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Meet Melanie Leon

Today we’d like to introduce you to Melanie Leon.

Hi Melanie, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
I am excited to talk specifically about Visual Fringe today. I started participating in The Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival as a performer back in 2014. I instantly fell in love with the festival. It is such an energetic, creative, spontaneous, supportive, artistic, unique experience. On top of all of that, it is a nonprofit. I knew I needed to continue to be involved in more ways.

By 2016, I was the Associate Visual Fringe Producer (I have been a visual artist for many years). I had been a performer/show producer the two years prior and had seen Visual Fringe, but this was my first year truly understanding Visual Fringe, as well as the behind-the-scenes work of Fringe. I got involved in every aspect and went to every meeting I could. I was in this position and continued to perform for three years, and then was promoted to Visual Fringe Producer near the end of 2019. As Visual Fringe Producer, I produce, run, and manage all parts of Visual Fringe. Visual Fringe is composed of visual art galleries and events. Visual Fringe has a mission to assist artists and let them freely explore their creativity. To say that I am passionate about this is an understatement. And that is where I am today – constantly trying to better support local artists and bring art to our community for absolutely everyone and anyone to access and enjoy.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I began as Visual Fringe Producer in October 2019. I planned and executed in-person events through February of 2020. Our main event is in May of every year. It is a two-week, large-scale festival. This was also the first year that Visual Fringe was expanding massively and was going to contain components it had never had before. I was so excited for my new role and for these changes. I partnered with many different organizations, had new events and opportunities, and had many new artists joining us. In March of 2020, the festival was canceled due to COVID. This was incredibly difficult. All of the plans I worked so hard on had to be canceled, so I never got to see them occur. Even worse, I had to cancel all of the artists. That was heartbreaking. It was such a hard time. We then converted to an online festival, so I had to quickly figure out how to make visual art events happen virtually. It had a learning curve but was successful. I am now planning for our 2021 festival and it is an entirely new challenge. My first official run as Visual Fringe Producer of our in-person May festival will be in the middle of COVID, with all of those precautions. This changes everything because our first goal is to keep everyone safe. As is everyone who is planning events now, I have had to completely scrap our normal and try to figure out how to continue to fulfill our mission in this new world. This has proven to be difficult, and I am still working through this currently. This change is hard, but I am thrilled that we are still able to support artists in this new way.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am the Visual Fringe Producer. I produce all aspects of Visual Fringe (galleries, partnerships, outreach, and events) and help with the Fringe festival overall. Fringe and Visual Fringe are there for the artists at all times. Their goals are to allow artists to try something new and push their boundaries without fear of failure. They are supported constantly. At Visual Fringe, we want to allow every artist to be able to sell their work and every person to be able to own art at a reasonable price. Everyone should have access to art in their lives. This is so important. For artists, whether it is their very first piece or their millionth piece, they deserve a place to be creative and celebrated like the wonderful, artistic individual they are. We are here to give them the outlet they need to be successful. We are also the outlet for customers to be exposed to art they may have never seen and to be able to engage with the artists. We even give them the chance to create and discover the artist within themselves.

With all of this in mind, the Visual Fringe gallery is 100% uncensored and unjuried. We accept everything and anything that is artwork! And something that truly is crucial to me, Visual Fringe gives 100% of sales back to the artist. When we sell a piece for an artist, all of the money goes right back to them! This is all about supporting and sharing local artists, no matter their previous experience or access to materials or galleries. I am so proud of how many other nonprofits we have worked with, how many pieces we have sold for artists, how much money we have turned over to artists, and the exposure we have given both artists to the community and the community to art. If you are an artist, we would love for you to join us, submit to our gallery, and participate in one of our events! It is a true honor to produce Visual Fringe, be a part of Orlando Fringe, and work with local artists.

Do you any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
I am going to shake this question up a bit and do one of my favorite early memories of working with Visual Fringe. One year we partnered with Quest, Inc (Their mission is “Empowering Central Floridians with developmental disabilities to achieve their goals.”) and had a gallery for them. Several of their pieces sold. During the festival, these artists came by to see their gallery and their work displayed and found out pieces had sold. They were so excited and proud of themselves and it was truly heartwarming. This was one of those moments that reminds you what it is all about. All artists should have the chance to display and sell their work. All artists should be celebrated and encouraged to be creative. All artists are important.

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