After three years of creating fun and inclusive spaces for Washington, D.C.’s LGBTQ community, Makers Lab is closing its doors. Lee Levingston Perine founded the group in March 2014 and that July, they held their first event, a free screenwriting workshop at Impact Hub in collaboration with Fatback Films. Later that year, Perine, who is also Chief Celebration officer, launched a crowdfunding campaign for the first year of operations.
Since then, Makers Lab has brightened the District’s queer scene with events such as with Bey Day: A Beyonce Birthday Celebration, Audre Lorde Birthday Celebration, and Popcorn + Queers: Vow of Silence Screening.
We caught up with Perine to chat about Makers Lab, their success and role in the LGBTQ community, and their plans after the final party.
Why did you create Makers Lab? Why was it important for you?
Makers Lab’s mission is to create spaces that celebrate life, art, and queer culture. I love a good dance party and we’ve definitely hosted lots of amazing celebrations at Tropicalia, but I started Makers Lab because it was important to highlight the talented folks in our community. That’s why we created a variety of experiences including film screenings, workout classes, music events, etc. We also see how few spaces by and for us—queer people of color—exist in DC. As gentrification and forced displacement continue to accelerate, centering the experiences of queer people of color—and in particular Black people—was core to our work.
Why was it important for the community?
I think Makers Lab was important for the community because we created joyous, celebratory, love-filled spaces. Our events have a special, freeing energy. People have told me how liberating it was to be in spaces that affirmed and centered their identities.
What has Makers Lab accomplished?
By the time we close our doors, Makers Lab will have produced and/or supported 75+ events that centered queer people, especially queer people of color. We were able to collaborate with over a hundred artists and compensate them. We know artists and cultural workers are often asked to work for free. We were not interested in this model and prioritized investing in and supporting members of our community.
Why are you closing up shop?
Running Makers Lab has been a rewarding experience and I’m grateful for all the love and support we received from the community. However, producing events at the level and pace that we have has taken a toll on me emotionally and physically. It’s time for me to go inward and take more time for myself. I also trust and know there are folks who have and will continue to create the spaces we aspired to curate.
What do you hope to see with queer events in DC?
I hope to see the continued creation of non-club spaces, and I hope the community will actively support these types of events.
What are you looking forward to?
Now that I’ll have more free time, I’m looking forward to hanging out with family and friends, making brunch and listening to Sylvester. Back in the day, I was an aspiring DJ named Sleepy Lee. Maybe I’ll take some lessons and start making mixes.
What will happen to Honey Groove? Any changes?
Honey Groove was founded by my good friend, Kyrisha Deschamps. She’s the visionary and driving force behind the festival. I’ve been a member of the team since March 2014 and will be involved in planning Honey Groove 2018. The festival is a very magical experience and I’m excited for next year.
What do you hope people got from Makers Lab?
I hope people got/felt how much love was put into every experience. Whether folks spent one hour or an evening with us, I wanted them to feel like they were receiving a warm, fuzzy, big, queer, consensual hug.
While many are sad to see Makers Lab go, they are not leaving us without one last celebration. You can join Asha “Boomclack” Santee, Uncle Lee, Patience Sings, and Charity Blackwell on Saturday October 14, at Tropicalia from 4 to 8 p.m. for an afternoon of music, dancing, queer joy, and fun.