere. I mean, I love architecture. I love fashion. I love jewelry design. There's so many things I love. Probably it would have to be going back to the Louvre, maybe? The last time I went, I dedicated two full days to going top to bottom. That was freaking stunning. So I'd probably try to go there one more time.

[00:27:19] Lindsey Dinneen: Yeah. Yeah. That's on my a definite bucket list. I haven't, I haven't made it there yet, but it's coming.

[00:27:27] Sandy Woodson: You got to go to Napoleon's apartments. I also love furniture and decorative arts, and good lord, that stuff was amazing.

[00:27:37] Lindsey Dinneen: Awesome. Yeah, no, I will definitely have to do that. Well, thank you so much for sharing your stories and know what you're up to and, and all these exciting things, I'm just, I'm so thrilled for you. I'm glad you're in a place where you can really follow these passions of telling people's stories that need to be told. So I think this is really cool and congratulations on this new adventure. And is there a way for people to stay in touch with you or if they have questions or anything like that, is there a way for them to connect with you?

[00:28:08] Sandy Woodson: Sure. You can email me at Sandy Woodson, S A N D Y W O O D S O

[00:28:18] Lindsey Dinneen: Well, thank you so very much, Sandy, for everything that you have brought to the world. Thank you so much for continuing to explore art and to share people's stories and to be a voice for those that haven't had that opportunity. And thank you again so much for being here today. And to everyone who has listened to this episode, if you're feeling inspired by it, I'd love if you'd share this with a friend or two and we will catch you next time.

[00:28:52] If you have a story to share with us, we would love that so much. And I hope your day has been Artfully Told.

[00:29:01] Hi friends. I wanted to share with you another podcast that I think you're going to fall in love with just as I have. It's called Harlem with a View, and it is hosted by Harlem Lennox, who was a previous guest of mine on Artfully Told and a dear friend. Just because it looks easy doesn't mean it is. There is so much that goes into the work of your creative. She wants to know how the artists got into their line of work, what inspires them, but most importantly, what keeps them going? She'd asked them about how they make it through the blood, sweat, and tears. She wants to know what it's like to live this creative life: the good, the bad, the ugly, and even the magical. So she goes behind the scenes with creatives, from different genres and she explores their history, their take on life and talks about the business of art and the dedication of making art. She has a brilliant, brilliant platform. I think you will fall in love. I highly recommend that you search for Harlem with a View. Thanks!

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