Starr Community Conversation: “Who Does She Think She Is?”

By Maritza Gordillo

On Tuesday, March 22nd, I attended the Starr Community Conversation: Technology and Modern Families. This discussion was very interesting to me because it helped me understand that technology can be beneficial for balancing work/life if you know how to moderate yourself; as well as harmful if you overdo it. Although this conversation was open to all ages, it more importantly focused on how to best integrate the use of technology within families in our community.

This evening, April 12th, the Starr Community Conversation: “Who Does She Think She Is?” Balancing Family Life with Creative Careers will be taking place at the Truman Forum auditorium in the KC Public Library from 6pm-9pm. This conversation will be discussing the documentary “Who Does She Think She Is?” and the unique challenges women and men come across in balancing their creative careers and family life.

Who Does She Think She Is?

"Following Chicken George," by Nedra Bonds

By Arzie Umali

Last night about 150 people gathered at the Event Space at JavaPort in the Kansas City Crossroads Arts District for a private opening of the group art exhibit Who Does She Think She Is?  Artists, patrons, supporters and friends of the UMKC Women’s Center enjoyed live music by local musician Elaine McMillian, spoken word performances by Cheri Woods and “MissConception” and dance performances by the group Assemblé.  They also got a sneak preview of the exhibit that officially opens tonight for First Fridays and features artwork by 26 local female artists.

The exhibit is part of the UMKC Women’s Center’s Her Art Project, a series of programs that strive to bring equity to women who work in all disciplines of artistic expression. By asking the question Who Does She Think She Is? the art exhibit hopes to recognize women for their artistic achievements and to  raise awareness to the unique challenges that women face as they try to meet the demands of family, careers, and artistic fulfillment.  Other Her Art Project events taking place in the month of April include a panel discussion about balancing work and life with creative careers at the KC Public Library on April 12 and an Artist Salon addressing the state of women in the arts in Kansas City on April 27.  More information about these programs and the Her Art Project can be found on the Her Art Project Website

Please support Kansas City’s women artists by stopping by the First Friday opening tonight at the Event Space at JavaPort, 208 W. 19th St. from 6 – 9 pm. If you can’t make it tonight, the exhibit will be up through May 13 with another First Friday opening on May 6.

Quilting Workshop with Nedra Bonds

By Patsy Campos

Mommy + Me quilt square

On Saturday, March 5, I took part in a fun and relaxing quilting workshop at the University Center facilitated by local textile artist Nedra Bonds. Several students and community members attended the workshop and everyone who participated created a quilt square with a women’s equity theme that Nedra will use to create one large quilt. She hopes to complete the final quilt by the fall and then she will donate it to the Women’s Center to commemorate the Women’s Center’s 40th anniversary.

There were some beautiful masterpieces done by the participants who varied in skill level from students who had never sewn anything before to experienced quilters who came prepared with their own sewing machines. The participants left some great comments about the workshop, which had a relaxed atmosphere that was conducive to allowing the creative juices to flow. Since the workshop was open for everybody, you did not have to be an expert quilter to join in on the fun. Beginners participated by cutting and pasting fabric or hand sewing it. Some learned how to use a sewing machine for the very first time right there.

If you are interested in quilting, or maybe you want to learn a new hobby, or if you want to contribute to a work of art that will be permanently hung in the Women’s Center, Nedra will be facilitating another quilting workshop on Saturday, April 9 from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm at the University Center in the Alumni Room. The cost is $35 and that includes all the fabric and supplies. You’ll get to make two quilt squares – one you will give to Nedra for the Women’s Center quilt and the other you can show off to your friends. If you have your own sewing machine, please bring it; otherwise, we’ll have one for you to borrow. Quilting novices will have the option to cut and paste or hand-sew a piece. Also, feel free to bring some extra fabrics and embellishments for your quilt square if you have any.  To register, please call the UMKC Women’s Center at 816-235-1638 or just drop by 105 Haag Hall.  Hopefully we will see you at our next workshop!

Women Are Great and Wise Artists, Too

By Arzie Umali

Image from Flickr.com

Happy New Year!  We are almost one full week into 2011 and many people by now have firmly secured their resolutions and goals for the New Year. In fact, some may have already thrown in the towel and realized they had set their sights too high. Whatever we do at this time of year, whether it is strategically listing a set of goals complete with deadlines and measureable outcomes, or just continuing with our current Modus Operandi, many of us do take this time at the start of a brand new year to do some reflection and evaluation; and, most often, we do this with our best intentions at heart.

So, I’m wondering what the intensions were of a recent Wall Street Journal article that listed the “Cultural Resolutions” of some of whom they claimed to be the top writers, artists, and musicians of today.  The article included a sampling of artists from around the world sharing their hopes and goals for the New Year. What first appears to be a rather arbitrary selection of individuals (from Oprah to former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash) to me, also appears to be an extremely sexist list of who the WSJ considers to be the wisest of the cultural icons of today. In the print version of the article, a full-page layout for the article on the cover of the “Friday Journal” section lists quotes from 10 creative individuals – only one, fashion designer, Nanette Lepore, is female. The article covers two more full pages with resolutions and goals of various artists. 37 people are included in total, of which only 9 are women. The on-line version of the article is slightly different and includes a large image of architect, Richard Meier, whose goal is to design more global works. If Meier’s image at the top of this article is any indication of how the WSJ regards the greatness of artists, then they have shown their readers that great art and wisdom comes from men. The rest of the article on-line lists 55 other artists in various disciplines, of which only 11 are women.

The problem with this article, aside from its haphazard mix of artists, is that the message it sends to readers is that men still outnumber women in the arts; therefore, men are more important and are still better at it. Articles like this that quote the wisdom of individuals selected by reputable media sources, assign values that then inform its audiences’ interpretation and perspective on the arts as well. If the WSJ says that these are the top artists, then they must be. And because men dominate this list, then they just must be better. This is not true. And I am disappointed in the WSJ for not being more responsible and doing their due diligence to provide a more gender balanced article.

Women have had a long history of being devalued and excluded from the arts. Shakespeare’s female roles were once performed by men, many art academies in Europe did not allow women, and many symphonies and orchestras have been hostile to female musicians.  Women historically, have had to struggle to be seen, heard, and recognized as legitimate artists. The good news is that, in recent decades, the number of women working in the arts has increased and in many fields women have reached equity in numbers, if not surpassed their male counterparts. Reports from the National Endowment for the Arts confirm this. However, how we as a society value the art produced by these women is still based on the masculine definitions of art established in the past. This becomes a challenge for women emerging onto the arts scene who have their own style and aesthetics, that are different from men, but just as valuable. The problem here is that, most of the time, we act on the impulse that anything different from what we have been conditioned to understand as the best, then is not the best, and we, thus, reject it.

It is time that society release the definition of great art, great music, and great performances from its sexist, homogeneity and recognize the value and richness that adding some gender diversity to these definitions can bring. The media, including the WSJ, then has a responsibility to stop perpetuate the myth of male domination in the arts and to help raise the awareness of its audience to the gender diversity that actually exists in the arts. Brilliant, creative, and innovative women are out there in the art world in numbers and greatness equal to men, but if the media doesn’t let you know who they are, then who will?

The Her Art Project at the UMKC Women’s Center is addressing this problem head on, by collaborating across campus and throughout the Kansas City area with other arts organizations to create programs and services that raise awareness to the contributions of women in the arts and to address the challenges that women working in the arts still face. This spring several events including workshops, lectures and exhibits are planned to support women in the arts in Kansas City.  Visit the Her Art Project website for more information.

Citizen Jane Film Festival

By Devon White

Image from flickr.com

Did you know that women comprise only 7% of all directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films? In contrast, women buy a higher percentage, (55%), of movie tickets compared to men. These revealing demographics clearly suggest the need for more female representation in front of and behind the camera.

 Stephen’s College, a historical women’s college located in Columbia, Missouri, has been featuring female filmmakers in its Citizen Jane Film Festival since 2008.  The festival was created to address, “the gross underrepresentation of women in the film industry…by showcasing films you may never have the opportunity to see coupled with unique experiences” (2010 CJFF).

 “Reconstructing Reality” was the theme for the 2010 Citizen Jane Film Festival. From October 15-17 CJFF featured intimate conversations with filmmakers, short films, and in-depth workshops about the craft of filmmaking. By highlighting women in filmmaking, the festival gives the filmmakers exposure and resonates to a wider audience in an industry where women are an anomaly.

 Check out the Citizen Jane Film Festival website to learn more about how filmmakers and film lovers, regardless of gender, celebrated another year of women in filmmaking!

The Women's Words

Image from www.DV.is/blogg

I am a bookworm. A bibliophile. A lover of the written word. If given the choice between going to a party and staying in with a good book, 98% of the time I will choose the book. I read all types of books from sci-fi/fantasy to historical fiction to young adult novels to contemporary fiction, but lately I have noticed that books I read that are written by women or about women don’t seem to get taken as seriously.

For some reason female-driven literature has gotten the term “chick lit”. If you haven’t heard that term, it is basically the same thing as calling a movie lead by a female a “chick flick”. Neither term is particularly flattering. However, in terms of literature, the term “chick lit” is used to categorize novels written by women about women. Sounds pretty broad, right? It is.

In an article published on the Women’s Media Center website, writer Courtney Young looks at how we talk about “women’s lit” or “chick lit”. The article talks about how some in the publishing world get sick of the amount of women writing about grief, rape, or dealing with divorce, and that some have begun categorizing those books as “misery lit”. The article did a great job of refuting the notion that too many female author’s are writing “misery lit”, by quoting music journalist Jessica Dutchin:

“Most women writers who want to be perceived as tackling themes beyond the buying of high-heeled shoes and the seduction of Mr. Perfect loathe the concept of chick lit—which is a marketing phenomenon more than a literary one—and don’t want their work to be mistaken for it,” she wrote. “Therefore we have resorted to the tactic of choosing themes that are as dark and miserable as possible.”

Young’s article articulates what I think a lot of female readers have felt for a while, there is a certain amount of sexism in the book world. Not just in the fact that we discuss “women’s lit” as a subcategory of fiction instead of in the same league as male authors but there is also sexism in the book lists and awards. The article finishes up touching on everyone’s favorite topic, the Twilight series, and how bad an example that is for the young adult genre and the sci-fi/fantasy one as well and that there are better examples of both genres out there.

I would have to say that as a feminist and a book lover, it frustrates me that there is still such a divide in how we discuss women-written literature, that it is in such a way that it appears to be taken less seriously than the male counterparts. Terms like “chick lit” only increase the divide. While the debate on how we talk about literature may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of achieving gender equality, it’s a tangible illustration of the differences of how society, the media, and scholars perceive men’s contributions versus women’s contributions.

The State of Women in the Arts in Kansas City

On Tuesday, April 27, a group of about 30 local arts supporters gathered at the Diastole in downtown Kansas City to discuss the state of women in the arts in Kansas City.  The event was billed as an “Artist Salon” where informal conversation about a shared topic of concern could take place amongst the diverse, yet like-minded group of individuals.  Those in attendance included Jan Schall, curator at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, several local visual artists including Ritchie Kaye, Shea Gordon-Festoff, and Nicole Emanuel, local spoken word artist Natasha El-Scari, and several other arts supporters.

The evening began with a reception hosted by local artist Sonie Ruffin, who is also one of the 2010 Charlotte Street Award recipients.  The conversation during the reception was lively and convivial.  It was obvious that many of people in the room were well acquainted with each other and had talked “art” before. 

But the real discussion began when facilitator, Renee Blanche (host of Night Tides on KCUR), welcomed the group into the Diastole’s kiva where she asked everyone why they were all there.  “Support… Recognition… Balance…” were words that were called out.  It was clear that the state of women in the arts was a topic this group had been waiting to talk about for quite a while.  Before getting into the discussion a short clip from the documentary “Who Does She Think She Is?” was shown followed by a presentation of some statistics on the state of women in the arts in Kansas City.  Both the movie clip and the presentation emphasized the inequities that women face in the art world.  For example, women comprise of more than half of the students studying art, music, dance, or theater; however, men overwhelmingly dominate museum collections and positions of power in the art world. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5lqg81eXo8]

The movie clip and presentation provided much fuel to get the conversation going.  Most of the people agreed that there were disparities when it comes to female representation in the visual arts.  There were many comments and personal accounts from several female artists who experienced sexism from gallery owners.  Others commented on institutionalized and systemic problems that caused the imbalance of male to female representation in the museums.  And there was much discussion about the woman’s role in society – how does a woman have enough time to raise a family, have a career, and express her creativity?  Natasha El Scari and Nicole Emanuel talked about sacrifices that they had to make in their lives in order to do all those things. 

The discussion ended with a conversation about support.  It was clear that the women artists in the room were in agreement that support from all directions was necessary to making it all work.  Ritchie Kaye talked about having the support from her family and friends so that she could travel long distances to and from art school when her children were young.  Others emphasized the support of other female artists and coalition building.  And it was discussed that leaders in the art world, whether male or female, needed to have a sensibility to women artists’ unique needs in order to get the support that they deserve.  In the end the group agreed to come together more frequently to put together an action plan for how the issues raised could be addressed.

The artist salon ended the Her Art Project, a month long series of events that explored the unique challenges women face as they bring together motherhood, careers, and artistic fulfillment, including the group art exhibit Her Art: Who Does She Think She Is? on display at the Leedy-Voulkos Arts Center through the end of May.  This series was sponsored by the UMKC Women’s Center, the Leedy-Voulkos Arts Center, the Women’s Employment Network, the University Libraries, the UMKC Department of Communication Studies, the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance, and STUFF.  The Women’s Center hopes to build on the Her Art Project and continue to provide programs about women in the arts.

A Month of Great Events Celebrating Women in the Arts!

This past Friday, April 2, the Her Art: Who Does She Think She Is? group art exhibit kicked-off at the Leedy-Voulkos Arts Center (2012 Baltimore, downtown KCMO). The show is an examination of the multiple roles women play as they balance motherhood, family, careers, and their artistic fulfillment. Artwork by some of Kansas City’s most talented women artists are on display. The works are as varied and diverse as the group of artists that created them.  They range from images such as Nicole Emanuel’s Balancing Act and Nedra Bonds’ The Birth of Jazz that are figurative interpretations of the exhibit’s theme, to images like Anger by Ritchie Kaye and Separation by Holly Swangstu, where the artists’ creative process makes them relevant to the exhibit.  The exhibit will be on display until May 28, so if you missed the First Friday opening, don’t worry, because there is still time to check it out! 

This Wednesday, April 7, don’t miss the lecture to be given by UMKC Assistant Professor of Film & Media Arts, Caitlin Horsmon, From Guy-Blanche to Bigelow: Women Behind the Camera in Hollywood Cinema. If this kind of event is right up your alley, you’ll also want to be sure to attend the screening and subsequent panel discussion of the documentary Who Does She Think She Is?, which focuses on five particularly bold women artists, each radically different in background, race, religious creed and choice of artistic field, who share the common challenge of making careers in various art worlds. This event will be held at the Tivoli Theatre in Westport, and tickets are available at their box office for $4 (free for UMKC students, staff, & faculty).

The month-long celebration of women in the arts wraps up on Tuesday, April 27.   Renee Blanche, host of Night Tides on KCUR, 89.3 FM, will facilitate a discussion on the state of women in the arts in Kansas City.  Artists, musicians, dancers, actors, and anyone who loves the arts are invited to join the discussion. The event will take place at Diastole (2501 Holmes, KCMO), and there will be a reception starting at 6:00 PM hosted by local artist Sonie Ruffin prior to the discussion.

The Women’s Center is also collaborating again this month with the Miller Nichols Library to present the Women Artists Book Display, which will be on display April 1 – April 30. Again, you can read more information about all of these events by going to the Her Art page on the Women’s Center website. Enjoy!

A Night for the Women

The Oscars are by far one of the biggest, if not the biggest, television events of the year. Something like 3 billion people tune in all around the world to watch who will take home the golden statue. I am one of them. I don’t tune in every year and I usually don’t watch the whole thing but I have to admit there is a certain excitement of seeing what everyone is wearing and who wins and who has the best acceptance speech.

This year the Oscars were even more thrilling. Not only was one of my favorite actresses nominated (Sandra Bullock), but also there was the possibility that either the first African American or first female director would win the Best Director Award. It turned out that it was a night for women. Mo’Nique won best supporting actress for Precious, Sandra Bullock won best actress for The Blind Side, and Kathryn Bigelow won best director for The Hurt Locker.

Mo’Nique I had seen in her stand up comedy and in various other movies. Sandra Bullock I had heard of. But, I had never heard of Kathryn Bigelow until this year.

Seemingly out of nowhere there was buzz about an independent movie, The Hurt Locker and its director, Kathryn Bigelow. I knew very little about her. I knew she was married to James Cameron, who in case you have been living under a rock, was also nominated for the same award for directing this small film called Avatar.  (I’m kidding of course, Avatar is the highest grossing film ever made.) The only other thing I knew was that she directed The Hurt Locker, which is about soldiers in the war zone in Iraq who are apart of the EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) squad, which dismantles bombs. The movie looks at the soldier’s lives and the conflicts and problems they deal with.  The movie doesn’t seem to have any political message, merely giving a glimpse into the duties and experiences of soldiers near the war zone.

For the first time in the 82 years of the Academy Awards, a female won Best Director. There have only been four women nominated for the Best Director Oscar:

Lina Wertmüller was the first woman to be nominated for Best Director in 1972 for the film Seven Beauties. The second woman nominated was Jane Champion for directing The Piano. Sofia Coppola was nominated in 2003 for directing Lost in Translation. And finally, Kathryn Bigelow completes the list of four with her nomination and win this year for directing the Hurt Locker

What does this all mean? I don’t know. What I do know is that a lot of women direct, produce, and write movies every year, most of which probably don’t get seen by that many people. It makes me sad that it took so long for a female to win the director category and even sadder that only 4 have been nominated.

While, there are still improvements needed where it comes to women in movies and art in general, this year’s Academy Awards are not to be discounted.  A beautiful, curvy, funny, African American woman won for Best Supporting Actress. A 45-year-old, Miss Congeniality woman won Best Actress. And a 59-year-old woman made an independent movie about soldiers and won Best Director and Best Picture beating the best selling film of all time. Not to shabby, if I do say so myself.

Next month, Assistant Professor of Film & Media Arts, Caitlin Horsmon, will present the lecture, From Guy-Blanche to Bigelow:  Women Behind the Camera in Hollywood Cinema on Wednesday, April 7 at noon in the Miller Nichols Library.  You are invited to bring a lunch and hear Dr. Horsmon’s views on the history of women’s roles as directors in the Hollywood film industry over the past 100 years.  She will discuss the challenges faced by women working behind the camera and the interventions they’ve made into the canon of American film culture.

Art Imitates Life

Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon passed away recently at the age of 74 and was eulogized in an article in the Wall Street Journal.  Sadly, many people do not know who this person is. But what I find more disturbing is that, despite being one of the most creative minds in the last half of the twentieth century, many people in the art world may not recognize the name either.  It is only when her name is mentioned alongside her husband, Christo, that her status among the art greats becomes clear.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude were the artistic duo that created some of the world’s most memorable and monumental art installations.  Their large, public displays of fabric and textiles have adorned the world’s landscape for the past several decades.  Among their many works were the 2005 creation, “The Gates,” a series of 7,503 orange nylon panels erected for 16 days in New York’s Central Park, and “The Umbrellas,” an installation of 3,100 umbrellas that covered two inland valleys in Ibaraki, Japan and California in the early 1990’s.  And for those Kansas City natives old enough to remember, “Wrapped Walkways” covered the walkways and jogging paths of Loose Park in 135,000 square feet of saffron-colored nylon fabric in 1977-1978. 

Jeanne-Claude was an equal collaborator in the creation of these works, and according to her husband, she was also the business genius behind their success in what can most often be a fickle art market.  But references to their large art installations, whether in art books or in conversation, usually credit the works to be by Christo, with no mention of Jeanne-Claude. This, unfortunately, is typical for women in the arts.

As a young art student in the early 1990’s, I became well aware of how marginalized women were in the arts.  In my search to identify any female role models from art history, I found little written about women artists compared to the volumes of information about male artists.  In many of my art textbooks, the marginalization went so far as to annex women into chapters titled  “Women Artists,” as if to emphasize where the woman’s “place” was in the context of visual arts.  While artists such as Monet and Picasso were regarded in chapters that hailed their contributions to important art movements like Impressionism and Cubism respectively; women artists were regarded not for their creative contributions, but for, well, being women. Discussions in my art history classes mirrored the information in the text books.  More time was spent critiquing the works of Da Vinci, Van Gogh, and Warhol, than Mary Cassatt, Freda Kahlo, and Georgia O’Keefe.  Moreover, my first visits to the Met and the MOMA in New York really punctuated the disproportionate representation of women.  On the walls of these major museums, works by men greatly outnumbered works by women.

Nothing has really changed much in the 20 years since I graduated from art school and the article about Jeanne-Claude’s death was a grim reminder.  Why did she exist in her husband’s shadow?  I must not blame Christo for this, and to his credit, their website does bare her name. But why does society have such a hard time recognizing the legitimacy of women in the arts without attaching them to a man?

Other brilliant female artists have fallen victim to this fate, and like Jeanne-Claude, it was their relationships with the men in their lives that make people say, “Oh yeah, now I know who she is.” Lee Krasner is barely known as a talented abstract expressionist artist, but better known as the wife of the irascible Jackson Pollock. And Camille Claudel is better remembered as Rodin’s apprentice and mistress (and for going insane), than for her genius at sculpting marble and stone. Even the stories of well-known female artists like Freda Kahlo and Georgia O’Keefe cannot be told without significant references to Diego Rivera and Alfred Steiglitz. It disturbs me that all these women cannot be recognized without the mention of their male partners. 

Is talent not enough when you are a woman and an artist?  Should all these female artists really just be grateful to the men in their lives for helping to bring them some bit of recognition in the cold, cruel, art world? Whether art imitates life, or life imitates art, women today are still fighting for some status among men in all career fields.  And the arts are no exception. On the Christo/Jeanne-Claude website, Christo honors his late wife’s legacy by reminding us of her talent, creativity, and genius. It’s a beautiful tribute and hopefully one that leads us in the direction where all women artists are standing, if not ahead of, but at least, next to their male counterparts in their status as great artists.

In spring 2010, the UMKC Women’s Center will address this issue with a series of events including a screening of the documentary Who Does She Think She Is? (a film that chronicles the lives of five, diverse female artists), an art exhibit featuring local women artists, and a discussion about the state of women in the arts in Kansas City.  Plans are still in the works, but please check the Women’s Center website in the next few weeks for more details.