Prostitutes, strippers, dominatrices, phone sex operators and their peers intend to challenge embedded stereotypes tonight in the MultiCultural Center Theater (MCC) as part of the traveling Sex Workers Art Show.

Sponsored by the Women’s Center and the MCC, the cabaret-style show features visual and performance art — including music, hip-hop poetry, comedy and dancing — all focusing on revealing the multiple facets of the sex industry, said Sharon Hoshida, Women’s Center program director. The free event begins at 9 p.m.

“People think of [sex workers] as the lowlife under-belly of society, and it’s not fair because they have different talents like everyone else,” Hoshida said. “The show gives a multidimensional look at sex workers as people and creative geniuses in their own right.”

While the cabaret has been well-received by audiences nationwide, Women’s Studies Dept. Chair Leila Rupp said many feminists and moral conservatives find its content offensive, believing the show promotes sexually exploitative lifestyles.

“It will be controversial because some people can’t imagine something like sex work as art,” Rupp said. “It will open minds to how people might stand on the question, ‘Can you be involved in sex work as a legitimate form of work?'” Despite protests against the material, Hoshida said, sex work is prevalent to the extent that it cannot be ignored.

“No one says I want to grow up to be a prostitute or a stripper,” Hoshida said, “[But] we all know it exists — it’s part of the human fabric, really.”

According to the Sex Workers Art Show website, performers include show founder and director Annie Oakley, as well as Simone de la Getto, artistic director of the Oakland-based Harlem Shake Burlesque. Besides performing burlesque, Getto speaks at Northern California colleges about her “regret-free” life as a sex worker.

Scarlot Harlot, a prostitutes’ rights activist for more than twenty years, will also be included in the show. Harlot — also known as Carol Leigh — coined the term “sex workers” and has pushed for legislation to legalize prostitution.

Each of the performers will provide commentary on their experiences in the sex industry. According to the show’s website, performers will be wearing anything from red-lace bras, tassels and corsets to yellow feather boas, fishnet tights and lace-up black leather boots while sharing their perspective on their craft.

Hoshida said the Women’s Center has been planning the show since mid-November, and is using part of its $6,000 annual programming budget to produce the event. Other campus departments have lent help in sponsoring the art show, including the Art Studio Dept., the College of Creative Studies, the Sociology Dept. and the Queer Theories Reading Group in the Interdisciplinary Humanities Center.

Although this is the Sex Workers Art Show’s first visit to UCSB, the MCC has put on similar events in the past such as the 801 Cabaret, which featured a traveling group of drag queens from Key West Florida, MCC Event Programmer Luniya Msuku said.

The current Sex Workers Art Show tour began Feb. 10 at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and will conclude Mar. 11 at Las Manos Gallery in Chicago, Ill.

According to the Sex Workers Art Show website, the cabaret will continue its tour down the California coast, next appearing at UC San Diego on Feb. 16.

“Our campus could use this experience to break down stereotypes,” Hoshida said. “It will make students think differently before they say, ‘She’s a prostitute’ or ‘[She’s] a whore.'”