In order to better understand the unique challenges and triumphs of women artists, Athena Project has been holding listening sessions every other Tuesday, titled the Artist Sound Off Series. So far in March, Athena Project has heard from women in Arts Management and Photography & Film. Each conversation helped us better understand and validate the experiences of the women artists in our community.  

March 9th, 2021 Arts Management

In a profound moment during this discussion a woman artist remarked “I would do so much for free and I would never have had a company without it.” This spurs the question: “how much unpaid work should we tolerate as women artists?” While listening, my brain was firing about how this points to the high level of labor in the arts that goes unrecognized and uncompensated. For women in particular, this situation is not new. Most of what is deemed “feminine labor” like housework and caregiving goes uncompensated. Housework and childcare being unpaid is so normalized in society, and many would happily remain unpaid for this labor, but problematically this belief trickles into the professional world, where much of the unpaid labor is burdened on women.

A big conversation from our first listening session revolved around representation. The arts management discussion focused around women’s role in arts leadership. One of the artists in the Zoom call spoke to her experience with the intersection of her race and gender, “I am a brown woman, and in the majority of leadership spaces, I am often the one, or one of a few, and that has been most of my career.” She outlined a systemic problem that consistently places the white, male option above women of color in particular for leadership positions.  

These listening sessions also focus on the triumph of women artists as well. I found that the most joy and excitement about this conversation was hearing women repeat that working with other women was inspiring and a supportive place. One of the attendees that night remarked, “I found that working in female-dominated spaces, if anything women support each other.” 

March 23rd, 2021 Photography and Film 

At this session, women spoke to their unique challenges in the field of photography and film, which focused on how often men assume they are more educated and better equipped than a woman for the job at hand, and the pay equity issue that exists in this space as well. Women in every walk of life have a story, or many, that perfectly fits into this narrative. One participant shared a story where two men created a film about a lesbian relationship, and the only women on the project were the actors and one crew person. The film did not reflect the reality of a lesbian relationship, probably because it was written by two straight men. Artistic spaces often suffer from surface level diversity and representation. I often see films like this celebrated for their unique storytelling and representation, but as artists, we need to take a more critical eye on who is really being represented. 

The women artists remarked that they only get paid for 50 percent of the work they do. In the conversation of art, the value of art to the outside world is always brought up. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the work, time, and creative energy that the skills of editing and capturing images take. They explained it as consumers often valuing the final product without understanding the hours of work that goes into the creation of a video or a photoshoot. 

An interesting point of “the male is neutral or the default” was discussed. One artist remarked “I don’t know why I have to not use exclamation marks in written communication. I want to use them. I think men should use them too.” I saw everyone on my Zoom screen enthusiastically nod in agreement. They explained that it felt like if they wanted to succeed, women had to change to fit the male status quo, but that was not the way many of these women saw themselves as artists. They see themselves as creative people in their own right, in their own femininity. These women artists are not interested in “male status quo.” One of the younger artists expressed her hope for a future where a woman director being nominated for a “Best Director” category in an award show was not newsworthy. 

Each session continues to bring to light the individual challenges of specific artistic fields, while also highlighting the greater systemic issues women artists face. 

For more information see the Artists Sound Off page or contact Kaylyn Buehler at kbuehler@wordpress-761314-2949346.cloudwaysapps.com for more detailed notes from the discussions.