Tuesday, February 23, 2010

WPA Artist Mary Perry Stone Honored for SWAN Day

Dayton, OH -
On Friday, February 5, 2010, 70 people, including Dayton’s mayor, braved a snowstorm to attend the opening reception of “Art Makes Us Human,” an exhibit of work by Mary Perry Stone (1909-2007), a WPA artist who focused on social justice and civil rights. The exhibit inaugurates “The Mary Perry Stone Women’s Art Gallery” at the Missing Peace Art Space, which will house a permanent collection of works by Stone and showcase work by women artists from around the world whose art is dedicated to peace. The gallery will hold a SWAN Day event the weekend of March 5-7, 2010 in conjunction with the exhibit.

Mary Perry Stone was one of 40 women employed by the New York City Federal Arts Project as part of the WPA during the 1930’s as a sculptor and teacher. It was during this period that her work became focused on social protest, her lifelong subject. After working in the shipyards during World War II, Stone moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she continued to sculpt and paint. Much of her work during the 1960’s opposed the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. She moved to Ashland, Oregon, in the 1990’s, where she continued to sculpt, paint, and exhibit her work until her death in 2007. Stone’s art was shown in numerous group and solo exhibits at museums and galleries in New York, California, and Oregon, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Carnegie Hall, and Rockefeller Center.

Over the course of her career, Stone made over 50 social-protest canvas murals on subjects ranging from the struggle for civil rights to the exploitation of labor. Her work “was all grounded in her belief that an artist… has a responsibility to work for a more humane world,” said Ramie Streng, Stone’s daughter. According to Streng, her mother’s lifelong commitment to social justice was largely influenced by the Great Depression and her involvement in the WPA. Wanting to remain true to the anti-commercial, progressive spirit of her mother’s work, Streng created a website where visitors can view Stone’s social protest murals for free. With a new gallery home at the Missing Peace Art Space, Stone’s colorful, dynamic, deeply humanistic art will continue to inspire generations to come.

WomenArts is delighted to celebrate the life and work of Mary Perry Stone as part of our WPA 75th anniversary retrospective for SWAN Day 2010. Special thanks to Ramie Streng for getting in touch with us about her mother’s work, and to Steve Fryburg and Gabriella Pickett of the Missing Peace Art Space for planning the SWAN Day event in Dayton.

If you’re in or near Dayton, be sure to visit The Mary Perry Stone Women’s Art Gallery at the Missing Peace Art Space, 234 S. Dutoit St., Dayton, OH 45402-2215, T: (937) 241-4353. Read more about the exhibit and see a video at: http://www.missingpeaceart.org/missing_peace_art_space_upcoming.htm.

Visit http://maryperrystone.com/ to learn more about the life and work of Mary Perry Stone.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Recognizing Artists as Workers

It is always exciting at this time of year to hear from people who are organizing SWAN Day events for next month. As the calls and emails come in, I am often struck by how hard most women artists work. We put in long hours for under-staffed non-profits or juggle several part-time jobs along with childcare duties. In spite of this, the general public seldom considers artists as "workers," and we tend to be overlooked in conversations about the economy.

In his recent State of the Union speech, President Obama said that two million Americans had been hired as a result of his economic stimulus programs. He spoke proudly about hiring construction and clean energy workers, teachers, cops, firefighters, first responders, and correctional officers. He did not mention artists.

Thanks to Americans for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts did receive $50 million of stimulus funds last year for arts jobs in spite of strong Republican opposition - but that's only enough for a maximum of 2,000 jobs at $25,000 each, and it is a miniscule percentage of the total Recovery Act package of $787 billion.

To put this in perspective - the California Department of Corrections received $1 billion in federal stimulus funds, i.e. Congress allocated 20 times as much money for prison officers in California as they did for all of the artists in the country. Do the guards really contribute that much more to our economic potential?

During the Great Depression of the 1930's the U.S. government paid more attention to the needs of artists. In 1935 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt launched an economic stimulus program called the Works Progress Administration (WPA) with a goal of giving people "self-respect and self-reliance" by giving them meaningful jobs.

The WPA provided jobs to approximately 40,000 artists at its peak, including many of the best artists of the period, such as Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Louise Nevelson, Langston Hughes, Orson Welles, and Arthur Miller.

Zora Neale Hurston's WPA Legacy

Zora Neale Hurston worked on the WPA Folklore project, recording folk songs and stories in the black communities of Florida and preserving oral traditions that might otherwise have been lost. The recordings are now available online in the Florida Memory State Library and Archives. (See www.floridamemory.com/Collections/folklife/sound_hurston.cfm)

It is amazing to hear one of the finest writers of the Harlem Renaissance singing these songs as part of her government job during the depths of the Great Depression. Alice Walker once wrote that Hurston's great gift was to show her people "relishing the pleasure of each other's loquacious and bodacious company."

In the link below, you can hear Hurston describe and sing the song Halimuhfack. Even though it is a scratchy 75-year-old recording, you can still hear that pleasure and her loving attention to the details of cultural expression in her community. www.floridamemory.com/Collections/folklife/mp3/hurston/halimuhfack.mp3

Organizing in Your Community

As President Obama calls for $30 billion more for jobs stimulus programs, what can we do to make sure that Congress puts artists to work again as part of our country's recovery?

Many of you are already taking the first step by organizing SWAN Day events in your community that raise the visibility of women artists and stimulate discussion about the value of the arts.

If you would like to do more on this issue as part of your SWAN Day event or later in the year, WomenArts has compiled resource materials about the WPA and suggested activities. (See www.WomenArts.org/wpa).

The members of NewShoe, a group of playwrights and theatre directors in New York, have created a play about the women of the WPA for their SWAN Day event, and they have agreed to share it with others for free public readings. (See www.WomenArts.org/wpa/wpa_script.htm ) We encourage you to create and share works that express your views on the role of artists in the recovery.

Also, check out Art & the Public Purpose: A New Framework at http://www.newculturalpolicy.org/. A group of 60 arts activists met with White House representatives in May 2009 and then developed this excellent five-point manifesto about ways that artists could participate in our country's recovery.

Since many of you are in book groups, we wanted to recommend two books that really bring the WPA programs to life - Susan Quinn's Furious Improvisation about the Federal Theatre Project, and David Taylor's Soul of a People about the Federal Writers' Project. For those of you in WITASWAN film-watching groups, there is a film version of Soul of a People, and another film about the period by Tim Robbins called The Cradle Will Rock.

Let's hope that seventy-five years from now, our descendants will be able to see that even though times were hard in 2010, we still wrote plays, made films, sang, danced, painted, and most of all, we enjoyed each other's "bodacious company."

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We always love to hear from you.

Martha Richards, Executive Director