Rutherford's First PRIDEfest
Updated: May 26
By Jennifer Ersalesi
As June quickly approaches, the Rutherford Pride Alliance and the Rutherford Arts Council are putting together the final pieces of our community's first PRIDEfest. Both groups have worked together for over two years to plan this upcoming event which will celebrate Pride month, the Arts, the LGBTQIA+, and their allies.
TIR: This is Rutherford’s First PRIDEfest and you have been putting this together for quite some time. What can you tell us about the planning process?
Katie Pippin: We started planning over the holidays in 2019/2020, so this is a long time coming! Pride was originally supposed to happen in 2020, but then the pandemic occurred. Our big Pride fundraiser was the Neon Ball at the Elks in February 2022, which was supposed to be a New Year's Eve party, but we had to postpone due to the Omicron variant. Covid has been so frustratingly unpredictable, but we have worked really hard to adapt and pivot with the situation.
For PRIDEFest, we’ve got a full lineup of performances on stage all day, Highland Cross will be filled with a bouncy house and an obstacle course, and a dunk tank. There are a TON of interesting arts and queer vendors, food trucks, a beer garden, an entire kid’s zone near the cannon with carnival games, an activity tent sponsored by Made2Measure, and face painting by the Junior Woman’s Club of Rutherford. We also have the Rainbow Road, which is a virtual walking tour through Lincoln Park celebrating art, queer history, and Rutherford.
Rob Lyons: We had such an incredible turnout when the Rutherford Pride Alliance raised Rutherford's first Pride Flag in 2019. We were blown away to have 400+ attendees that came out to support that special day and show their support for their LGBTQ+ neighbors, and we knew we had to continue to build on the momentum. The event in 2019 created such energy that there were many asking what we were going to do next to make sure the celebration continued throughout the day.
When Katie Pippin came to me about collaborating on a larger scale Pride festival that would merge Pride and Arts, it only made sense. In order to be able to execute a large-scale event, it only helps to have the support of as many people as you can, and I knew Katie and the Rutherford Arts Council had a group of leaders that think outside of the box and make things happen. Who wouldn't want to collaborate with a group like that?
In addition to the things Katie mentioned, we also will have vendors participating that focus on the LGBTQ+ community, such as PFLAG, NJ Pride Chamber of Commerce, Garden State Equality, and more.
TIR: The Rutherford Pride Alliance and Rutherford Arts Council have teamed up to organize this event. What does each group “bring to the table”?
KP: It’s been amazing working with the RPA. Rob Lyons is incredibly organized, and I’ve made some great new friends through the Alliance.
I also have to hand it to the Arts Council team- Dawn Schumacher, Valky Duran, and Jess Stiles have been bending over backwards to make Pride happen, as well as help from Sarah Orlowicz (Free Little Art Gallery) and Chris Fox (Rutherford Rock Band). I think the Arts Council was most helpful in facilitating connections within town.
RL: I've been blown away by the creativity and dedication that Katie Pippin brings to this process. Katie's passion to make this event come to life and her outward support of the RPA and the LGBTQ+ community are the characteristics that anybody would want in a collaboration. The RAC Board, which also happens to be made up of a few RPA Members, as well, come to the table with such incredible, interesting ideas and their dedication to make it happen is immeasurable. We always have to remember that each and every one of those involved are volunteering their time to plan this event, in addition to their jobs, family, and personal activities that they also need to balance.
I also have to give huge kudos and thanks to our RPA Board, David Grassetti, Kathryn Ruhno-McCallum, and Jess Stiles, who have been flawlessly leading so many components of this planning process, from acquiring sponsors, building talent for our performances, and collaborating with vendors. We also have had RPA members volunteering on the various committees and they will also be volunteering on the day of the event. Everyone involved comes from different backgrounds and have special skills that they bring to the planning process that it has really made it easy to see our ideas come to life.
I also want to make sure to celebrate Christine Beidel, a founding member of the RPA, who has been working hard on the Pride Flag event that will take place prior to the Festival.
What really jumps out to me is not just what each group brings to the table, but the community of Rutherford that reached out to us to see how they can get involved. We truly can see the building of community during this process, which ties beautifully into our theme for the day-Creating Community through Pride & Arts.
TIR: Pridefest is meant for all ages and all community members. Can you tell us more about what there will be for children there?
KP: I think there will be more activities for kids than adults! (See question 1 for answers)
PRIDEFest, and Pride in general, is a day to love and celebrate folks for who they are, unconditionally. We have such a great friendly community in Rutherford, yet this will be our first time celebrating our queer families and children. We understand that not everyone is comfortable with the idea of Pride, especially if they’ve never attended and don’t know what to expect. But on June 4th, we’re going to have an amazing, fun festival that the entire family will enjoy and feel welcome at, no matter your orientation.
RL: PRIDEFest will be a perfect example of how our town is so diverse and how by simply providing visibility to our LGBTQ+ families & community, provides a safe haven for those who may not be comfortable yet with who they are. An event that highlights acceptance, family, community, and diversity provides a foundation that enables all to thrive as their true selves. I can't reiterate how important this is for so many people.
Since my husband and I just started our own family this past year, we can't wait to celebrate with other LGBTQ+ families and our allies on this day. I encourage all of our Rutherford community members to stop by at some point during the day to meet the diverse population of community members from the area.
TIR: There will be live performances at Pridefest. Tell us more about those performances.
KP: We’re really excited about the show! It will be a mix of local acts- singers, dancers, drag queen story hour, dj sets, and bands. We’re still finalizing details, but there’s something for everyone.
RL: Make sure to visit RutherfordPrideAlliance.org frequently as we finalize our performance schedules for the day. Our performances will include our headliner, Daniel Shevlin, who is bringing his immense talents to Rutherford for the first time. Daniel, a NJ-native, blends the works of classical, pop-rock, and musical theater into his everyday repertoire, all while playing the cello and singing at the same time! We are also excited to provide the moment for Drag Queen Story Hour, which will be a great opportunity for families to gather together to learn about acceptance, diversity, and individuality. We will also feature other queer performers, such as Type Advantage a pop-punk band from Asbury Park!
There will also be a number of Rutherford residents sharing their musical talents at PRIDEfest including Cassidy Ovarsi, a young singer/ songwriter who is a Freshman at Rutherford High School, and Rutherford Rocks, Rutherford Recreation's youth rock band comprised of young musicians, ages 8-17.
This QR code can be used to check the performance schedule
TIR: Why is Pridefest such an important event for the Rutherford Arts Council and the Rutherford Pride Alliance?
KP: For me personally, it’s SO important that we are doing this. Representation matters, especially for kids. We have queer kids in town, trans kids, and kids who maybe feel different but aren’t sure why. Pride is a chance to collectively show them how loved they are, no matter who they are. Let’s show them a fun afternoon where they can be themselves, where they can spend time with other queer kids and queer families- show them that they are not alone. That they are amazing just as they are!
As for the arts aspect of the festival- the Arts Council’s core value is to further the arts in town. We are on board for any performance opportunities, as well as giving artists venues to sell their work. Rutherford is so great already- more art is only going to enhance this town that we all love.
RL: It's still so important to continue to ensure we are outwardly representing the LGBTQ+ community in town. It's not just about raising the flag once a year, but about ensuring that there is visibility wherever we can infuse. Supporting and advocating for the queer community is something we should be doing on a daily basis, but June makes it even more of a celebration for all. As an adult gay male, growing up I wish that I had events and opportunities that allowed me to understand that I was accepted and that the community had my back. There are so many LGBT youths within our community, that by celebrating together, we are providing them with a safe space to express their true selves. I encourage more businesses and town organizations to think about how they can continue to showcase their support on an ongoing basis, especially during June.
We also have been utilizing the connections we have built with other NJ organizations and this is the first opportunity for us to put on an event where we give them a forum to educate people about who they are and what they do.
We also are creating a destination in Southern Bergen County for all to celebrate. There aren't too many festivals celebrating Pride in this area, especially one with such a focus on the Arts. We are so thankful to have our Platinum sponsor, American Dream, on board with us, as well. The opportunity to be visible within their digital and mall marketing allows us to spread the word about the Festival, RPA, RAC, and the types of programming we all do for the community of Rutherford and the surrounding area.