OPERA’S EXISTENTIAL CRISIS, OPPORTUNITIES, AND SEXISM

Read what Australian artistic director Lindy Hume of Opera Queensland has to say about opera’s sexism and its existential crisis.

“…the gender disparity in the world of opera, in particular, [is] ‘pathetic.’”

“…I can’t tell you the number of women [in the performance arts] who say to me, ‘God it’s good to be directed by a woman who understands women”

“It’s so obvious that it’s not just about the careers of female artists,” Hume says, “but about the kind of things that people [opera audiences] see on stage. And it’s about addressing the misogyny of opera. When you look at the cruelty to women — the rape and murder that happens — so much of that is not seen through a feminist framework, and not questioned enough.”

Don Giovanni is a typical product in opera of the womanizing and raping protagonist. Hume will direct this season’s production of Don Giovanni, which provides the audience with an opportunity to see the opera through Hume’s perspective as a woman and feminist. Despite Hume’s enthusiasm and involvement in this season, she’s so discouraged by what she has noted in the quotes above, this is her last season with the company.

Here’s a link to the article:
https://dailyreview.com.au/lindy-hume- interview/65552/

Watch the colorful and graphic video of the upcoming season at Opera Queensland:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=353&v=d4xePUXyxL0

Sandra BlakeNovember 4, 2016

Have a chuckle! Watch how an 8-year-old points out ingrained societal gender bias just by comparing the slogans on t-shirts for girls vs. boys.

 

(Click the triangle below to start the video.)

What we express implicitly influences children’s concepts of self and future, both personally and professionally. “Cool” clothing included.

Charley Parkhurst

For another in our on-going series of interesting women in history, we present this fascinating story of the mid-1800s Gold Rush days.

The following are excerpts from Mark McLaughlin’s article, “The Strange Tale of Stagecoach Driver Charley Parkhurst,” which can be found at The Pecan Valley Genealogical Society’s website.

Western stagecoach companies were big business in the latter half of the 19th century. In addition to passengers and freight, stages hauled gold and silver bullion as well as mining company payrolls.

Stage robbery was a constant danger, and bandits employed many strategies to ambush a stagecoach. Gangs were usually after the Wells Fargo money box with its valuable contents.

The stagecoaches were driven by skilled and fearless men. One of the most famous drivers was Charles Darkey Parkhurst, who had come west from New England in 1852 seeking his fortune in the Gold Rush. He spent 15 years running stages. Parkhurst smoked cigars, chewed wads of tobacco, drank with the best of them, and exuded supreme confidence behind the reins. His judgment was sound and pleasant manners won him many friends.

Here’s just one example of the many stories told about Charley: One afternoon as Charley drove down from Carson Pass, the lead horses veered off the road and a wrenching jolt threw him from the rig. He hung on to the reins as the horses dragged him along on his stomach. Amazingly, Parkhurst managed to steer the frightened horses back onto the road and save all his grateful passengers.

In 1865, Parkhurst grew tired of the demanding job of driving and he opened his own stage station. He later sold the business and retired to a ranch near Soquel, Calif. The years slipped by and Charley died on Dec. 29, 1879, at the age of 67.

A few days later, the Sacramento Daily Bee published his obituary. It read; “On Sunday last, there died a person known as Charley Parkhurst, aged 67, who was well-known to old residents as a stage driver. He was in early days accounted one of the most expert manipulators of the reins who ever sat on the box of a coach. It was discovered when friendly hands were preparing him for his final rest, that Charley Parkhurst was unmistakably a well-developed woman!”

It turns out that Charley’s real name was Charlotte Parkhurst. Abandoned as a child, she was raised in a New Hampshire orphanage unloved and surrounded by poverty. Charlotte ran away when she was 15 years old and soon discovered that life in the working world was easier for men. So she decided to masquerade as one for the rest of her life. The rest is history. Well, almost.

There is one last thing. On November 3, 1868, Charlotte Parkhurst cast her vote in the national election, dressed as a man. She became the first woman to vote in the United States, 52 years before Congress passed the 19th amendment giving American women the right to vote. Charley is buried in the Watsonville, CA Cemetery

Arts and Music Highlights – August 2016

Hi, everyone! Welcome to our roundup of some arts and music highlights taking place across the country this early fall.

Lighthouse on Coast of Maine

If you are in South East Maine picking blueberries from their bumper crop this late summer, you may want to get out of the sun and visit the Portland Museum of Art’s exhibit of “O’Keeffe, Stettheimer, Torr, Zorach: Women Modernists in New York.”  From the PMA’s website: this exhibit “examines the art and careers of four pioneering artists and their contributions to American modernism in parallel for the first time. Through this exhibition, the PMA invites visitors to explore works by some of the most significant women modernists in American art history. The presenting works by these artists together connect their careers in New York City. This exhibition offers valuable perspectives on the meaning of modernism, the life of a working artist in New York in the early 20th century, and the shared and differing experiences of being women at a crucial moment in first-wave feminism.”

If you are sweltering in the Washington DC heat, you can visit a couple music exhibits at the Library of Congress. First, try the “#Opera Before Instagram: Portraits, 1890 – 1955” exhibit. This exhibit “will showcase photographs of early opera stars from a collection assembled by the late authority on opera Charles Jahant, in a format that will explore how Jahant might have used an Instagram account had he lived today.”‘

From there, visit the ongoing music Library exhibit “Here to Stay: The Legacy of George and Ira Gershwin.” Visitors can “experience the glamour and sophistication of the 1920s and 1930s in this permanent tribute to the brothers who helped provide a musical background to the period. The exhibition contains a wealth of materials that provide insight into their careers and personalities, including manuscript and printed music, lyric sheets and librettos, personal and business correspondence, photographs, paintings, and drawings, all from the Gershwin Collection in the Music Division of the Library of Congress, the world’s preeminent resource for materials about the Gershwins.”  If you don’t choose to get there right now, keep the exhibit for another time; it is fabulous – for adults, foreign visitors, and children.

If you’d rather have a relaxing day at home, you can check out the streaming audio from the Library of Congress in partnership with Q2 Music. More than 20 of the Library’s commissioned contemporary classical-music works are available to listeners for free on Q2 Music’s streaming service. More of these commissioned works will be made available on Q2 Music over the coming months. Check out the stream at wqxr.org/#!/programs/concerts-library-congress.

Women Missing From Comedy

A couple blogs ago we did a quick review of the Kennedy Center’s entertainment offering for the 2016 summer season. A new festival this year was the “Kennedy Center District of Comedy Festival,” co-commissioned by The Second City, a club for comedy and school of improvisation. Reviewing the events of the fest, we found only two of the comedians slated to amuse listeners were women. The two woman-focused events were a performance by Jane Lynch and a tribute for the deceased Joan Rivers.

At least nine men, conversely, had their own events. While the tribute to Joan Rivers was to celebrate the way she “changed the way America thinks about women in comedy and paved the way for an entire generation of stand-up comedians,” the preponderance of men performing doesn’t illustrate a change in the thinking of women in comedy. It shows the same-old-same-old. Beyond equity issues, this doesn’t give women in the audience, who may like the angle of some jokes from a woman’s point of view, an opportunity for that. As is typical, women are left with entertainment solely from a male vantage point. In addition to limited press, limited in-person exposure, and matters of taste, women comedians miss the opportunity to be paid for appearances, which the men receive. It seems time, almost 20% of the way through the 21st century, that organizers select a more even sampling of performers for this brand new festival and ensure women also reap the benefits.

Here is a comedian that might have been a selection to lessen the gender gap: Aparna Nancheria. She began as a stand-up in Washington, DC. After living and doing stand-up in various cities, she is now based in New York City and says she does two or three shows in one night. She was covered by the Arts section of the New York Times recently. In the Lori Holcomb-Holland article about her, we learn that she has had her issues with perceived gender differences in comedy, despite what the Kennedy Center reported Joan Rivers had accomplished.

When asked in what ways is it different for men and women trying to make it in comedy, Ms. Nanchuria had a revealing reply. ”I think the most obvious difference is that male comedians aren’t asked this question in interviews. But I think the reason women are tired of talking about what it is like to be a woman in comedy is it diminishes the fact that women have been a part of comedy forever. ….To treat it as if it is some kind of new movement feels ludicrous. I am proud to be a woman in comedy and I am proud to support other women in comedy.”

How about bringing living, hard-working women comedians into the Kennedy Center fold.

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Policing Can Teach The Arts a Thing or Two

What do policing bias and gender bias in the arts have in common? 

It is called “implicit bias.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City spoke recently in a Brooklyn meeting about killings by police.  He reported that, in an effort to prevent the annihilations of human life and public trust, officers would soon begin to have training to help them understand “implicit bias.”

The implicit bias curriculum, according to Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times, is “a fad right now in law enforcement circles and in certain segments of the corporate world seeking to become more sensitive to issues of diversity and difference.”

“The theory behind it…maintains that we are all, as human beings, acculturated to certain distasteful perceptions and attitudes, some of which we may not even be aware that we carry.”(Emphasis added.)

Does that sound like what this organization, Awareness of Gender Bias in the Arts, is about or what?  Acculturated negative perceptions and attitudes – toward women and girls — of which people, male and female, may not be aware.

The police make a strikingly important point.  The goal of implicit-bias training is not to rid people of their dispositions – that would, Ms. Bellafonte says, be like trying to convince someone with an instinctive dislike for Abstract Expressionism that the art form is worthwhile.  Instead, the objective is to help people see where and when they succumb to stereotypes and teach them how they can keep from acting on them.

“The point is to decouple the bias from the behavior,” says Philip Atiba Goff, a Stanford-trained social psychologist and president of the Center for Policing Equity.

Let’s apply this to the arts.  That could mean that a male theater administrator who prefers plays written about men, with male-focused story lines, can learn to “decouple” his preference from his action of hiring mostly male playwrights and actors and, instead, hire an equal number of women playwrights.  A male museum administrator can learn to “decouple” his preference for female nudes (painted and viewed by men), and take action to put some of them in the museum attic for awhile and display the works of women artists on a multitude of subjects.

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An opera manager can “decouple” her old habits of using existing, “pure” but demeaning libretti (the words) of the last two centuries and take action to use modern wordings that don’t belittle, demean and stereotype women’s roles and live singers in current operas.  There is precedent for this. The language used in the performing arts to refer to African Americans was “cleaned up” in the 20th century; it is time to take action to make references to girls and women respectful.

The police understand “implicit bias.” Our arts administrators need to “decouple” their biases and pursue unbiased action. Our audiences must demand this!

 

Bro Talk, Wall Street, and the Arts

Earlier this month, the New York Times published an instructive opinion piece by Sam Polk entitled “How Wall Street Bro Talk Keeps Women Down.” In the piece, Mr. Polk discusses how men often bond through a culture of hyper-masculinity and objectifying women, and how hard it can be for men on the “in-group” to recognize this objectification and actively fight against it.

For Mr. Polk, the realization that he had to speak out about the objectification of women in his field as a Wall Street broker came when he learned he was to have a daughter. As he says, “My daughter would soon enter a world not just of unequal pay and unequal opportunity, but one in which almost 20 percent of women are raped, and a quarter of girls are sexually abused… If you think that this violence has nothing to do with bro talk, you’re wrong. When we dehumanize people in conversation, we give permission for them to be degraded in other ways as well.”

Dehumanization and objectification of women occur not only on Wall Street and places of business, but in the arts as well. As Maura Reilly points out in her astute piece, Taking the Measure of Sexism: Facts, Figures, and Sexism, “Sexism is still so insidiously woven into the institutional fabric, language, and logic of the mainstream art world that it often goes undetected.”

As Mr. Polk points out in his piece, this is not just an issue for women, but an issue for all of us, men and women alike, particularly those of us with daughters. We need men to take a pro-active stance against objectification in order to make the world a better place for our children.

Men can, and do, often get involved in the fight against gender bias in the arts. For more information on how men can be allies in the fight against sexism, check out our Men’s Engagement page of the website. There you will find stories of how men are helping in the fight against inequality, within and outside the arts.

Together, we can all fight for women’s equality in every facet of our lives, whether it be on Wall Street or at the local theater. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to our daughters who must live in the world that we shape.

A QUICK LOOK AT THE KENNEDY CENTER OFFERINGS IN 2016

BETTER NOT BE BOTHERED BY SOME GENDER BIAS IN THE ARTS  

If you do care about women’s participation in the live arts, be aware of some gender bias in the offerings over the months.

Reviewing the Kennedy Center News Magazine for May – August, you’d find in May at the 21st annual salute to woman jazz legend Mary Lou Williams. Many women of jazz performed in honor of Ms. Williams.  Special rhythmic performers were five Cuban women in selections from their self-titled debut CD which won a 2015 Juno for (Group) Jazz Album of the Year. Nice event promoting women in the arts.

But in June, at a “Night at the Kennedy Center DC Jazz Fest” honoring Howard University Jazz, jazz men dominated the field – 9 or 10 — to 2 or 3 jazz women (hard to get an exact count).

The KC’s new plays festival “New Visions/New Voices” celebrated its 25th anniversary in May.  It presented six new works by American playwrights, and partnered with the University of Maryland School of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, and with young theater organizations in India, Korea and South Africa to develop new plays for young audiences.  Boundaries were pushed, creativity stressed.  An anthology of 25 years/25 Plays is being assembled.

Throughout June, the “Kennedy Center District of Comedy Festival” was cracking jokes.  In its first ever comedy festival, the KC showcased an array of celebrated comedians in performance spaces around the voluminous building.  Hope you particularly liked males, since you’d have found only two women amuse you (Jane Lynch and Mellisa Rivers in a tribute to Joan Rivers and how she changed the way America thinks about women in comedy), while nine funny men were there to give you laughs.

In the upcoming colder months, if you will be in the capital and don’t have to report to work on a weekday, you can keep warm with a Continental breakfast and coffee at National Symphony Orchestra late morning “Coffee Concerts” in the Concert Hall.  However, beware, if you are sensitive to gender concerns:  of the five concerts, October 2016 through May 2017, all five conductors will be men; two soloists will be women, one in-house; and all 15 of the compositions performed will be well-worn works by dead white men, no women composers, dead or alive.

“Get That Distraction Off the Podium!”

Sp02llcldo, you don’t think gender bias is still rife in classical music? Let’s talk conducting. In the summer of 2013, Marin Alsop, Baltimore’s admired and respected conductor, became the first woman to conduct at the BBC’s Last Night Proms since the Prom’s founding in 1895. Imagine, no women conductors on the Prom’s most important night for 118 years. Over that time period, women won the right to vote, discrimination based on gender was outlawed, and women went into space! However, more than likely during this period, women who strove to be conductors were relegated to living out their dreams at home, expressing themselves artistically through a child’s rattle while men expressed themselves with baton in hand.

The Guardian’s James Rhodes, reflecting on conductors at the 2013 London event, stated that sexism was rife in the world of conducting. For example, Vasily Petrenko, a talented and award-winning Russian conductor, went on record at the Proms saying that women conductors were a sexual distraction for an orchestra.

Readers, let me know if things have radically changed. Especially you young musicians working in music and who are surrounded by other musicians, composers, conductors. Can you provide some persuasive examples of revolutionized, or even substantially improved, attitudes and circumstances for women around the podium three years later?

– Sandra Blake

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Culture Watch from the National Museum of Women in the Arts

In case you haven’t already heard, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is a wonderful museum located in downtown D.C. According to their website, the “NMWA is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative contributions.”

In addition to their temporary exhibitions and massive art collection, they also curate the newsletter Culture Watch. Culture Watch highlights selections of national and international museum exhibitions featuring works by women artists.

If you support the promotion of women in the arts, you owe it to yourself to visit Culture Watch from the NMWA and sign up for their emails.

My Experience at the 2016 Kennedy Center Arts Summit

Written by Sandra Blake

In April, I attended the Kennedy Center Arts Summit, hosted by the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. The Arts Summit bills itself as an event “designed to bring thought leaders from the arts and related fields together for conversation and connection… The 2016 edition of the Summit will focus on Citizen Artistry, the idea of using the arts to influence positive change in people’s lives. Together, we will examine this idea, and its application in today’s society…”

Did the Arts Forum live up to this ideal, especially through the lens of addressing gender bias in the arts?

What is the Arts Forum?

The Forum itself was a beautiful, even opulent, event. Event-branded hot drink thermoses, delicious foods, and relaxing interior meeting rooms gave the event a feeling of importance.  The attendees included celebrities from all fields of the arts, heightening the event’s legitimacy.

The co-hosts were the world-loved Renee Fleming, known principally as a classical singer of opera, and Yo-Yo Ma, the household name and international cellist, founder of the Silk Road Ensemble.  The Ensemble performed live to everyone’s delight and seemed to be composed of as many women as men.

The morning plenary session was made up of presenters and panelists, including established performing artists and leaders in other fields. Alice Waters, popular chef, author, and food activist located in California, and Dr. Corinna Lathan, founder of a biomedical engineering research and development company were just a couple of these panelists.

The afternoon was organized into breakout sessions of the stated Kennedy ideals:  service, gratitude, innovation, creativity, exploration, freedom, courage, and justice (more on this below).

The evening was capped off by a reception in the atrium. The guests, bite-sized munchies in hand, were treated to the piece de resistance: Renee Fleming on the raised stage singing jazz numbers while accompanied by Yo-Yo Ma.

There is no arguing that, as an event, the second Kennedy Center Arts Forum was first rate and magnificently executed.

How was the content?

While the event was lavish and well-executed, I am afraid that the content fell short, especially when viewed through the lens of addressing gender bias in the arts.

The morning events started by addressing the topic of “Activating Citizen Artists.” This topic became somewhat muddled in my mind.  Forum speakers asked questions like, “What is a Citizen Artist?”  “How can we collectively mobilize Citizen Artists to change the world?” “What can we do individually to live our lives as Citizen Artists?” “How can the Kennedy Center support Citizen Artists?”  I wasn’t always sure whether we were absorbing the concept of artists as citizens, or of citizens as artists.  While the topic was thoughtful, the speakers, for me, did not sufficiently offer answers to the questions they raised or suggest adequate actions for implementing the concept into our own lives.

The ratio of male to female speakers in the A.M. sessions was also discouraging. The program pages revealed that of “Featured Participants,” 19 were male and only 8 were female, a ratio of more than 2-to-1.

As I mentioned above, the afternoon was organized into breakout sessions of the stated Kennedy ideals:

1.      Service – How can we encourage more artists to act as social entrepreneurs?

2.      Gratitude – How do the arts transform healing?

3.      Innovation – What are arts-driven pathways to invention and exploration?

4.      Creativity – What are the preconditions for creativity?

5.      Exploration – What are new frontiers for the arts in technology and business?

6.      Freedom – What is the playbook for putting the arts at the core of education?

7.      Courage – How can the arts help us to address our biggest social challenges?

8.      Moonshots – What should cultural institutions look like in 2050?

I chose the ideal of “Courage,” thinking that the topic was most likely to touch on the issue of gender bias and equality. While I was hoping for discussion, the breakout session turned out to be a solo presentation. The topic exclusively addressed the experience of people with disabilities in the theater. While people with disabilities certainly do experience discrimination and bias in the theater, they are certainly not the only group to do so. Women artists and creators are still greatly underrepresented in the arts, and representations of women in theater often carry a negative bias.

I would have liked for the topic of “Courage,” especially in the context of addressing our social challenges, to be inclusive of many issues that face our society, including the challenges that women in the arts, including theater, encounter on a daily basis.

The issue of gender bias was not addressed at any point in the Arts Forum, which is a major loss for both the Arts Forum and for women in all aspects of the arts.  We are only going be able to overcome the gender bias that exists within the arts by acknowledging and attacking the issue.

What is the Take Away?

The Kennedy Center Arts Summit is a wonderful event with lofty goals, but there is certainly room for improvement, starting with the inclusion of gender issues and representation in at least some of the discussions. It also remains to be seen whether the event is just a forum for discussion and think-pieces, or if people will be spurred to actually take action and create change.

During the reception, each participant was photographed with a written reminder of their goals within the arts. As you can see from my photo below, I will continue to fight for awareness of gender bias in the arts, and that includes have the topic addressed at next year’s Arts Summit.

Sandra - Arts Summit - 042016

Welcome to the blog of Awareness of Gender Bias in the Arts (AGBA)

Are you weary of the same old biases in the arts?
Are you ready to examine art past and present through a fresh lens?
Are you eager to act and engage in a way that will accomplish an unbiased environment for future generations?
Are you a director, curator, or other arts administrator who understands the inequalities but has yet to find a partner organization touting sensitivity, passion, and fresh perspective?
Are you an educator eager to dispel demeaning and outdated gender stereotypes?
Are you an arts goer who is as yet unaware of pervasive inequality and wants to learn more?

Sandra headshot for Bio.Welcome to this brand new web site, launched in April 2016.  We are glad for the opportunity to introduce the Director, Sandra Blake, to you all.  If the above items stimulate your mind and get your blood running, we are glad you are here! Explore our website, keep up with our blog, and spread the word about AGBA to others.

AGBA’s mission is to build awareness of gender bias in the arts, promote change within the arts, and eventually eliminate bias for future generations. To get further acquainted, let us help you explore AGBA’s background. Our founder, Sandra Blake, was tired of experiencing the same old unfair biases at many arts events she attended. The bias stuck out most boldly at plays where the playwrights, directors, and cast are solely male and reflect a male point of view, at operas where female characters are gratuitously abused or shown being killed, and at art museums where the nude paintings and sculptures are seductively posed, reclining, and female.

Sandra has seen how biases are inflicted on children early on with lifelong effect.  One of AGBA’s objectives is to ensure that such biases are not perpetuated.

We invite you to express your concerns and help spread awareness of your personal examples of gender bias in the arts. We welcome your comments and hope you will actively champion the cause of greater equality. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

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