Published on May 11th, 2016 | by M. Joy Rose0
What is MAMAPALOOZA? — M. Joy Rose on How to Rock Hard and Thrive
There’s this big wowza sounding festival happening this weekend in NYC: Mamapalooza. It’s in its 15th year, and was founded by the same rad MUTHA, M. Joy Rose, who started the Museum of Motherhood (yep, M.O.M) uptown. So, what is Mamapalooza? We asked Joy, and here’s what she had to say….
What is Mamapalooza?
“I thought if the Guerrilla Girls can get out there with their masks and spray paint and raise our awareness of diversity in art museums, then I could do my bit to infiltrate the music scene.”
Mamapalooza began as a way to identify and create art about the mother experience. There was simply nothing out there in the 1990s that even touched on mom-made-art. But, as a lifetime performer, who’d had a couple songs on the dance charts, I wasn’t ready to give up on music just because I had kids. My subject matter had changed, but my desire to make music hadn’t. I started writing songs with my band “Housewives on Prozac” in 1997. Things like “Eat Your Damn Spaghetti” and “Unraveling.”
It took me a few years to get the concept together, but I kept working on the idea of mother art, music, theater, poetry, that all came from the female perspective. I thought if the Guerrilla Girls can get out there with their masks and spray paint and raise our awareness diversity in art museums, then I could do my bit to infiltrate the music scene.
The first two years, Mamapalooza events happened all around the city at places like The Cutting Room, Arlene’s Grocery, and Mo Pitkin’s in the East Village (which has since closed). Those events were totally surreal. They looked and sounded like something out of a Fellini film. I had ex-NYC Rockettes who were grandmothers dancing around the stage followed by some punk band with a mother in a green mohawk hair cut. The audiences loved it, but I wanted more than 75 people crammed into a club to see what was going on.
So pretty quickly on, I realized that if you want to get mothers out to see music, then you’ve got to include their children. That meant taking the events into public spaces and making them family-friendly. It was a bit of a compromise, but also necessary.
I was a huge fan of Alyson Palmer from the band Betty. I kinda tracked her down and she threw some weight into the whole concept. We got a meeting with New York Parks Department and pitched them the idea of an outdoor concert fronted by mom bands. Originally, all the events happened anytime during the month of May, because I was pretty intent on declaring May as Mothers’ Month. It just didn’t seem like one day a year really brought the kind of visibility I was hoping for. So, when we talked to Parks, we said we’ll be your kick off event—the first of the season—and they went for it. Then, I went up to Westchester Parks Department and did the same thing there.
Then people from the Wall Street Journal and People Magazine started calling, and we moved into like 25 cities.
I was really happy that the idea was catching on. I was also super clear that this was no Hallmark gathering. In order to fill the gap, so to speak, these women had to be able to truly express the challenging, funky, hard aspects of mother-work. Not that there aren’t “joys” too, but in general, women’s voices have been almost completely co-opted in academic texts, the art world, and positions of power. Mothers, well, mothers are just invisible, period. When I say that, I mean the incredible physical, emotional, and psychic toll exacted on birthing, and caring for another being—no matter how well, or badly you do it. The M/other lives a divided life, for the rest of her life. This legacy and perspective have been consistently muted by religious, political, and economic rhetoric. So, I have actually been focused on taking over the world with materialisms—in a good way.
Around this time, I started being asked to speak. I started hanging around the Women’s Media Center. Then, I started going to super-intellectual-academic conferences too. Alana Ruben Free, one of my Mamapalooza collaborators, introduced me to Andrea O’Reilly and Demeter Press in Canada. Andrea had started this whole movement of scholars studying motherhood and I thought that was really cool. By 2007, Andrea and I were working on bringing artists, scholars, and the general public together to disseminate information on mothers, mothering, and motherhood with all day and all night events. There were mothers standing on Bleecker Street shouting out poetry from the Mom Egg while a jazz quartet played at Cornelia Street Cafe, followed by a three-day conference, and culminating with the Mamapalooza Outdoor Extravaganza at Riverside Park South. Events went on for days.
In 2014, I was accepted into CUNY, The Graduate Center, and studied with Barbara Katz Rothman, Phyllis Chesler, and Hester Eisenstein on subjects like mothers in society, maternal health, feminism, etc. These women are all New York treasures as far as I am concerned. For one year, I lived in a girlfriend’s daycare and studied day-and-night in a room next to 12 infants and toddlers. (My kids had all left for college at that point). That’s how I afforded graduate school. I wrote my thesis on starting an academic journal on mothers, and as far as I know, I’m the first person in the USA to graduate with a Masters’ in Mother Studies. I started teaching at the college level last year.
In between all this, from 2003-2014, a team of us were working on bringing a Museum of Motherhood into fruition. Deb Whitefield and Barry Hanson who were New York City’s biggest Gymboree franchise owners had gifted me one of their empty spaces. So for almost three years (2011-2014), we had an exhibit space on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The place was full of art about motherhood, books, play equipment, and we even had an exhibit called the “Moms of Rock.” Things my band’s drum kit, pink boas, guitars and an underground film Kate Perotti had made of us in 2008 called Momz Hot Rocks. Over 40,000 people from around the world visited that space!
The museum is moving south this summer. We’re opening an annex in St. Petersburg, Florida. I got my hands on a sweet little space in the Kenwood Historic Arts District, so I’ll be packing up the truck and bringing Mother The Job, by artist Alexia Nye Jackson, down for a year-long exhibit.
I guess if I could shout out to everyone in New York City a message for “Mothers’ Month,” I would tell the mothers—you belong to a long line of women—a forgotten tribe—believe in your sisterhood. Find each other. Make music together. Love each other. There are a lot of good resources out there to empower you now. They are not about what to buy, or how to be a perfect parent—they are resources that will bring you into your personal power in the midst of parenthood. Start at M.O.M. and go from there.
For everyone else, I hope you never forget how hard some people have rocked to get you to the planet. Mothers should be revered in the most Holy way because they formed your life out of their bones and blood. So love them for that, if nothing else. And, all the other-mothers; the adoptive mothers, the father-mothers, the caregivers, and the grandmothers–you should love them for their efforts and their hardship. They have labored in ways you can never imagine. Give a prayer of thanks and just L.O.V.E.—that’s it. Moms Rock.
PS: The theme for this year’s Mamapalooza is: Rock Hard & Thrive with mothers and the people who love them at our annual festival featuring music, family-focused vendors, wellness activities, art, & activism. 2016’s theme inspires all to find their voice and bring a message of peace, tolerance, and equality. Visit us online for band/activity line up. All are welcome.
Sunday, May 15, 12-5pm – Pier I @ 70th St. NYC
Summer on the Hudson is the Parks Department’s annual outdoor arts & culture festival that takes place in Riverside Park from 59th Street to 153rd Street. With a mix of music concerts, dance performances, movies under the stars, DJ dance parties, kids shows, special events.