Friday, December 11, 2009

Sixty Years of Stubborn Creativity

Since I will turn 60 on Monday, December 14, I have been reflecting on the creative impulse that has been central to my life and work for so many years.

Like many of you, I do this work because I feel compelled by some inner force. Earlier this year, when I interviewed Isabel Allende for SWAN Day, I asked her how she came to write her first novel, and she said, "I was desperate - there was this stuff that I needed to get out of my soul somehow - to give birth."

I have heard similar statements from hundreds of artists over the years, and it's how I feel about my own work. When I started WomenArts, many well-intentioned people told me it was crazy, and yet, here we are 15 years later. I started at my kitchen table with a few friends, and today women all over the world use our services.

I believe that these stubborn creative instincts are our greatest source of power, especially when we work together. As I think about my next decade, I want to find ways to honor that perseverance in each of us and to build a community where we can cheer each other on.

My mother grew up on a farm, and I was actually named after her favorite mule. My mother often told me that I was as stubborn as my namesake, but since she was strong-willed herself, it was always clear that she loved my independent spirit and wanted me to succeed. Perhaps this is why I feel such a deep connection with other obstinate dreamers. I recognize the energy that feels like home.

People always told me that as you get older you cherish your friendships more than anything else and I am finding that to be true. I want to thank all of you for being such wonderful colleagues and friends for all these years. Keep the faith - the world needs our passionate voices, and I am rooting for all of us to be heard!

Much love, Martha Richards

P.S. I have loved getting so many birthday notes, poems, songs, and other samples of your art. Please feel free to keep sending those all year long!

Send Martha a Birthday Greeting!
Make a Birthday Donation to WomenArts 
See Martha's Birthday Wish on Facebook

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Being Thankful for the Arts

WomenArts asked one of our favorite novelists, Susan Stinson, to write about why she persists in the arts in spite of the financial hardships. We loved her response below, and hope you do too.

Like Susan, we feel blessed to have the arts as a central focus in our lives and to have the opportunity to work with so many thoughtful and talented people. We are grateful for these precious gifts at Thanksgiving and all year round.    Happy Thanksgiving to everyone from the WomenArts Team!!!!

Art in Hard Times
by Susan Stinson

Twenty-five years ago, when I was in college, my father warned me that a livelihood as an artist would be hard to come by, especially for a woman. I spent the next couple of decades throwing everything I had into making the strongest art I could, working around practical constraints – like jobs—as necessary. Now, four published books and one wandering manuscript later, during a year in which individual, national and global economies are all shaky, I’m facing the unpleasantly specific realities of being close to fifty and far from financial stability. My father was right.

He was right, but so was I. I persist in keeping art central to my daily life, no matter how badly it pays, both because I have a strong sense of vocation and because having a regular practice of making and seeking out art generates relationships, skills and experiences that get me through hard times. Attending to the work – in whatever fractured, imperfect way I can – saves me. This has happened again and again. It is happening right now.

Today I’m working in a coffee shop with another novelist, who is wearing earphones and a serious look. I feel the pulse of her typing as it shakes the table. There’s a whirr from the juicer drowning out a song by Ella Fitzgerald. Yesterday, when I had just received a rejection from a publisher with my name misspelled (petty signs of inattention gain sting at such moments), I worked here with a different friend, who is a novelist, too. Before we sat down and started writing, she consoled me with an ice cream cone, extravagant with chocolate sprinkles.

Both friends read my work again and again. One of them and I have been critiquing each other’s writing since the eighties. These are friendships with staying power and active depths, built on the fact that we are writers. That’s not to say that there are never challenges. Sometimes I’ve been jealous when a writer I know achieves something that I’ve been thwarted in. Figuring out how to move through that is uncomfortable but intensely rewarding. The relationships I have with other writers and artists are not dependent on material success, but on shared commitments to doing the work. They make my life larger.

Even without the companionship of someone working on another story across the table, the practice of writing (and, I think, of doing art in any form) cultivates skills that are useful for negotiating tough circumstances. For instance, as a novelist, I have to be able to offer sensory details in order to evoke convincing worlds for my characters to inhabit. This forces me to pay attention to small moments of bodily experience. The novel I’ve been working on is set in the eighteenth century, so I’ve had to figure out which parts of my sensory knowledge might translate across time. If a flying bug hits my shoulder with a thud like a hollow acorn, it gives me an experience that might have been shared with someone who sat at this spot in a previous century.

The imperative I have as a novelist to accurately reproduce the minutiae of physical sensation has the effect of forcing me into intense observation of ordinary moments. The concentration calms and empties me, like dance or meditation. At the same time, I employ my worry, grief, and confusion in the inner lives of my characters. Capturing moments of awkwardness and clumsiness goes a long way towards depicting convincing human lives. Giving a book shape, movement and meaning in the form of a plot is an extended exercise in discovering what I think matters most, both to me and to the readers I want to pull and hold. If I am under strain, writing becomes difficult, but I know that finding my way back to it will let me use even my most harrowing experiences and vaguest fears as elements in creating a story that is compelling and meaningful to others.

In addition to nurturing useful habits of mind, being a writer surrounds me with opportunities to experience art made by others. My friends and I lend each other books, and then talk with heat and collaborative excitement about what we think of them. We get up at four-thirty in the morning to travel to another city to see a play by someone we know, offering each other paper fans, band aids and little boxes of animal crackers if exhaustion kicks in. We organize readings and conferences to create outlets for each other’s work. We comment on each other’s blogs and click each other’s links. We know we need each other.

Beyond that, exploring art made by others leads me to insights I could not have found on my own. I have unforgettable surges of change and witness with art by people I will never meet. I try to stay with work that scares me, to let it help me discover my own secrets. Art leads to more art, to cultivating a willingness to be startled, to be nervous and also open, to ride out discomfort in service of discovery. I turn to art to get through small changes, such as the involuntary realignment of ambitions for a book, and also big ones, such as aging, illness, and mourning.

Now, there’s a click as my friend puts down her earphones. She’s got a look of abstraction on her dear, familiar face, but she’s gazing at me. Still absorbed in the very different stories we are each telling, we don’t speak for a few moments. A counter worker wearing pointy glasses comes up the stairs with a bin full of carrots. I can see through the glass door to the lights coming on in the sign for the bank across the street. A woman on the sidewalk, shaved bald, looks alertly behind her. It’s time for my friend and I to leave the coffee shop and go different ways. I need to buy dental floss before I head home. It is an ordinary evening. I haven’t finished a novel or found the next publisher, but I feel changed by the process of working, prepared to move or wait, to do the things I need to do. This may not be a livelihood, but it’s a life. My friend is ready to talk, and so, packing up our computers, gathering the cups, shifting our common world in tiny increments of art closer to the one of our fiercest desires, we do.

About Susan Stinson

Susan Stinson's novels are Venus of Chalk (2004), Fat Girl Dances with Rocks(1994) and Martha Moody(1995). Spider In A Tree is her novel in progress. Belly Songs, a collection of poetry and lyric essays, was published in 1993.

Her work -- which has appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Seneca Review, Curve, Lambda Book Report and The Women's Review of Books -- has received the Benjamin Franklin Award in Fiction as well as a number of fellowships. She was born in Texas, raised in Colorado, and now lives in Northampton, MA.

For more information, please visit You can also read a WomenArts interview with Susan Stinson from 2005 at:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Harmonious Collaborations: Melodia Women's Choir of New York City Premieres New Work by Woman Composer

Melodia Women's Choir of New York City is an ensemble of 35 singers who perform an eclectic mix of women's choral music under Artistic Director Cynthia Powell, often shining the spotlight on women composers. This November 14, 2009 at Saint Peter's Church (Lexington Ave. at E. 54th St., NYC), the group will perform a new commissioned work by American composer Chris Lastovicka, who won the first Women Composers Commissioning Competition held by Melodia.

Lastovicka composed Notes Upon the Breeze specifically for Melodia, setting to music three poems by U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan. Powell, who has conducted the choir since its formation in 2003, describes Notes Upon the Breeze as "fresh and inspired...matched perfectly" to Ryan's poetry, which has been compared to the work of Emily Dickinson and Marianne Moore.

The evening promises to be a celebration of women's creativity and voices in a field in which women composers are still woefully underrpresented. By sponsoring a commissioning competition for women composers and sharing the resulting work with the pubic, Melodia provides a wonderful example of women in music taking the initiative to support and promote each other.

The concert will also feature Songs of the Lights by Imant Raminsh, Songs from "The Princess" by Gustav Holst, and selections from Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. The choir will be accompanied by pianist Taisiya Pushkar and the Transfiguration Quartet.

If you are in the New York City area, support many women artists by attending the premiere performance!

Concert Details:

Melodia Women's Choir, "Notes Upon the Breeze"
Saturday, November 14, 2009
8 pm
Saint Peter's Church, Citigroup Center
Lexington Ave. At E. 54th St.
New York City
T: (212) 252-4134

Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Two Inspiring Shows about Women Construction Workers

Two beautiful productions have focused on women construction workers in recent months. Shotgun Players in Berkeley is currently presenting This World in a Woman's Hands, which is about women who worked as ship-builders in Richmond, CA during World War II.  Over the summer, Flyaway Productions did a run at SOMArts in San Francisco of The Ballad of Polly Ann, about women who contributed to the construction of Bay Area bridges. Both productions told stories about women's lives that I had never heard before.

This Word In A Woman's Hands

Although "Rosie the Riveter" posters have become pop symbols of the power of women workers, we seldom hear any stories about the day-to-day lives of the 18 million women who worked in U.S. factories during World War II while the men were fighting overseas. This World in a Woman's Hands by Marcus Gardley points out that although all the "Rosies" in the posters are white, many women of color were working in the factories as well, struggling against racial as well as sexual discrimination.

With an inter-racial cast of nine women, This World in a Woman's Hands explores the complex relationships among the women at Henry J. Kaiser's shipyards in Richmond, California where 93,000 men and women worked around the clock in two shifts daily during World War II. The Richmond shipyards are famous for building 747 ships between 1941 and 1945, a feat not equalled anywhere else in the world, before or since.

The women of color were often placed in lower-paying jobs, and even when they got the better jobs, they were paid less than their white co-workers. At the plant in Richmond, the factory managers fought hard against efforts by the women of color to organize. The women eventually won equal pay, but their victory was brief.  Once the war was over, all of the women were laid off so that the returning soldiers could have their jobs.

Much of the play is sung - either a cappella or accompanied by one on-stage bass player. The composer, Molly Holm, performed for eight years with Bobby McFerrin's Voicestra and has worked with roots-music virtuoso, Linda Tillery, who is listed as a musical consultant for the show.  The show's music reflects those influences, and the jazzy style of Holm's compositions evokes the period of the piece as well as the sounds of the factory.  African-American spirituals also add to the emotional texture of the piece. All of the cast members have terrific voices, and there are moments when the music is simply breath-taking.

The Ballad of Polly Ann

The Ballad of Polly Ann
is a dance piece choreographed by Jo Kreiter with music by Pamela Z.   As research for the piece, Kreiter interviewed six women who worked on Bay Area bridges - women who were pile drivers, iron workers, laborers, carpenters and crane operators. Pamela Z integrated excerpts from those interviews with sounds of construction, cars, and the ocean to create rhythmic sound loops that serve as the music for the dancers.

The most remarkable thing about The Ballad of Polly Ann is the way it conveys both the exhilaration and the fear that the women experienced working on steel girders high above the water. Kreiter's company, Flyaway Productions, specializes in "off-the-ground dances that expose the range and power of female physicality," and much of this piece is performed on suspended girders and platforms and on a tall scaffolding around the edge of the stage. The YouTube clip below will give you a sense of the work.

The Ballad of Polly Ann takes its title from the 1870's ballad about John Henry, "the steel driving man", whose wife, Polly Ann, takes up his hammer when John Henry dies. The dancers perform a series of scenes that focus on specific aspects of the women's work experiences, such as their responses to the jeers of male co-workers, the sense of autonomy they get from their paychecks, and the thrill of looking at the ocean from a great height.

The fact that the dancers are often suspended in air or manipulating large beams is a constant reminder to the audience of the sheer physical strength of the women.  Kreiter says, "We experiment with height, speed and gravity, dancing on steel objects that are both architectural and fabricated. We place dancers anywhere from two to one hundred feet off the ground . . .  At its core, our work explores the female body-- its tumultuous expressions of strength and fragility."

Both of these productions show women workers taking tremendous pride in working on challenging, large-scale projects. There is a Rosie the Riveter Monument on the site of one of the Richmond shipyards. The monument is the length of one of the Liberty ships that the women were building, and it visually makes the point that those ships were huge. Similarly, the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge are both amazing construction feats. The Golden Gate Bridge was the longest span in the world when it was built, and cynics believed that the Bay Bridge would be impossible to build due to the potential impact of turbulent waters and gusty winds.

The ability of the women portrayed in these productions to do their jobs in the face of severe discrimination and physical danger is a triumph of women's hearts, minds, and bodies. Thanks so much to everyone involved in these two productions for shining a light on this important piece of women's history. In a world where men generally get all the credit for large public construction projects, it is refreshing to see these two tributes to courageous women pioneers.

This World in a Woman's Hands runs through October 18, 2009 at Shotgun Players in Berkeley, CA. There is more information at:

For more information about The Ballad of Polly Ann, please visit the website of FlyAway Productions at: On October 24, 2009, they will be honoring ten women who are building bridges between women in the arts and civic life. The evening will include performances by Flyaway Productions and various guest artists as well as intimate, personal acceptance speeches by each of the awardees.  For more information, see The 10 Women Campaign on their website.

WomenArts Mourns the Passing of Suzanne Fiol, Photographer, Curator, and Founder of New York City's ISSUE Project Room

WomenArts joins avant-garde artists and appreciators in mourning the death of Suzanne Fiol, photographer, curator, and founder of ISSUE Project Room, one of New York's most important performance spaces devoted to experimental culture. Fiol passed away on Monday, October 5, 2009, at the age of 49, of cancer.

A respected photographer whose work was exhibited nationally and internationally and appears in the permanent collections at The Art Institute of Chicago, The Brooklyn Museum, The Queens Museum, and the Milwaukee Art Museum, Fiol was also a curator and producer who devoted her life to the promotion of experimental culture. She founded ISSUE Project Room in 2003 as an interdisciplinary space to promote the creation of new avant-garde works. Fiol's goal was to create a dynamic environment for music, performance, readings, and the development of new work, and she succeeded; the organization has become a reference for experimental art in New York City. Fiol was known for her innovative transformation of unlikely spaces into performance spaces recognized for their warmth and great sound: IPR, whose first home was a converted garage in the East Village, has moved twice - first to a former oil silo on the Gowanus Canal, then to The Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn, where it currently operates. The space will move yet again in 2010 or 2011, this time to a historic theatre at 110 Livingston in downtown Brooklyn, for which Fiol secured a 20-year lease last year. Major renovations are necessary before IPR can move into its (more) permanent home, for which Fiol had big plans, including the creation of a living digital and video library of contemporary avant-garde work.

ISSUE Project Room will continue moving forward, fundraising for the renovation of their new space and showcasing a diverse selection of national and international talent, inspired by Fiol's work and her passion for the arts. Both The New York Times and The Village Voice have published articles mourning Fiol's loss and celebrating her life.

WomenArts honors the life of this woman artist who exemplified our values by building community amongst artists, creating a forum in which to share the arts with her larger community, and providing a space in which experimental artists - who often fall outside the scope of mainstream funding and recognition - could showcase their work. We thank Suzanne Fiol for dedicating her life to supporting and promoting cutting-edge art.

If you are in New York City, honor Suzanne Fiol's memory tonight, Friday, October 8, 2009, by attending "Poetry to the Infinitive Power(s)," a fundraiser for ISSUE Project Room that Fiol co-curated, which will feature readings by poets Bob Holman, Jonas Mekas, and Anne Waldman, among many others, as well as a musical performance and video premiere by These Are Powers. More information about tonight's event, as well as the future home of IPR, can be found on the ISSUE Project Room website.

Photo Credit: Joe Holmes

Thursday, October 8, 2009

San Francisco's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival Proves People Want Art - and Does Right By Women

Last weekend, music lovers in San Francisco enjoyed what has become a much-anticipated annual event: the free - yes, FREE - Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. Friday, October 2 through Sunday, October 4, 2009, more than 80 musical acts performed on 6 stages for a crowd the San Francisco Chronicle estimates at 750,000 or more. In its ninth year, HSB, which is put on by billionaire investment banker Warren Hellman, featured a stellar line-up of artists that included a large representation of women. Mavis Staples, Marianne Faithfull, Emmylou Harris, Neko Case, Gillian Welch, Dar Williams, and Aimee Mann were only some of the best-known female talents who delighted audiences over the course of the weekend.

The WomenArts staff was, of course, thrilled to see a program that featured such a large percentage of women - not always the case at large music festivals. What possibly thrilled us even more as we lounged on the grass and wandered through thick crowds of relaxed, happy people, was the fact that so many people turned out for this free event. The popularity of HSB clearly demonstrates that all types of people - from families with babies to older folks who brought their own lawn chairs to young barefoot hippies to cowboy-hat-wearing bluegrass die-hards and everyone in between - enjoy the arts and will take advantage of arts events, especially when they are free. If arts events are suffering a lack of attendance, it would appear that this is not due to a lack of interest, but to a lack of cash to pay admission fees, confirming what we've long suspected: Americans want and need the arts.

The unemployment rate in California is currently over 12%, which means that over one in ten people at the festival might be unemployed. It was a wonderful thing indeed to look around and see smiling faces enjoying great music, forgetting for a few hours or a few days whatever financial or material problems they face. It is essential, especially during hard times, for communities to continue coming together and celebrating the power of art to provide solace, inspire peace and camaraderie, and simply to bring us moments of joy. WomenArts salutes HSB for doing all that, and for giving women artists their place on the stage.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mourning Mercedes Sosa, Legendary Argentine Folk Singer

WomenArts joins fans around the world in mourning the death of the legendary Argentine folk singer and human rights activist, Mercedes Sosa. Sosa was forced into exile in the 1970's by the military dictatorship, but she never backed down. She outlived the dictatorship and was able to return to Argentina in 1982. She recorded more than 70 albums and was a three-time Latin Grammy winner.

Her relatives have asked fans to honor her memory by singing. In that spirit, we have pasted the clip below that shows her singing one of her most popular songs, "Gracias A La Vida", or "Thanks to Life." The song is from a 1972 album that honored the late Chilean poet and singer Violeta Parra with interpretations of some of her poems. 

You can read more about Sosa and find a translation of this song by clicking here>>  There are numerous articles online about her funeral (like this New York Daily News article or this AFP article). Here is a link to an article about her in Wikipedia.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nonprofits and the Corporate Model: Bad for Social Change?

Can truly radical social movements bring about change when they work within a nonprofit structure modeled on a corporate capitalist model? Brandi Rose, a graduate student in the Arts in Youth and Community Development program at Columbia College Chicago, examines the ways in which the structures that legitimize and facilitate the work of social change organizations may reduce their effectiveness by requiring them to work within, rather than outside of, the status quo.

Read her insightful article:

What do you think?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Looking for Feminist Arts Bloggers

WomenArts is compiling a list of feminist arts bloggers for our website. We are looking for women who write reviews of other people's work or who write commentary on arts issues from a feminist perspective. We are especially interested in finding more women of color and more women who write about arts events and issues outside the U.S.

If you are interested in being included in our list, please send your full name, a link to your blog and a short description of the topics you cover to Deborah Steinberg at

WomenArts Theatre & Film Funding Newsletters for October Are Now Online

WomenArts posts free monthly newsletters listing upcoming funding, festival and other opportunities for theatre and film/video artists. The newsletters place an emphasis on listings for women, people of color, and socially-engaged artists. Check out the October 2009 issues at the links below:

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pete Seeger, Joe McCarthy, & Glenn Beck

Although it was fifty-three years ago, I can still remember the day that the legendary folk singer Pete Seeger came to perform at my grammar school.  It was 1956, and I was in first grade. I can remember sitting cross-legged on the warm concrete playground, squeezed tight between my best friends in the front row, straining to be as close as possible to the amazing sound of Seeger's banjo.  It was years later before it occurred to me that the reason such an incredible musician was playing at my grammar school instead of at Carnegie Hall that year was that he had been blacklisted as part of Joe McCarthy's red scare.

I kept thinking about Pete Seeger and Joe McCarthy this past week as I read about Glenn Beck's attacks on various Obama administration officials. Like Joe McCarthy, Glenn Beck is making wild accusations about people's political beliefs and trying to get them removed from their jobs. Unlike Joe McCarthy, Beck is a talk show host, not a U.S. Senator. Beck is the host of the third most popular talk radio program in the U.S. and in January he launched a Fox News television show.

When Pete Seeger and others refused to testify before Senator McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee, they were indicted for contempt of Congress and faced legal sanctions. Fortunately, Beck does not have that kind of legal power since he was never elected by anyone, but his radio show reaches over 8 million listeners a week and his new television show has over 2 million viewers.  His programs give him a strong financial incentive to make outrageous statements that will continue to boost his ratings. Although he claims to speak for the common man, Beck's income is estimated at $18 million a year, far more than the salaries of the government employees he is picking on.

Glenn Beck is finding signs of communism everywhere these days - even on the walls of New York's venerable Rockefeller Center. This past month Beck attacked environmental activist Van Jones in 14 episodes of his show. Jones decided to resign from his position as Special Advisor on Green Jobs at the White House Council on Environmental Quality rather than become a lightning rod for controversy. Beck has also been attacking the National Endowment for the Arts and in particular, publicist Yosi Sergant, who was serving as its Director of Communications. Sergant has been removed from his position as Director of Communications but it appears he will continue at the National Endowment for the Arts in some other role. Beck has also targeted Mark Lloyd at the Federal Communications Commission and several other Obama appointees.

It is important to understand that one of the main reasons that conservative talk shows like Beck's have proliferated in recent years is that so many broadcast regulations have been removed.  Money is driving the programming decisions instead of the public interest, and that is not good for women or other groups that tend to have less money to buy stations or air time.  A recent study of commercial broadcast TV stations by Free Press found that women are 51% of the U.S. population, but own less than 5% of all stations, and minorities are 33 percent of the U.S. population, but own only 3.26% of all stations. A study by the Center for American Progress showed that 91% of weekday talk radio is conservative.

Earlier in the year, Glenn Beck accused President Obama of being "a racist" with a "hatred of white people." As a  response to this false and divisive statement, a group called Color of Change has been asking people to write letters of complaint to his advertisers.  As a result of their efforts 57 advertisers have withdrawn support for his show, but in spite of the boycott, Beck's audiences continue to grow.

What Can We Do?

It's frightening that Beck and other right-wing television and radio personalities are allowed to monopolize so much air time with mean-spirited and unsupported allegations. How can we respond?

First, we need to work for more regulation of broadcasters so that they will be required to serve the whole public, not just the few who can afford to buy the stations.  There has been an unprecedented consolidation of corporate ownership of the media in recent years, and six giant conglomerates now control the majority of U.S. television networks, cable channels, and Hollywood studios. Glenn Beck's Fox News show is owned by News Corporation which had revenues of $33 billion in 2008.

We need legislation to keep this handful of multi-national giants from controlling our news and silencing diverse perspectives. If you would like more information about ways to work on this, two organizations that provide excellent information are Free Press and Fairness and Accuracy in the Media.  

Second, we need to remember that although Glenn Beck has millions of listeners, his audiences are still only 3% of the U.S. population.  They are a small but vocal minority. We need to organize other segments of the population to speak out with other perspectives.

Finally, as artists, we need to remember that we have the tools to touch people's hearts and bring out the best in them. We need to focus on creating and supporting art that is powerful enough to cut through all the corporate chatter and spin.

Pete Seeger's life demonstrates this principle. In spite of being blacklisted during the 1950's and '60's, Pete Seeger is now recognized as one of the most influential folk musicians of his generation. He has written songs that have become classics, he helped popularize spirituals like "We Shall Overcome", and he is still performing at age 90. Through thick and thin, he has been steadfast in his support of civil rights, racial equality, labor rights, environmental issues, and peace. 

Joe McCarthy made Pete Seeger's life difficult, but in the long run, he could not silence him. Millions of Americans know Pete Seeger's songs by heart and have taught them to their children. He even performed at President Obama's inaugural celebration.

Pete Seeger's banjo carries a slogan that sums up his faith, "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."  In these difficult times, Seeger's life-long confidence in the power of creativity is a powerful example for us all.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Grace Lee Project

I saw a great film over the weekend called The Grace Lee Project. It's a very funny piece about stereotypes of Asian-American women. The filmmaker, Grace Lee, discovers that everyone knows "another Grace Lee", and all of them are described as "quiet," "nice", "very smart" . . . She sets out to find some Grace Lee's who break the mold.

Several of the interviews are very moving. My favorite part is the section on Grace Lee Boggs, the Chinese-American author, anti-racist activist and feminist, who is still going strong at age 94. I had known about Boggs' work with Detroit Summer, a community movement bringing people of all races, cultures, and ages together to rebuild Detroit, but I did not realize the full range of her work.

Grace Lee Boggs with Filmmaker Grace Lee

The Grace Lee Project is available on DVD and Netflix. Visit for more information.

Estelle Parsons is Amazing in August:Osage County

I saw the touring production of "August:Osage County" with Estelle Parsons last night. It was such a treat to see a beautifully written drama where 7 or the 13 characters are women and they do most of the talking. Estelle Parsons, who is best known to TV audiences as "Roseanne's mom," is an amazing stage actress, and at age 80, she is riveting for 3 1/2 hours as the pill-popping matriarch of a deeply dysfunctional family. Shannon Cochran as the oldest daughter Barbara is also fabulous.

If you go to this link, you can read more about the show and watch a wonderful video interview with Estelle Parsons: August In Osage County. The show is at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco until September 6, and it will be touring to Seattle, WA, Tempe, AZ, and Washington, DC between now and December. It's one of the best things I have seen this year - see it if you can!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Women in Theatre Seek Equality by 2020

Women theatre artists held a conference in New York last week to launch a new initiative called 50/50 in 2020. In response to the fact that women playwrights, directors, and designers still receive fewer than 20% of the professional production opportunities nationwide, our friends at the Women's Project, the League of Professional Theatre Women, and New Perspectives Theatre are organizing this campaign to achieve parity for professional women theater artists by 2020.

You can read a description of the kick-off meeting in Helen Shaw's article for Time Out New York - Parity for Women Theatre Artists - Report from the Working Group Event.

There have been several studies over the years that have documented that women do not have parity in theatre. In 2002 Susan Jonas and Suzanne Bennett did a study for the New York State Council on the Arts, Report on the Status of Women: A Limited Engagement. They found that of the 2000 plays produced by non-profit American theatres in the 2001-2002 season, only 16% had women directors and only 17% had women playwrights.

More recently, Emily Glassberg Sands, a Princeton economics student, did her 173 page senior thesis on the status of women in theatre - Opening the Curtain on Playwright Gender: An Integrated Economic Analysis of Discrimination in American Theater." Among other things, Sands found that women write fewer than 1 in 8 shows on Broadway, and that it is harder to get plays produced if they have female protagonists.

Sands gave a presentation in June which was reported by the The New York Times in an article called, Theatre Has a Gender Bias? Do Tell. The Times reporter, Patricia Cohen, caused a controversy by claiming in the opening paragraphs of her article that Sands' presentation proved that women artistic directors and literary managers are the ones to blame for discrimination against women in the theatre - conveniently ignoring the fact that women artistic directors have not been a large enough group historically to be the cause of centuries of discrimination against female playwrights.

If you would like to find out more about this campaign for parity for women in theatre, please become a fan of the 50/50 in 2020 page on Facebook.

Artists Invited to Participate in Obama's United We Serve Campaign

President Obama's United We Serve program is designed to encourage Americans to do community service as volunteers in order "to help meet growing social needs resulting from the economic downturn." If your group needs volunteers, you can post an announcement at

Last week we received an email from the non-profit arts advocacy group, Americans for the Arts. Inspired by the United We Serve campaign, they are trying to document the impact that artists have on their communities by asking people to upload stories, photos, and videos about volunteer activities in the arts at

Part of the mission of WomenArts is to increase the funding and employment of women artists. Since so many women artists are unpaid or underpaid for their creative work, we are troubled that our federal government and our largest non-profit arts advocacy group are placing so much emphasis on volunteerism.

We want to know what you think. When it is good to volunteer and when should we insist on being paid? What is the best way to tell our stories if we want to persuade people that we deserve more money? Should artists be asking for major bail-outs like the ones the the bankers and auto execs received?

Please leave your comments below.
Additional Reading on this topic:
Arlene Goldbard has written an excellent survey of current national service programs in the arts - "The Long, Hot Summer of Service: Community Artists on The Job," (July 2009).

Americans for the Arts has published a pamphlet with ideas about ways that arts organizations can participate in the United We Serve campaign - United We Serve: An Arts Idea Kit

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

German dance legend Pina Bausch dies at 68 | Culture & Lifestyle | Deutsche Welle | 30.06.2009

Acclaimed German dancer and choreographer Pina Bausch died of cancer at the age of 68 on June 30, 2009, five days after being diagnosed. The recipient of numerous awards and prizes, she is best known as an innovator in the hybrid modern dance genre of "Tanztheater," or dance theater.

She was one of the most influential choreographers of our era. Her company toured internationally on a regular basis, and her work was featured in Pedro Almodovar's film, "Talk to Her". Her work often explored the theme of the relations between men and women. We will miss her.

Read the article from Deutsche Welle . . .

YouTube - Le Sacre Du Printemps by Pina Bausch Wuppertal Dance Theater

This video gives a sample of Pina Bausch's choreography.
YouTube - Le Sacre Du Printemps by Pina Bausch Wuppertal Dance Theater

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Deborah's Favorite Books by Women Authors

As a lover of literature, I decided to take some time off from editing the WomenArts Funding Newsletters and challenge myself to make a list of my 10 favorite books by women authors (it wasn't easy to narrow it down!). What follows is not a comprehensive guide, just a list of my personal favorites - 10 books that have, in some way, changed my life. In order to narrow the list down, I limited myself to books originally written in English, and didn't include collections of poetry - though most of the books on the list experiment with form in some way. All the books explore issues surrounding gender and gender roles.

What are your favorite books by women? Feel free to add your own list.

1. The Passion - Jeanette Winterson
An exploration of passion in the form of a quasi-historical novel. My favorite book ever!
2. Push - Sapphire
A teenage mother's journey from illiteracy to becoming a poet.
3. The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
A man from earth visits a planet where the people have no gender.
4. Orlando - Virginia Woolf
Published in 1928, this book is still revolutionary and mind-bending today.
5. Break Every Rule: Essays on Language, Longing, and Moments of Desire - Carole Maso
Essays about being an artist written in the form of poetry.
6. Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories - Angela Carter
Classic fairy tales re-told through a feminist lens (and darker than ever!).
7. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
Terrifying science fiction story set in a future that could all too easily become reality.
8. The God of Small Things - Arundahti Roy
A beautifully written exploration of a family's dark secrets.
9. Autobiography of Red - Anne Carson
A classic Greek myth told like a lyric poem and set in modern times.
10. Woman and Nature - Susan Griffin
An analysis and rebuttal of the conflation of women and nature (and man's treatment of them) in Western culture, written in a collage format that incorporates primary sources and creative writing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

NBC New York SWAN Day Video

NBC News 4 New York covered the SWAN Day 2009 event organized by The League of Professional Theatre Women at Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. It was a panel discussion about women as theatre designers moderated by producer Robyn Goodman and featuring Broadway costume designer Carrie Robbins, playwright/performer Lisa Kron, director Leigh Silverman, costume designer Holly Hynes, and Lincoln Center Library curator Barbara Cohen-Stratyner. The event was offered in conjunction with the League's excellent exhibit at the Lincoln Center Library of 100 years of costume, set and lighting designs by women. You can watch the 30 second news clip below.

Celebrating SWAN Day 2009

Here is a picture of me and our Swan celebrating SWAN Day 2009 in New York with cast members from the Broadway hit musical, Avenue Q.