ACAD students cross-dress for a cause, and a friend

While many celebrated Valentine’s Day with bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolate, ACAD students and staff came together to remember a former colleague whose death inspired the Valentina Drag Ball.

Jasmine Valentina Herron, a 2010 graduate of the fibre department, was constantly involved with the everyday goings-on at ACAD during her time there.

As a by-product of her studies, the Denver, Colo., native developed a male persona that she would utilize in performance pieces to illustrate how an individual’s attitude towards feminism could progress over time.

She also founded the feminist book club and worked as an intern at FFWD magazine during her time at ACAD.

In order to hone her acting skills and accurately portray the personality of her alter-ego, whom she named Harold Courtney Brown, Herron moved to New York City after her graduation, to enrol in acting school.

Tragically,  her life was cut short just a week before her planned move back to Calgary in 2011, when she was in an accident while riding her bike to work in Greenwich Village.

Now in its fourth year, the Valentina Drag Ball was held on Feb. 13 to honour the memory of Herron and her male persona.

Richard Brown, chair of visual arts at ACAD and one of the event’s main organizers, views the ball as a fun way to promote visibility, support and openness for the LGBTQ student community.

As in past years, students and staff were encouraged to cross-dress and take on the personality of their opposite gender, as Herron did during the course of her studies.

“When you adopt the visual markings of a different gender, it’s a profound experience,” Brown said.

“There’s an educational component to this party that we have.

“Gender is a societal construct. It has nothing to do with nature and everything to do with culture.”

In 2014, a $20,000 goal was reached in hopes of establishing an endowment fund in Herron’s name.

The ball doubles as a fund-raiser and a night to bring the arts community together, and all proceeds from this year’s drag ball will go towards building the Jasmine Valentina Herron Scholarship.

Throughout his tenure at ACAD, Brown has encouraged his students to check their biases at the door and embrace artwork with an open mind.

Questions of personal and collective identity often make their way into class discussions. The drag ball is an extension of that willingness to appreciate and acknowledge the differences of others.

Chloe Collins, a first-year student new to the ball, was surprised at how many of her classmates weren’t interested in joining the festivities.

“A lot of first years seem less comfortable with their gender roles than the older students,” Collins said.

“I think the ball allows us an interesting way to play out the misconceptions of the opposite gender.”

Along with the cash bars that offered liquid refreshment throughout the night, three local bands came together to rock the stage in the main mall.

The Fags, The Ramonas, and Sleepy Panther played spirited sets in their respective assortments of drag, pumping up the crowd and bringing students and staff together in dance.

Zsolt Baktay, a third-year painting major who attended the event in drag himself, appreciated the confidence that some of his male classmates have to don makeup, stockings and a dress in a social situation.

“When something is viewed as being weird, but everyone starts doing it, it quickly becomes normal,” Baktay said.

“The drag ball is an opportunity to be someone different without external moral judgement.”

Richard Brown, ACAD instructor and one-half of local band Sleepy Panther, plays a riff during the final performance of the Valentina Drag Ball on Friday, February 13.
Richard Brown, ACAD instructor and one-half of local band Sleepy Panther, croons a Eurythmics tune during the final performance of the Valentina Drag Ball on Friday, February 13.
About Adrian Hopkins 8 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Adrian Hopkins is working as a reporter for The Press during the 2014-2015 academic year.