Awesome Lady Squad

Where we go from here

Hey all. It’s March 31st and the official end of my month of blogging here on the topic of gender parity in theater. I recapped the other day some of the projects that this month has inspired and begun, but I also wanted to say a couple things not only about those specific projects but about a few bigger picture things that have slowly amassed over the course of this month on a larger, perhaps more philosophical level.

One of the lessons I feel like I’ve taken away from this month of work is the sense that it’s important to keep perspective on two scales – the very small and personal and the very large and grand.

I find for myself that when I get too stuck in the minutiae of my own little world and my own little perspective on that little world, I can miss solutions or a sense of possibility. It’s easy when we are used to seeing something all the time to assume that it will always have to be that way. There are trends of inequity that have persisted for so long they have become banal and commonplace. And so in listening to other creators, in gathering voices of women artmakers en masse, by looking at my field as a whole and branching into other mediums as well, by looking at this problem not just as a personal one but a community-wide issue, I feel like I’ve gained a feeling of possibility, of mobility that I haven’t had in a while. Stepping back and looking at the larger picture has made me say more forcefully there are things I see in my community that are not acceptable even if they are common.

Simultaneously, I have also gotten better at tasking myself with small concrete things that I can do in and hour or two with a few people. I have become more able to say, “What can I do right now to make a step towards a larger goal?” rather than getting frustrated at an inability to fix everything in its entirety. I have felt easier in making a step forward, even if it is imperfect or not totally complete and saying that something good and finished NOW is better than something immaculate that takes months to perfect.

Another lesson learned is the power of a system that can handle multiple points of entry. One of the most awesome things about the Awesome Lady Squad is the fact that there are projects starting to gain momentum that I am not the sole driver of. Projects that I am appreciative of but may not have the expertise or immediate interest in prioritizing. If the Squad is to succeed I think our responsibility must be shouldered by many. Because the truth is some day I’m going to get busy with a project or a life event. Or there will be (maybe already is) more to do that I have time to oversee. And one of my core beliefs is that we will do so much more if we all trust each other to take your idea and run further with it than you knew was possible.

And last, I’ve realized that there is nothing more powerful that one human looking another human in the eye and doing your best to speak honestly and listen to each other.

That sounds mushy.

It is.

But man, is it also effective.

I’ve written thousands of words about these issues, spent hours trying to articulate exactly how I’m feeling and what I want to communicate. And yet, one of the most impactful moments I’ve had was when I sat down talked with some other creators about how their choices affected me and listened honestly and openly to their response.

If there is anything that I take from a month of work trying to advocate for female artists it is this: we have to be brave enough to start saying what we actually think and feel. To do so assumes that real and substantive change is possible. It assumes that our views are valuable enough to be heard and flexible enough to absorb response.

It is hard to tell someone, especially someone you admire and care about, that their actions might have consequences they do not intend. It also feels like the closest I’ve come to actually shifting the way someone will think and act in relation to this topic in the future.

And in this way, let me share where I go from here:

I will continue to work with The Awesome Lady Squad in the coming months. I’ll keep you abreast of those changes.

I will return to many of the questions about sustainability and how to engage in a long and happy life as an artist.

I will send some focus to other special interest groups and work towards a community that is aware and equitable in all aspects.

I want to encourage us, Philadelphia, to start engaging in these harder conversations. The ones that scare us. The ones that are uncomfortable. The ones that might mean we really have to rethink some of the ways we do things. These are the ones that will make us the city that others look to. These are the things that will create a more sustainable and strong community in the future.

Feeling the renewing possibilities of the imminent spring,

A

Recap

Something strange is happening.

In the last two days nearly 1,400 people have looked at this post about jealousy from nearly a year ago. I re-blogged it about a week ago where it was viewed a few hundred times through the re-post link and then all the sudden yesterday, when I expected lots of traffic for the Cross Pollination application, this post starts getting huge numbers of people visiting the page. From the original link. And they’re all getting referred from facebook I might add. But not, as far as I can tell from someone I know.

Weird.

Not complaining. But, weird, right?

If you’re responsible and you’re reading this: Who are you? How did you make that happen? Reveal the mystery!

Anyway.

Onto things of a more Awesome vein…

cooltext1368115366It’s March 27th and the month of writing about women in the arts is nearly over. For me however, I feel like the work is just beginning. And there have been a lot of beginnings that I’m hoping to continue working on throughout the next year. Part of that will be solo, a lot of it will be through the work of the Awesome Lady Squad. I know that for much of it I’ll want enthusiastic supporters to help take these ideas further than any single human is able.

So I thought I’d look back at this month and share some of the things that this writing has sparked and highlight some of the projects that have developed legs and started walking in the event that you might want to walk along with them. I give you:

STUFF ON GENDER PARITY THAT’S HAPPENED THIS MONTH AND WHERE IT GOES FROM HERE

–       The Awesome Lady Squad met at the end of February and created a document of stuff that we’ll be working on over the coming weeks and months

–       The Squad chose as it’s first project to create a Lady-Festo to define its core ethics and beliefs. Look for it’s final edited version in the next week or so.

–       I got to e-know a bunch of other advocates for female artists and am planning to meet up soon. I hope to create some kind of multi-city forum to share thoughts and methods.

–       I made lists of female directors and designers that folks who are looking for women to fill their artistic projects can use. This list may soon move to a permanent spot on the blog so that it can be accessed easily forever. Keep sending names, I’ll add them.

–       I threw out a proposal for a grant that would incentivize representation of female artists. It got a lot of positive feedback. It’s still in progress. But with the help of a few other folks it looks like we’re actually going to get this in front of the faces of some funders for consideration in the near future. And I still want to know ways you see to make it better.

–       I’ve started gathering stats for this coming season akin to the ones I found last year. If you want to help data tabulate, let me know. And if you notice an imbalance in companies you know and love, there’s still time to ask them to take action towards a season you believe in.

–       I’ve started wondering, hard, about what the legacy of canon means. I’m wondering if it isn’t time to start asking some hard questions about this kind of work.

–       I’ve started thinking based on some responses to posts about the definition of “Lady” and “female” and “gender” and have been wondering how that question can play a role in these conversations

–       I’ve had some private, tough, conversations with people who are honest in their pursuit of becoming Awesome Lady allies. They’ve inspired me and I’m working on how to share some of that process with you on the blog.

And finally, I’m continuing to look for ways to help share the many forward moving directions this work is taking. So if you have seen or read or thought about something in regards to this that you’re passionate about, wanting to help or maybe even take the lead on something I’ve outlined, LET ME KNOW.

Because a few words feverishly typed alone in my office every day can make this great an impact, I can’t wait to see how much more we can do as we expand forth.

– A

Lady-festo is coming!

Hey all,

photo 1

Do you know what those giant sticky notes are? They are some incredibly awesome and hard work by a whole bunch of awesome ladies these past few days. We’ve made some awesome progress and we’re really close to a full on Lady-festo. And I wanted to share just a little of what we did in these two meetings, for those that weren’t able to join us.

As I prepped for it, I read up on a bunch of other people’s manifestos. And I thought, “What exactly is a manifesto?”

So I found a few definitions from different dictionary sources online:

A public declaration of intentions, opinions, objectives, or motives, as one issued by a government, sovereign, or organization.

A written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer

The word’s root is Latin – manifestare – which means to be clear and conspicuous. To be unambiguously public in these beliefs. It’s the idea that if you share the view of the world you see around you others will also become aware of it. What struck me about this is that it is not a document about wishing or dreaming or becoming. It’s about what you know, deep down in a fundamental way, to be true. Which means the things that we define in our manifesto are not our future, but the things we already know in this moment.

It’s about asserting the things we believe to be true into the world around us: that women are not lesser qualified or weaker, that our work is not niche or in addition to. It’s knowing that there is a space in which those views are supported and those intentions are believed in. It’s a promise that if we are able to articulate it, others will eventually understand the beliefs we know to be true.

So we spent time articulating these ideas as beliefs. We tried to write down all the things that we know about Awesome Ladies, even if we don’t always see that reflected in the world. We tried to articulate those things as positives (“I believe X” rather than “I don’t believe Y”).

Then we shared those first ideas, clarified and honed them. We linked the things that seemed connected and then we worked to figure out how say them in the most simple and essential ways. We put forth great effort to get to the very core of our Squad’s essence.

And soon, I’ll get to share that with all of you.

I’m pretty psyched.

I think it will be awesome.

A huge thanks to everyone who made it out to one of (or both!) our Lady-festo nights:

  • Melissa Amilani
  • Hillary Asare
  • Dawn Falato
  • Arianna Gass
  • Colleen Hughes
  • Emily Johnson
  • Rebecca Joy
  • Gina Leigh
  • Jane Moore
  • Erlina Ortiz
  • Catherine Palfinier
  • Gabby Sanchez
  • Hannah Sandler
  • Meryl Sands
  • Catharine Slusar
  • Isa St. Clair
  • Sarah Schol

– A

Dispatches from the Awesome Lady Squad #4: On the topic what we’d like to see instead

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Yesterday I reviewed the last meeting of the most Awesome-est of Lady Squads and I ended with a section called:

What we’d like to see instead

This section for me is key.

I believe in the power of talking and sharing and creating a sense of community in perspective. But I value even more the ability to take the power of that sense of community and perspective and identify problems and find awesome ways to solve them. Tackling the issues we identify, this is for me what elevates support into a sense of empowerment. It’s the thing that brings me back to my super lofty goal for us Awesome Ladies: To make Philadelphia a model city for how women work in the arts. Some part of that will be discussion of the problems we face. But I hope a much bigger part is piece by piece finding concrete projects to start tackling them.

And I find that the easiest way to get to that new place is to have a vision of what it might be. So in identifying how to best channel the building energy of the Awesome Lady Squad I started with a line from the  “What we’d like to see instead” category and coupled it with a concrete projects to help start to accomplish it.

This is the list I came up with:

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       A re-framing of how we look at each other as female artists. Replacing the model of scarcity and competition to a model of abundance.

A project that could help us get there:

–       Create a concise and clear code of ethics for how the Awesome Lady Squad. Inspired by the Core Principles of Artist U this document should contain clear and simple guidelines that underpin the way Awesome Lady Squad members promise to work with each other and the world around them. It is an agreement that details the ways we can model the behavior we want to see around us.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       More models of women in roles of leadership and success in the arts. Seeing female artists successful in their practices. A commitment by established artists to identify and foster talent in emerging female art makers.

Two projects that could help us get there:

–       Foster an Awesome Lady Squad Recruit! This could include: creating an survey for young artists to talk about interest areas that is then used to pair them with artists and administrators already working in the field, “Take an Emerging Lady to work day” in which young creators get to shadow women doing their awesome professional thing in action, and/or an “Ask the Lady Squad Anything” advice column in which new Squad members send their questions to the email list in search of advice.

–       An Awesome Lady Arts Administrators caucus. Bring together women who already get to make choices about the work they make and produce (as self producers or as a member of a larger company) and talk about how they can use that leverage for positive gain.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       Skills to handle tough conversations about gender parity. A way to talk about this that doesn’t become apologetic or defensive. Something to say when I sense people starting to roll their eyes.

–       The ability to say no to a project that doesn’t conform to my moral code.

Three projects that could help us get there:

–       A “manifesto” of the AwLaSq that details in a fuller form the believes and aims of its members. Defining your core principles specifically will help when you have to articulate them to others

–       A workbook or simple writing project that helps codify and set bars for situations you will and won’t tolerate artistically that you can come back to when trying to decide if you want to take part in a new project.

–       Conversation toolkits and practice. Just like a business negotiation, knowing that you’ve done this thing before is half the battle. This task force will identify such potentially sticky moments and help craft language and talking points that are clear and concise. It will also identify the potential counter arguments and possible responses. These “toolkits” could be downloadable online. We could also organize a session where people simulate these conversations with others coaching from the outside so that there is a low stakes situation to practice so they are more confident and comfortable in the moment.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       Female directors, designers, administrators and actors represented in equal numbers.

A project that could help us get there:

–       Create a symbol of Awesome Lady Approval for arts organizations that meet a certain minimum set of Awesome Lady requirements. Before minimum wage was mandated if you were an employer willing to pay a certain wage you could display a certain color flag. What if Philly had a stamp that you could put in your program, on your door, in your marketing material that indicated that your company had a commitment to women in the artistic community? Using this positive reinforcement, we could also find ways to make sure our audience bases understood what this symbol means and to help promote the theaters that make this commitment.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       More awareness of the size and scope of the problem.

Two projects that could help us get there:

–       Create an Awesome Lady Squad shirt. Make it something awesome that you will definitely want to share with the world. Then make a promise that any time you wear it and someone sees it and asks about it you stop and take a second to share a bit about the vision of the squad. Possible offshoots:

  • Use any proceeds to fund childcare at future Awesome Lady Squad events
  • Organize a city-wide Awesome Lady Squad “shirt-in” day to show the size and reach of all the awesome ladies that live and work here

–       A marketing effort in conjunction with our other projects (like the gender report card or Awesome Lady approval symbol) to help reach not only fellow creative sector workers but audiences as a whole. Use the model of the DC based female playwright initiative to create powerful marketing leverage that makes it Awesome and sexy to be a part of the movement.

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       A genuine curiosity in discussions we have with people about these issues. Figuring out what’s really motivating the choices that undercut female artists and getting at them. Not assuming the worst of our peers even if they display behavior we don’t approve of.

A project that could help us get there:

–       Create a “Gender Parity Report Card”:

  • Develop a set of standards as a Squad for what poor, mediocre and outstanding work at creating equal opportunity for Awesome Ladies looks like.
  • Gather measurable, concrete, data to evaluate artistic producers in Philly and then create an awesome and well-articulated assessment of that data we share with these companies along with an invitation for dialogue about the results.
  • The key here is to find out 1) if theaters know their own stats in this regard 2) if there are trends that might indicate a lack of opportunity for women if they are willing to dialogue about how and why such trends occur 3) if they are willing to make a commitment to change

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       A way to share these issues with my male colleagues. A means by which they can help support these issues when they see them.

A project that could help us get there:

–       Bring together an Awesome Lady Squad support team: Set up a meeting that includes a discussion forum specifically for guys who think the Awesome Lady Squad is awesome. Talk about ways that they can become Awesome Lady Allies and strategize about means through which they can help. Give them some of the tools we offer the core members so that they can go and spread the Awesome word.

And finally:

The “What we’d like to see instead”

–       Funding targeted for women that doesn’t carry a social change element.

–       Non-traditional funding opportunities and alternate way to fund and produce work

–       Subversion of some of the power systems that currently undercut the issues we’ve discussed. Starting a conversation on “this is the way that funding has worked” and “here’s how it might work in the future”

A project that could help us get there:

–       An Awesome Lady Grants and Funding Task Force that:

  • Meets and discusses what might be problematic about certain kinds of funding structures
  • Strategizes about ways to approach funders about these concerns
  • Envisions and articulates the kinds of funding we would wish in Philadelphia for the future and shares this vision with the funding community
  • Works together to try and brainstorm and create alternatives to the current structures

These are what I envision as the first tangible steps towards seeing the “What we’d like to see instead.” And over the next year, they’ll be the ways the Lady Squad starts gathering energy and focus around all those things we discussed.

The next step is to figure out which of these takes our energy and focus first.

If you have thoughts about what should happen first, let me know.

If you have expertise in one of these areas and want to help out, let me know.

If you have a lot of passion about one of the items and want to get in on the ground floor, let me know.

If you don’t really care where we get started but are interested in helping to organize or send emails or type minutes or whatever just let me at it, let me know too.

And soon, let’s say in the next couple weeks, we’ll roll out the first phase of one or more of these…

Until then…

A