Women working it: Cat Evans creates events to nurture Memphis' diverse arts scene

As an event promoter and founder of two local art and music events that highlight diversity, Cat Evans bridges Memphis' history of social justice with the city's love of art and culture. She is the founder and owner of CLE Events, an event planning firm. That work led her to create DreamFest and GirlPower Project, annual music festivals held in Memphis, and support Artistik Lounge, which is a monthly gathering that connects Memphis' rap, music and spoken word scenes.

She moved to Memphis as a child, and, because she believes in this city’s true potential, she stayed put. While Evans' hard work and passion have led her to success, she gives a lot of the credit to her partner and talented Memphians; Shahidah Jones, TamE, Ty Sanders and Tyke T have all contributed to her work.

She strives for innovation and collaboration among all forms of talent; from poets to rappers to comedians to musicians, Cat aims to help anyone who can share something special with the community. Through organizing and managing various local events and festivals, she seeks to channel the great energy of this city’s diverse range of talent.

As part of a series on women-owned businesses, we met with Evans to learn more about her entrepreneurial enterprises.

Cat Evans

High Ground News: What inspired you to create your company?

Cat Evans: I started CLE, which stands for Catherine Lynn Evans, because of DreamFest. I wanted a name behind the events. I did volunteer work for people, including working at the door and doing some artist coordination here and there. I was ready to be able to run a festival of my own.

HGN: Tell me about GirlPower, DreamFest, Artistik Lounge, and the other art and music festivals with which you have been involved.

CE: DreamFest — that was a selfish idea because I scheduled it for the date of my birthday. I gave a lot of support in the local arts community, and I discovered that all different forms of art were pretty segregated. The poets were in one part of town, rappers were on the other side. They didn’t really know about each other.

I just wanted all of my favorite artists to be at one place at the same time. I sent out a message on Facebook and asked if anyone would be interested in playing for my birthday; more than 30 artists replied on the spot. I got the venue and booked the band.

My first show was a mix of rappers, poets — a whole mix of talent that most people never see at one event. Everybody brought friends along, over 300 people came, but it’s not like I was the marketing guru behind it. I was the idea.

In 2012, when it first began, it was called “I have a dream fest,” and eventually, one of my friends began to realize that this was not a birthday party, it was a music festival. Eventually, people who were involved came together and shortened it to DreamFest. It’s almost like the community got to name it.

I didn’t expect it to grow as big as it has.

GirlPower was a spin-off of DreamFest. I was sitting and planning with a videographer, and we both decided that we needed more women. DreamFest had a few women, but not enough. GirlPower was going to be an all-women festival. We did it for a few years, but I created it with someone I wasn’t very close to. GirlPower started 2012 and ran until 2014. It wasn’t until 2018 that it was revived by Shahidah [Jones]. It wasn’t until my partner Shahidah came on board that GirlPower was revived this year.

Artistik Lounge is a platform for artists and creatives can come together and network. We feature one artist per month. It’s my friend Tammy’s [Tameka Greer] creation. I’m on board as their artist coordinator. We also showcase local nonprofits including Black Lives Matter. We are mixing artists with community organizations and some social justice organizations. 

HGN: What are some accomplishments that you are most proud of?

CE: When I first started DreamFest, I felt like I had to beg people to be in my show. When people began to ask me to be a part of a show, I knew that I made it. Second year around, people were asking to be in my show. Secondly, I feel proud when artists come to me and tell me how much DreamFest has benefitted them. It’s more than a show; it builds community. DreamFest is like my baby.

There was something special about GirlPower in 2018. Typically, in shows, there are dips. People usually fade out during certain shows, but not in this case. All the women, back-to-back, were amazing, and the crowd took notice. Nearly everyone who came stayed for every show and remained engaged.
 

HGN: What are some challenges you have faced?

CE: Trying to tap into mainstream Memphis, especially publications, has been a challenge. It’s like pulling teeth. I wanted to be able to market, but after a while, I decided that I could continue marketing the way I have been. It has been discouraging, but I have learned that people usually don’t want to feature you before you make your name. What I am doing to market has been working so far, so, whether it happens or not, I will remain confident.
 

HGN: Why Memphis?

CE: I was born in California, I moved here when I was 7. So you might as well say I’m from here. For a while, I did not want to buy a house in Memphis because I did not want to be stuck here. But, eventually, my life began to come together in this city. My partner, career, friends, and so much more live in this city. There is so much heart here. People really care.

Artists in Memphis are doing what they love because they love it and that is the kind of work I want to support. Memphis needs love and support, almost like a child. If you neglect it, it’s never going to grow big and strong.

HGN: How have your strides for social change and minority representation shaped your business model?

CE: I promote and market diversity. Being a gay woman of color in an interracial relationship with someone who is also one of the heads of Black Lives Matter, intersected with having a father who was on the Memphis police force, I live in a world of diversity. I don’t fit in a box, so I can more or less approach anybody. It’s easy to find a connection.

I’m a true believer that the energy in your events is your energy. So, DreamFest is my energy. And now it’s mine and my partner’s energy; same applies to GirlPower. And, above all else, that energy is used to promote inclusion and diversity.

Read more articles by Kiki Whartenby.

Kiki is a senior at St. Mary's Episcopal School. She currently serves as the editor in chief of The Tatler, her school's newspaper, and has been on staff since her sophomore year. Before that, she was a writer for Grrlpunch, an online magazine. She serves as the co-ambassador for the St. Mary's Facing History chapter and is a leader of the Minority Students Association. 
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