At the first live show of Future Prairie — a Portland collective of women and queer artists — a small crowd gathered at The Hallowed Halls to watch, listen and discuss. On a stage adorned with plants and bathed in natural light, a stream of artists took turns performing: a dancer, a makeup artist, musicians, a poet, a filmmaker. After each performance, artists took questions from the audience and shared their creative process.
The vision of Future Prairie’s creative director Joni Whitworth had come to life.
“I have a lot of artist friends who have a lot of talent, but they don’t always have the opportunity or the venue to showcase it,” says Whitworth, who formed the collective in January 2018 and launched its live show five months later. “The show is a two-way conversation, with people able to converse with the artists and learn more about why they’re making art.”
Whitworth is an entrepreneur who previously founded Portland event company Mint & Mirth. She found inspiration for the variety-style show through researching chautauquas — cultural events popular in rural America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Blending entertainment and education, chautauquas brought community members together to hear from various speakers, musicians and teachers.
As Whitworth points out, much of modern-day dialogue within communities takes place online. Future Prairie’s live show format, however, lets people connect and learn from each other in person, through engaged discussion. The Hallowed Halls, a historic Southeast Portland building that serves as a recording studio and event space, has a living-room feel that’s decidedly different from the loud, dark interiors where live shows often take place.
The Members of Future Prairie
For artists like Maiah Wynne, an indie-folk musician who performed at Future Prairie’s inaugural show, the intimate format dissolves perceived barriers between the performer and listener.
“I felt really connected with the audience and was able to talk about the meaning behind each song,” Wynne says. “It’s a place where you can really listen to the nuance of the music and experience something you haven’t experienced before.”
Members of Future Prairie (currently around 20 artists) also collaborate on other projects. The poetry collection Your Full Real Name, written by Whitworth and illustrated by Mali Fischer, was released in fall 2017. Additionally, filmmaker Anna Weltner is creating short documentaries featuring the artists discussing their work and inspiration.
Fields such as design, comedy, fiber art, animation and photography are also represented within the collective. “We’re amassing this group of experts who are masters of their own craft[s] and can come together and express concepts in a lot of fun ways,” Whitworth says.
The Mission of Future Prairie
As its name implies, Future Prairie is loosely guided by the values of futurism, with an emphasis on shaping the future of culture. This theme is evident in the collective’s podcast, Future Prairie Radio, with guests discussing such topics as the end of plastic, equitable ridesharing and Afrofuturism and autonomy. (Whitworth plans to have every member of the collective featured as a guest.)
“For me, futurism is about helping people envision how things should or could be, observing and responding to technological changes associated with the concept of the future,” says Whitworth. “It’s a conceptual north star.”
For the queer community, Future Prairie’s live show offers a way to meet people in a safe and inclusive environment that’s an alternative to the dance party scene. As a female musician who identifies as queer, Wynne says there are still many performance venues that don’t feel safe or particularly inclusive.
“It can be hard navigating that,” she says. “This is a space that’s very safe, open and non-judgmental, where I can share music that’s vulnerable and feel comfortable doing that.”
Attending Future Prairie Live Events
While Future Prairie members are women and queer artists, all adults 21 and older are welcome to attend the live shows. Whitworth hopes to host four to 12 shows per year, featuring a different mix of performers at each show.
“To build something outside of the norm takes a bit of gumption,” says Whitworth, who is seeking to further diversify and expand the collective. She envisions Future Prairie evolving as a creative production brand, taking on clients in need of creative content for various endeavors.
“Portland has an incredible artistic community that values community over competition,” Whitworth says. “There are so many amazing opportunities for Future Prairie — the sky’s the limit.”
Tickets to Future Prairie live shows are $10 and can be purchased at FuturePrairie.com.