Why He’s A Top 40: Through his art, activism and community organizing, he has been reclaiming the word “queer” and using it proudly to represent anyone or anything that challenges the status quo.
Key To His Success: “It has nothing to do with me, but the actions of those who have come before me, paving the road I am lucky enough to be on. Through focus, luck, help, circumstance of my birth and stubbornness, I have been able to be part of work that I believe in with people I can support.”
Ted Kerr wears a shirt that reads in big, bold letters: “HIV Positive.” If someone asks whether he is, he doesn’t disclose. It’s not the point. The purpose of the shirt is to “reduce the stigma of HIV,” says Kerr, the community liaison for HIV Edmonton, a non-profit that sold the shirts as a fundraising initiative.
“What’s interesting to me is to keep pushing for disruption or keep pushing for chaos, pushing for discomfort,” he says. “One thing I try to have throughout my work is an appreciation of complexity.” Thinking complexly means thinking “queerly,” says Kerr.
He injects this queer perspective into all his endeavours, whether as a photographer, collagist, writer, facilitator of respectful-workplace workshops or acting general manager for the Global Visions Film Festival. In 2009, as HIV Edmonton’s first artist-in-residence, he collaborated with local artists on a sex-positive postcard campaign that celebrated promiscuity among gay men and pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable advocacy from a mainstream organization.
Kerr’s art, which often deals with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) and HIV/AIDS issues, has appeared at the Art Gallery of Alberta, Montreal’s Concordia University and Toronto’s Contact Photography Festival. His proudest achievement, however, is creating Exposure, the local queer arts and culture festival he co-founded in 2007 with former city councillor Michael Phair and Heather Zwicker, a film studies academic at the University of Alberta.
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“Exposure is about exposing new art to Edmontonians, and exposing Edmontonians to new art in the realm of queer. It’s also about rigor. We program any art and culture that has gone through the rigor of thought [and] anything that challenges people to look, feel or consider things more broadly,” says Kerr, who was awarded the local Pride Certificate in 2007.
Though Kerr has just left his post as the festival’s producer, he and Zwicker recently attended Australia’s International Conference on Arts in Society to do a speaking engagement on Exposure’s creation, intent and success.
Given the variety of his work, Kerr struggles to explain what he does and who he is. “I don’t know where to start,” he says. But whether it is promoting safe sex with edgy art, writing about problems facing the LGBT community or advocating for equality through the political group Severely Queer, Kerr thinks “organizer” best encapsulates who he is.