Note to readers: This is the first in a series of blogs I am delighted to be writing for Harmony: The WomenArts Partnership Project. They will appear biweekly on the WomenArts site, and I will also reproduce each one here.
Welcome to the first installment of The Harmony Project blog! Harmony: The WomenArts Partnership Project (“The Harmony Project” for short) is an initiative by WomenArts to build mutually empowering relationships between women artists and women’s organizations—and ultimately, to change the world.
One of The Harmony Project’s chief aims is to inspire and support active partnerships and collaborations between women artists and women’s organizations involved in social change.
The mission of WomenArts is to celebrate, support, and promote art by and about women. We are especially interested in women who address social and political issues in their work. We know that any social-change campaign will be more effective if it makes use of multiple art forms to tell a rich, captivating story. Through The Harmony Project, we are working simultaneously to expand understanding of art’s importance to social change; and to establish arts-based work as a core competency for effective action by women’s organizations.
Over the next few months, we’ll use this blog to share advice and wisdom from women artists with strong track-records in collaborative projects: how to get started, what to consider as you enter into partnership, what makes the work strongest, and much, much more. For now, we want to start by introducing you to 10 amazing women artists who took part in interviews as part of our research. Click on the links to learn more about their work.
Martha Boesing has written over 40 produced plays, led workshops, and directed plays for theaters throughout the country. From 1974-84, she was the Founder and Artistic Director At the Foot of the Mountain theater in Minneapolis (the longest-running professional women’s theater in the country). She has won several national awards including an NEA Fellowship, a Bush fellowship, and the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American playwrights. She now lives in Oakland, California, and most recently has created theater pieces for The Faithful Fools, a street ministry in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, and created Sylvia’s Advice on How to Age Gracefully on The Planet Denial, a theatrical adaptation Nicole Hollander’s Sylvia stories and cartoons.
Susan Cervantes has been a visual artist and muralist for 47 years, a pioneer in San Francisco’s community mural art movement, and the founder and director of the Precita Eyes Muralists in the Mission District of San Francisco, established in 1977. Precita Eyes Mural Arts Center is one of only three community mural centers in the United States. This multipurpose community-based arts organization has played an integral role in the city’s cultural heritage and arts education, with recent projects throughout San Francisco. She is responsible for more than 400 murals, including The San Francisco Women’s Building Mural, MaestraPeace, a multi-cultural, multi-generation collaboration of seven women artists.
Debra Chasnoff is a founder of Groundspark, an Academy Award–winning documentary filmmaker nationally recognized for using film as an organizing tool for social justice campaigns, and a pioneering leader in the international movement working to create safe and welcoming schools and communities. Her films include Straightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, about the gender and sexuality pressures that teens and young adults face today; It’s Elementary—Talking About Gay Issues in School, Let’s Get Real (about bias and bullying), and That’s a Family! (supporting youth growing up in diverse family structures).
Sarah Crowell, Artistic Director of Destiny Arts, has been a dancer and an arts educator for over 20 years. She’s worked at Destiny Arts Center since 1990 as a dance teacher, artistic director, workshop facilitator, and program development director, serving as the organization’s executive director from 2002-2007. Destiny Arts Center runs after-school, weekend and summer programs at the Center and Project DESTINY programs in over 20 pre-elementary, elementary, middle and high schools. Prior to working with Destiny Arts, Sarah directed the dance program at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, and directed an award-winning hip-hop dance ensemble at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, California.
Beth Grossman is a socio-political artist who sees the visual as a way to create community dialog. She takes creative liberty with charged topics—such as “correct” history, the life-shaping force of religion and the power of social beliefs—and makes them accessible with beauty and humor. By shifting the context of familiar objects, words and images, she opens them up for fresh examinations that are by turn playful, stimulating and thought-provoking. Recent projects have included “Seats of Power,” in which city officials in her hometown of Brisbane, California, “put their keisters on the line for civic participation,” and “All the rest is commentary…”, presenting the Golden Rule from 12 world religions as a core vision of global human relations.
Meena Natarajan is the Executive and Literary Director of Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, committed to creating an international ensemble of actors, writers and designers to bring exciting classical and contemporary literature from all over the world to the Twin Cities. Much of Pangea’s recent work focuses on issues relating to immigration; for instance, the company recently launched Hyphe-NATIONS: Immigrant Matters—América Latina, a community-based arts program designed to address issues facing the Latina/o immigrant community. Prior to cofounding Pangea, she was instrumental in founding and leading a theater company in India. Meena is past President (2000-2003) of Women Playwrights International.
Donna Porterfield is Managing Director of Roadside Theater, creating a body of drama based on the history and lives of Appalachian people and collaborating with others nationally who are dramatizing their local life. Donna has worked with Roadside since 1978, in roles that include writer, producer, teacher, and dramaturge. She scripted Voices from The Battlefront, which premiered in 1999, a performance/workshop with music that explores the personal stories of victims and survivors of domestic violence; and Thousand Kites, written in collaboration with prisoners, correction officers, and their families, part of a multi-media collaboration with Appalshop’s “Holler to the Hood,” addressing criminal justice issues.
Marty Pottenger is a widely known solo performance artist and director, and most recently, the founder/Director of Art At Work, a national initiative piloted with the City of Portland Maine’s departments, unions and elected officials to improve municipal government through strategic arts projects. Elements include “Thin Blue Lines,” a collaboration with Portland police officers and detectives to create a calendar by partnering with ten local poets & photographers. The “Police Poetry Calendar” was sold to benefit the family of an officer who died in the line of duty. Her Obie-award-winning project “City Water Tunnel #3” was about is about the building of the largest public works project in the Western Hemisphere.
Rene Yung is a civic engagement artist who helps communities connect people, history and place to address social and cultural issues in the built environment. Her cross-disciplinary work engages community on multiple levels to articulate overlooked issues and assets; she aims for highly aesthetic works of art that enrich the environment as they help to build community for positive social change. Recent projects include “Our Oakland: Eastside Stories, created to beautify the new East Oakland Community Library and create a new platform for community storytelling; and “Chinese Whispers,” a multi-phase, site-specific community-storytelling project about contemporary folk memories of the Chinese who helped build the Transcontinental Railroad and settlements of the American frontier.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar is the founder and Artistic Director of Urban Bush Women, a renowned choreographer, and the Nancy Smith Fichter tenured professor in Florida State University’s Dance Department. Founded in 1984, UBW seeks to bring the untold and under-told histories and stories of disenfranchised people to light through dance from a woman-centered perspective and as members of the African Diaspora community. In addition to its work as a performance ensemble, UBW mounts an annual Summer Leadership Institute connecting dance professionals and community-based artists in a learning experience to leverage the arts as a vehicle for social activism and civic engagement and to strengthen the national network of community arts practitioners.
Please stayed tuned for biweekly essays on the wisdom and experience of these amazing artists, right here at The Harmony Project blog!