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Locals Pitch In to Make Queer Lounge Fabulous

Even though the new year has just begun, Mike Picardi is already up to his elbows in work at M. Picardi Fine Custom Furnishings, the furniture manufacturing and upholstery company he has owned for the last 32 years.

Along with serving his typical clients, Picardi is also building and refurbishing furniture for the Queer Lounge, the popular Sundance Film Festival hangout for queer filmmakers and supporters of films featuring gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender themes. Now in its sixth year, the lounge will open its doors Jan. 15 to the general public at the independent film festival.

Currently, Picardi and his employees are working on building a number of ottomans and refurbishing some of the furniture the lounge used last year, including sofas, dining room chairs and even some bench seating for the Absolut Vodka lounge, which will be held on the first floor of the Montgomery-Lee Fine Art Gallery which is hosting Queer Lounge this year.

“[Absolut] is introducing [their lounge] as a tie-in for Absolut Mango,” said Picardi. “It’s a new flavor they’re introducing at Sundance, so the color scheme will be geared towards the color of mango. We’re doing a lot of bright yellow and white.”

Picardi is just one of several Utahns, gay and straight, who are donating their time, labor and creativity to making this year’s Queer Lounge a success. And without their help, said Ellen Huang, the Lounge’s founder and program director, the Lounge “couldn’t survive.”

“It’s very difficult to fly in people who don’t know the local resources and try to assemble a lounge when you need materials from locals,” she explained.

Huang added that most local volunteers have participated in the lounge for several years, or are friends and acquaintances of long-time volunteers. One of the latter is Manoli Sargetakis, who along with brothers John and Ted and mother Kaliope owns Silver State Suppliers, a wholesale upholstery and fabric company, is providing covers for Picardi’s furniture. A friend of Picardi’s for several years, Sargetakis first donated fabric and time to the Lounge in 2008.

“Besides having similar business interests, we have similar political interests, and here in Utah that’s hard to find,” said Sargetakis, who identifies as straight. “[The Queer Lounge] is a good cause and it involves some really good people.”

Sargetakis’ company will be donating “high tech” vinyls and furniture covers this year.

“It also has anti-microbial and anti-bacterial features, so you can even use it for healthcare,” he said of the materials. “That wasn’t the reason it was chosen for the Lounge of course, but for its fun colors.”

Along with being fun and vibrant, many of the materials locals are using in this year’s Lounge are also easy on Mother Earth—which Picardi and Huang say is always a priority for the Lounge. Picardi said he is using such eco-friendly materials as faux leather and wood from reforested wood farms to build his furniture. And in the spirit of shopping local first, the Lounge has also brought on a Salt Lake City-based designer for one of its floors.

While Los Angeles designer Alejandro Rivera will design the Lounge’s Absolut Lounge and the night club-style lounge on the gallery’s top floor, local designer Julie Assenberg, owner of design company DIGS, will design the Lounge’s middle floor—a more casual lounge that will host panels of gay filmmakers. Her company’s specialization in creating stellar designs with materials from estate sales and secondhand stores fits right in with the Queer Lounge’s theme of reusing and recycling.

“We’re using a new product on the walls called Velon designs,” said Assenberg, who identifies as straight and who is on board for the first time this year. “The walls are all going to be covered in black and white damask. Pretty wild.”

To complement the black and white walls and the white furniture on this level of the Lounge, Assenberg says she plans on adding “punches of color” in the form of things like pillows and tables done in “reds and bright yellows.”

“My plan is to bring up some of the furniture I’ve collected at estate sales and second hand stores that are kinda funky,” she said. “They’ll also have price tags if people want to buy them.”

In the wake of Proposition 8, the controversial measure re-banning gay marriage in California, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ support for the measure, many gay rights activists across the country called for a boycott of Sundance and all things Utah. Although some festival-goers wondered if the Queer Lounge would go ahead in this political atmosphere, Huang said that the Lounge is more timely now than ever before. In fact, she said, the Lounge will hold a panel on Jan. 18 at 2:30 in which gay filmmakers have played a role in grass roots activism on gay rights causes including Prop. 8.

She added that a boycott of Utah would likely hurt the very people who can help to change the current political climate.

“[Gay Utahns and their straight allies] are the first line of defense working and pressuring the Mormon Church to change,” she said. “We need to create more institutional change and dialogue, and people like Mike Picardi represent the face of the gay community to his LDS clients. So when you talk about acting locally to change things globally it starts in Utah.”

For more information about the Queer Lounge visit queerlounge.org.

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